Gun Control Scores Rare Win at Supreme Court

Since 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a broad view of the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the Constitution. That year brought the landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, which recognized an individual right to possess guns and use them for traditionally lawful purposes. Heller and subsequent cases often have limited the ability of the federal and state governments to enact gun control laws. However, a decision last Friday showed that the Second Amendment will not block every restriction.

This case, U.S. v. Rahimi, posed a challenge to a federal law barring gun possession by certain people subject to domestic violence restraining orders. The statute allows prosecution only if the order states that the defendant poses a “credible threat” to the physical safety of their partner or the defendant’s or partner’s child, or if the order explicitly prohibits the use or threat of physical force against those people. The defendant, Zackey Rahimi, admitted that the order in his case met those requirements. He argued instead that the law violated the Second Amendment.

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a Second Amendment challenge to a gun control law requires the government to show that the restriction fits within the “historical tradition of firearm regulation” in the U.S. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the government had not met this standard in Rahimi’s case.

The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the law complied with the Second Amendment. Writing for every Justice except Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts explained that gun laws throughout U.S. history have prevented people who pose a threat of physical harm from misusing these weapons. The statute thus passed the historical tradition test, which requires that a modern law be only an “analogue” rather than a “twin” of a historical law. Roberts also pointed out that it is “common sense” that the government may disarm someone who poses a clear threat of physical violence. He noted that the law imposes only a temporary restriction and does not affect firearm use by the general public.

This case shows that the historical tradition test, while demanding, leaves some room for gun control laws. It also bolsters the safety of people who have experienced domestic violence.

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