The Supreme Court on Friday upheld a ban on domestic abusers owning firearms, the high court's first major Second Amendment ruling since a 2022 case that drastically expanded gun rights.

What You Need To Know

  • In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on domestic abusers owning firearms

  • It was the high court's first major Second Amendment ruling since a 2022 case that drastically expanded gun rights

  • Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the nearly unanimous majority

  • Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the 2022 gun case ruling, was the lone dissent

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the nearly unanimous majority. Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the 2022 gun case ruling, was the lone dissent.

"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," Roberts wrote in the 8-1 majority opinion

The case was brough by Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man who was accused of striking his girlfriend during an altercation in a parking lot after an argument and later threatening to shoot her in 2019. Rahimi was issued a restraining order in 2020, but he "repeatedly violated" the order, the federal government wrote in its brief in the case, including being involved in five separate shooting incidents. Police secured a warrant after Rahimi was found to be a suspect in the shootings, and upon a search of his house, officers "found a .45-caliber pistol, a .308-caliber rifle, magazines, ammunition, and a copy of the protective order."

Rahimi argued that the federal government was violating his Second Amendment rights by refusing to allow him to have a firearm. But in oral arguments last year, the Biden administration argued that the 1994 restriction at the center of the case — which bans firearms for people under restraining orders to stay away from their spouses or partners — was consistent with the longstanding practice of disarming dangerous people.

"When a restraining order contains a finding that an individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner, that individual may—consistent with the Second Amendment—be banned from possessing firearms while the order is in effect," Roberts wrote in his ruling. "Since the founding, our Nation's firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms."

"Taken together, the surety and going armed laws confirm what common sense suggests: When an individual poses a clear threat of physical violence to another, the threatening individual may be disarmed," he added.

At the arguments last year, 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.

Thomas, who authored the landmark 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen that struck down the state's requirement to show "proper cause" for a concealed carry permit, argued that "not a single historical regulation justifies the statute at issue."

"The Framers [of the U.S. Constitution] and ratifying public understood 'that the right to keep and bear arms was essential to the preservation of liberty,'" Thomas wrote. "Yet, in the interest of ensuring the Government can regulate one subset of society, today’s decision puts at risk the Second Amendment rights of many more."

Several justices penned concurring opinions, including liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that Friday's ruling "correctly concludes that 'the Second Amendment permits the disarmament of individuals who pose a credible threat to the physical safety of others,'" while criticizing Thomas' dissent.

"The dissent reaches a different conclusion by applying the strictest possible interpretation of Bruen," Sotomayor, joined by fellow liberal Justice Elena Kagan, wrote. "It picks off the Government’s historical sources one by one, viewing any basis for distinction as fatal."

"If the dissent’s interpretation of Bruen were the law, then Bruen really would be the 'one-way ratchet' that I and the other dissenters in that case feared, 'disqualify[ing] virtually any ‘representative historical analogue’ and mak[ing] it nearly impossible to sustain common-sense regulations necessary to our Nation’s safety and security,'" she continued. "Thankfully, the Court rejects that rigid approach to the historical inquiry."

Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson also penned concurring opinions.

"Despite its unqualified text, the Second Amendment is not absolute," Barrett wrote. "It codified a pre-existing right, and preexisting limits on that right are part and parcel of it. Those limits define the scope of 'the right to bear arms' as it was originally understood; to identify them, courts must examine our 'historical tradition of firearm regulation.'"

In this case, Barrett noted, "the Court settles on just the right level of generality: 'Since the founding, our Nation’s firearm laws have included provisions preventing individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms.'"

In a statement, President Joe Biden hailed the ruling and committed to further action aimed at "ending violence against women and keeping Americans safe from gun violence." 

"No one who has been abused should have to worry about their abuser getting a gun," the president said. "As a result of today’s ruling, survivors of domestic violence and their families will still be able to count on critical protections, just as they have for the past three decades."

"Vice President [Kamala] Harris and I remain firmly committed to ending violence against women and keeping Americans safe from gun violence," Biden added. "We will continue to call on Congress to further strengthen support and protections for survivors and to take action to stop the epidemic of gun violence tearing our communities apart."

Despite the favorable ruling, President Biden's reelection campaign warned of the "startling reality" behind the case's consideration in the first place.

"No American should overlook the startling reality behind today’s decision: Protecting domestic abuse survivors from gun violence should never be a question, but the fact it even had to be considered shows just how extreme Donald Trump and the gun lobby are," a senior Biden campaign advisor said in a statement to Spectrum News. "There’s only one candidate in this race fighting to save lives from gun violence and that’s Joe Biden.”

Vice President Harris issued a similar warning: "If Donald Trump returns to power, all of that progress would be at risk."

"While President Biden and I stand up to the gun lobby, Donald Trump bows down," Harris said in a statement released by Biden's reelection campaign. "Trump has made clear he believes Americans should ‘get over’ gun violence, and we cannot allow him to roll back commonsense protections or appoint the next generation of Supreme Court justices."

"I have worked my entire career to protect women and children from domestic violence—from prosecuting abusers to supporting survivors," she continued. "President Biden and I will never stop fighting for the rights of every American, including every survivor of domestic violence, to live free from the horror of gun violence. To continue that work, we must defeat Donald Trump in November."

The high court last week struck down a federal ban on bump stocks -- gun attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns -- that was put into place by the administration of then-President Donald Trump after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre. But that case was not determined by the Second Amendment; rather, it centered around the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to enact that restriction.

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%, 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.