The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Tuesday on whether the government may disarm people subject to domestic violence orders.
The question is important, of course, as studies have demonstrated that the combination of domestic strife and firearms can be lethal. The Supreme Court itself recognized this in a 2014 majority opinion. “All too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court, quoting a lawmaker.
But the potential sweep of the decision in the new case extends far beyond domestic abuse. It will almost certainly yield a major statement on the meaning of the court’s ruling last year vastly expanding people’s right to arm themselves in public.
The argument comes as the nation struggles to address a seemingly unending series of mass shootings, including a recent one in Maine that left 18 people dead.
Here’s what else to know:
In last year’s decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the court struck down a New York law, by a 6-to-3 vote that put strict limits on carrying guns outside the home. It also announced a new legal standard, one whose reliance on historical practices has sown confusion as courts have struggled to apply it, with some judges sweeping aside gun control laws that have been on the books for decades.
The majority opinion in Bruen, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said courts must judge restrictions on gun rights by turning to early American history as a guide. “The government must demonstrate,” he wrote, “that the regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
The new case, United States v. Rahimi, No. 22-915, gives the court a chance to explore the scope of that new test. It concerns Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer in Texas with a history of armed violence. He is “hardly a model citizen,” a federal appeals court judge wrote in March. But the court vacated Mr. Rahimi’s conviction under a federal law that makes it a crime for people subject to domestic violence orders to have guns, ruling that the law violated the Second Amendment.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected a variety of old laws identified by the government as possible historical analogues, saying they did not sufficiently resemble the one concerning domestic violence orders. Many of them, Judge Cory T. Wilson wrote for the panel, “disarmed classes of people considered to be dangerous, specifically including those unwilling to take an oath of allegiance, slaves and Native Americans.” That was different, he wrote, from domestic violence orders, which make case-by-case judgments about a particular individual’s dangerousness.
Lawyers for the administration have questioned that distinction. “It would be bizarre,” they told the justices, “if legislatures could disarm dangerous individuals based on categorical presumptions, but not based on individualized judicial findings after notice and a hearing.”