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Lawmakers urge Supreme Court to keep domestic violence gun law

A lower court ruling jeopardizes decades of bipartisan efforts to protect some of the most vulnerable citizens, a brief argues

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks with Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin at a committee hearing titled “Protecting America’s Children From Gun Violence” in June 2022. Both have signed on to briefs filed Monday in a gun law case now at the Supreme Court.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaks with Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin at a committee hearing titled “Protecting America’s Children From Gun Violence” in June 2022. Both have signed on to briefs filed Monday in a gun law case now at the Supreme Court. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court could undermine decades of congressional efforts to prevent gun violence if they agree with a lower court decision that struck down a nearly 30-year-old gun control law, two groups of lawmakers told the justices.

The members of Congress filed briefs Monday in a case now at the high court that is seen as a test on the limits of a 2022 decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that expanded Second Amendment rights.

That decision kicked off a flood of litigation over firearms restrictions, changed the way federal judges evaluate the constitutionality of gun control laws. In some cases judges have struck them down. That includes a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that tossed a federal restriction on firearm possession for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders.

The three-judge 5th Circuit panel wrote that the Bruen decision meant the court had to find specific historical laws to justify modern firearm restrictions — and no colonial-era law dealt with firearms of domestic abusers.

A brief from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., told the justices that upholding the 5th Circuit decision wipes out an effective tool to prevent domestic violence and “jeopardizes decades of bipartisan efforts to protect some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens.”

“The Court must not stymie further work by Congress in this crucial area of law and policy. It should reverse,” that brief states.

Congress has gathered evidence that shows survivors of domestic violence “are safer when abusers subject to restraining orders do not have unfettered access to deadly weapons,” the brief states. “This is, frankly, common sense. And nothing in the text or history of the Second Amendment says or requires otherwise.”

Another brief from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, California Rep. Mike Thompson and 169 other Democrats in Congress argued that the 5th Circuit’s approach to evaluating gun laws would “unduly shackle Congress to the past, rendering it unable to develop innovative solutions for the benefit of the public.” The Democrats also argued that the 5th Circuit approach would let judges toss any gun law they thought didn’t have a specific enough analogue from the founding era and “allow courts to substitute their policy judgments for those of Congress.”

If the justices do not reverse the 5th Circuit, then the “already overburdened” courts will be flooded with challenges to federal gun laws, the Democrats’ brief argues.

“That deluge has already begun. This Court must stem the tide if it does not want courts to relitigate Bruen for years to come,” the brief states.

Those briefs, along with three dozen others filed Monday, backed the Biden administration’s position to preserve the federal ban on firearm possession. The Biden administration made a similar argument in its brief filed last week, saying the justices “emphatically rejected demands for an exact historical match” that the 5th Circuit sought.

Congress should be able to ban firearm possession for people found by a court to be a danger to themselves and others, which has existed in firearm law since the founding, the Biden administration argued.

The justices instead should adopt an approach that looks to broad principles of Congress’ power to regulate firearms, rather than the specific examples sought by the 5th Circuit, the Biden administration argued.

The Biden administration brief pointed out that the 5th Circuit’s approach could “wreak havoc” on federal firearm laws and has already pushed the court to invalidate a federal ban on firearm possession for users of illegal drugs.

Court decisions on gun laws after the Bruen decision sparked numerous congressional hearings and calls among Democrats to tighten firearm restrictions, but those efforts have so far not attracted much Republican support.

The man who challenged the federal law, Zackey Rahimi, and any groups arguing in his favor are scheduled to file their briefs by next month. The justices likely will hear the case in the next term starting in October and issue a decision before the end of June.