Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Rahimi, a case about whether abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders have a Second Amendment right to bear arms. Their decision will reveal whether the Court’s conservative majority, which overturned the right to abortion last year, values the lives of millions of abuse victims — 80% of whom are women — over the country’s ignoble tradition of sanctioning violence in the home.
A consistent ethic of life should lead to overruling the federal appeals court’s troubling decision in Rahimi and restoring respect for a 1994 law that prohibits those posing a “credible threat” of violence from possessing guns in the home.
The court has a moral duty to respect the inherent human right to life, which is desecrated each day by a lethal mix of gun and intimate partner violence unique to this country. Failure to do so would show the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade did not reflect a principled, life-affirming value system. Valorizing the protection of unborn life while disregarding the everyday assault on women’s lives is clear hypocrisy.
“Valorizing the protection of unborn life while disregarding the everyday assault on women’s lives is clear hypocrisy.”
The Supreme Court’s egregious response to violence against women was epitomized in its infamous 2005 ruling in Castle Rock v. Gonzalez. This case involved the murder of three young sisters — Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca — by gunshot wounds to the head when their abusive father defied a restraining order and police brushed aside their mother’s agonized pleas for help. Our Supreme Court’s response was to deny the children had any rights or the police bore any duty to protect them. A human rights tribunal, by contrast, identified a clear violation of the girls’ right to life.
The U.S. criminal justice system has not fared well, as Professor Julie Godscheid noted, in preventing the intimate partner violence that one in four U.S. women face in their lifetimes. Historically, such violence was “legally tolerated if not explicitly authorized,” under a coverture regime that allowed marital beatings. The legacy of this wayward history is that three U.S. women are murdered daily by their partners. And the vast majority of intimate partner gun homicides in the wealthy world happen on U.S. soil.
Global human rights authorities have long urged the U.S. government to curb the excesses of gun violence, which threaten the right to life. In a 2023 report, the United Nations Human Rights Committee appealed to the U.S. government to “restrict access to firearms by those most at risk of abusing them, including persons under domestic violence restraining orders.”
The law at stake in Rahimi is a well-justified limit on Second Amendment rights. Evidence shows domestic abusers are five times more likely to murder their victims when they have access to a gun, leading Sen. Paul Wellstone to declare in 1996 that, too often “the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.” Overwhelming evidence shows this remains the case today.
Few rights are absolute. The right to bear arms, which is not a human right, must yield to the God-given right to life — a primary human right, which grounds many others. Viewed from a moral commitment to the sacredness of human life and the inherent rights that follow, this is not a close or difficult case.
The nexus between mass shootings and domestic violence is stark: more than two-thirds of these tragedies involve domestic violence or a killer with a history of it. Keeping guns away from abusive partners will keep communities safer, too. The deadly confluence of misogynistic violence and American fealty to gun culture must be challenged and changed.
“Ending gun violence in the home should command broad consensus among people of faith and good will.”
Since the court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year, numerous states have imposed tighter restrictions on ending pregnancies, in the name of protecting unborn life. One effect of this strategy is that pregnant and postpartum women, who face a 35% greater risk of death by intimate partner homicide, have fewer options when a partner threatens their lives.
Abortion is a uniquely fraught and contested issue, given the tension between concern for nascent life and women’s claims to health and bodily autonomy. But ending gun violence in the home should command broad consensus among people of faith and good will who care about the well-being of U.S. families.
The Rahimi case will test whether a culture of life is truly an animating principle for multitudes of American Christians and the Catholic majority of justices who hold the power to embolden or deprive abusers of firearms.
When we say our nightly prayers, let people of faith remember the women murdered by their partners that day. We never will know most of their names but we the people and the leaders who serve us must decide whether their lives are worth saving.
Allyson McKinney Timm, founder of Justice Revival, is a Christian feminist and a human rights lawyer, advocate and educator. She is a frequent speaker and writer on issues of faith, justice, and gender equality. She leads the #Faith4ERA interfaith campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment.
David P. Gushee is a leading Christian ethicist, and serves as distinguished university professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, chair of Christian social ethics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and senior research fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Centre. He is a past president of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. His latest book is Introducing Christian Ethics.