US supreme court upholds gun ban in domestic abuse cases

Decision acknowledges limits to second amendment rights when there is a ‘credible threat’ of harm to others

Rev Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, outside the US supreme court in Washington, DC on Friday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

The US supreme court has upheld restrictions on the possession of firearms by people under domestic violence restraining orders, in a case that has been closely watched as the country’s highest court grapples with the balance between gun rights and public safety.

The court’s 8-1 majority on Friday found in US vs Rahimi that barring individuals who threaten others’ safety from keeping firearms does not violate the US constitution’s second amendment, which protects the right to bear arms. Currently, US federal law prohibits those under restraining orders related to domestic abuse from possessing a gun.

“Since the founding, our nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” John Roberts, the court’s chief justice, wrote in the majority opinion.

“An individual found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the second amendment,” he added.


The ruling comes just days after the court delivered the latest victory for those in favour of gun rights, overturning a Donald Trump-era ban on “bump stocks”, devices that turbocharge the firepower of ordinary rifles.

In 2022, the supreme court also struck down a New York state law that required an individual to show “proper cause” to carry a concealed gun in public.

At the heart of the case is a restraining order imposed on Zackey Rahimi after he allegedly assaulted his then-girlfriend. He later violated the agreement – under which his gun license was suspended for two years – and threatened another woman with a gun. Rahimi was finally indicted for possessing a firearm while subject to a domestic violence restraining order.

He sought to dismiss the indictment by arguing the underlying law conflicted with the right to bear arms under the second amendment. The motion was denied. A federal appeals court upheld the ruling, but after the supreme court’s 2022 decision it reconsidered and ruled in Rahimi’s favour.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch conservative who penned the bump stock and New York opinions, wrote the sole dissent from Friday’s decision. In it he lamented the ban’s “broad scope and lack of process”, adding that the second amendment “does not merely narrow the government’s regulatory power. It is a barrier, placing the right to keep and bear arms off limits to the government”.

Liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor in a concurring opinion criticised Justice Thomas’s “strictest possible interpretation” of case law.

The majority’s “interpretation permits a historical inquiry calibrated to reveal something useful and transferable to the present day, while the dissent would make the historical inquiry so exacting as to be useless, a too-sensitive alarm that sounds whenever a regulation did not exist in an essentially identical form at the founding”, she wrote.

US attorney general Merrick Garland praised the court’s decision. The gun ban in question “protects victims by keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals who pose a threat to their intimate partners and children”, he said in a statement. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024