Supreme Court justices have more gun cases in their sights

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s ruling Friday upholding a law banning domestic violence offenders from owning firearms — a rare victory for gun control advocates — does not mean it will stop. repeal other gun restrictions.

The court has several pending cases that it could rule on next week, which would provide further signs of the conservative majority’s willingness to continue a long-term campaign to reshape the scope of the right to bear arms.

How the court approaches these cases will determine whether Friday’s decision was an outlier or a sign of a step back from a thorough understanding of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The increased activity on the gun rights docket stems from the Court’s relatively new embrace of the individual right to bear arms, as first articulated in a 2008 ruling, but expanded significantly in 2022.

In the latter decision – a case called New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen — the court said gun restrictions must be analyzed based on a historical understanding of the right to bear arms. That has led to a wave of new challenges to well-established gun restrictions, including the domestic violence ban at issue in Friday’s ruling in United States v. Rahimi.

In its latest ruling, the court stuck to what has been dubbed its “history and tradition” standard for reviewing gun restrictions, but appeared to take a slight step back from the tough approach to the Bruen ruling. In fact, Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion in Bruen’s case, was the only justice Friday to say he would have ruled that the federal domestic violence law was unconstitutional.

But it remains to be seen how the court will approach other gun restrictions, all of which must be analyzed based on whether there is some sort of historical analogue.

Gun control advocates were somewhat comforted by the latest ruling, with Esther Sanchez-Gomez, director of litigation at the Giffords Law Center, saying it showed that “common sense must still prevail.”

The ruling, she added, “gives me hope” that the court could uphold other gun restrictions in future cases.

Andrew Willinger, executive director of the Center for Gun Law at Duke University Law School, said the Rahimi decision was narrow and did not dictate the outcome of other gun cases.

“In a way, the Court is committed to deciding a number of other challenges in the years to come,” he added.

Among the cases the court may consider hearing in the coming days is a challenge to a federal law that prohibits nonviolent felons from owning guns, and another that similarly prohibits people who use illegal drugs from possessing a firearm.

This latest case touches on the same criminal statute under which Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, was recently convicted in Delaware. So any Supreme Court decision finding that the law may violate the right to bear arms in certain situations could end up helping him.

The nonviolent criminal case involves a Pennsylvania man named Bryan Range, who was convicted in 1995 of making a false statement in order to obtain food stamps. The conviction left him banned under federal law from possessing a firearm, prompting him to sue the government, claiming his right to bear a gun had been violated.

The case with close similarities to that of Hunter Biden involves Patrick Daniels, who was arrested by police in Mississippi in April 2022 and found to be in possession of marijuana, a loaded pistol, and a loaded rifle.

In both cases, the Biden administration appealed after losing in lower courts where judges cited the 2022 Supreme Court decision to rule in favor of gun owners.

The court could decide to hear one or both cases, or it could send them back to lower courts for further analysis in light of the Rahimi decision.

If the court were to take up these cases, there is no guarantee that they would both reach the same outcome, based on what the court said in Rahimi.

In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts focused the majority in part on the determination that domestic violence defendant Zackey Rahimi posed a “credible threat to the physical safety of others.” He also stressed that the ban was temporary.

Clark Neily, an attorney at the libertarian Cato Institute, which advocates for gun rights, said the cases of nonviolent criminals and drug addicts raise very different questions, including whether the defendants in both cases constitute a danger to others.

“These are distinct restrictions on gun ownership, in the sense that the characteristics of a person who uses illegal drugs are different from those of a person convicted of a crime,” he said. he declared.

As for Hunter Biden, who was convicted of one count of violating the gun law by obtaining the weapon as a drug user and two counts of making a false statement related to purchasing the weapon from an arms dealer, legal experts say the Rahimi decision could help him. the chances of eliminating gun ownership count on appeal.

Biden’s lawyers had argued in a court filing that his gun trial should be postponed until the Rahimi case and potentially others are all decided, and predicted that the outcome of the case Rahimi could offer “guidance” to the judge presiding over the case.

Willinger said Biden may be able to use the ruling on appeal by pointing to the high court’s focus on Rahimi’s violent behavior — something that was not an issue in Biden’s case.

“You could imagine Hunter Biden’s lawyers making a strong argument distinguishing his case from this one,” Willinger said.

The list of gun-related cases the court could choose to handle is not limited to nonviolent crimes and substance abuse issues.

Adam Kraut, executive director of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group, said he hoped the court would move beyond cases like Rahimi’s, which focused on banning people from owning a gun. weapon, and would focus on laws that prohibit certain types of weapons and their possession. certain places.

Among the motions pending before the court are a challenge to a law enacted in New York that prohibits, among other things, the possession of firearms in certain “sensitive places” and another case seeking to ban in Illinois the assault and high capacity weapons. magazines.

“It would be another step forward” from a gun rights perspective if the court took up one of these cases, Kraut said.

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