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U.S. Supreme Court upholds a gun control law intended to protect domestic violence victims

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Friday, June 14, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) The U.S. Supreme Court is seen on Friday, June 14, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
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WASHINGTON -

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld a federal gun control law that is intended to protect victims of domestic violence.

In their first Second Amendment case since they expanded gun rights in 2022, the justices ruled 8-1 in favour of a 1994 ban on firearms for people under restraining orders to stay away from their spouses or partners. The justices reversed a ruling from the federal appeals court in New Orleans that had struck down the law.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the author of the 2022 ruling, dissented.

Last week, the court overturned a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The court ruled that the Justice Department exceeded its authority in imposing that ban.

Friday's case stemmed directly from the Supreme Court's Bruen decision in June 2022. A Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, was accused of hitting his girlfriend during an argument in a parking lot and later threatening to shoot her.

At arguments in November, some justices voiced concern that a ruling for Rahimi could also jeopardize the background check system that the Biden administration said has stopped more than 75,000 gun sales in the past 25 years based on domestic violence protective orders.

The case also had been closely watched for its potential to affect cases in which other gun ownership laws have been called into question, including in the high-profile prosecution of Hunter Biden. President Joe Biden's son was convicted of lying on a form to buy a firearm while he was addicted to drugs. His lawyers have signalled they will appeal.

A decision to strike down the domestic violence gun law might have signalled the court's skepticism of the other laws as well. The justices could weigh in soon in one or more of those other cases.

Many of the gun law cases grow out of the Bruen decision. That high court ruling not only expanded Americans' gun rights under the Constitution but also changed the way courts are supposed to evaluate restrictions on firearms.

Rahimi's case reached the Supreme Court after prosecutors appealed a ruling that threw out his conviction for possessing guns while subject to a restraining order.

Rahimi was involved in five shootings over two months in and around Arlington, Texas, U.S. Circuit Judge Cory Wilson noted. When police identified Rahimi as a suspect in the shootings and showed up at his home with a search warrant, he admitted having guns in the house and being subject to a domestic violence restraining order that prohibited gun possession, Wilson wrote.

But even though Rahimi was hardly "a model citizen," Wilson wrote, the law at issue could not be justified by looking to history. That's the test Justice Clarence Thomas laid out in his opinion for the court in Bruen.

The appeals court initially upheld the conviction under a balancing test that included whether the restriction enhances public safety. But the panel reversed course after Bruen. At least one district court has upheld the law since the Bruen decision.

Advocates for domestic violence victims and gun control groups had called on the court to uphold the law.

Firearms are the most common weapon used in homicides of spouses, intimate partners, children or relatives in recent years, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guns were used in more than half, 57 per cent, of those killings in 2020, a year that saw an overall increase in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seventy women a month, on average, are shot and killed by intimate partners, according to the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

Gun rights groups backed Rahimi, arguing that the appeals court got it right when it looked at American history and found no restriction close enough to justify the gun ban.

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