The Justice Department on Friday asked the Supreme Court to expedite its review of a recent appeals court decision that found unconstitutional a federal law banning gun ownership by individuals under a domestic violence ban.
“Having a gun in a home where a domestic abuser lives increases the risk of homicide by a factor of six,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote Friday in her petition, urging the Supreme Court to decide before the summer recess whether to hear the case.
In February, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the 1996 law was unconstitutional, and while the ruling only applies to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, its supporters fear it will have wide repercussions, including deterring victims from making statements.
The district court cited a landmark Second Amendment ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority last year that set out a new test that lower courts can use to analyze the constitutionality of a gun law.
Prelogar told the Supreme Court Friday that the 5th Circuit’s reasoning was wrong and that the Supreme Court should review the case to “correct the Fifth Circuit’s misinterpretation of Bruen,” citing the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer.
Part of the test, according to a Supreme Court majority in June, was whether the gun restriction paralleled the rules in place at the time the Constitution was drafted.
The 5th District said that in its opinion on domestic violence gun restrictions earlier this year, the ban on alleged rapists had no such historical parallel and was therefore unconstitutional.
If “the 5th Circuit approach were universally applied,” Prelogar wrote, “few modern laws would stand up to judicial scrutiny; After all, most modern gun regulations differ from their historical predecessors in at least some respects.”
At the time of the district court’s decision, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that Congress defined the gun ban law “nearly 30 years ago” and announced the department’s plan to appeal the decision.
“Whether analyzed through the prism of Supreme Court precedent or the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, this statute is constitutional. Accordingly, the Department will seek further review of the contrary decision of the Fifth Circuit,” he said.
Weapons are used in nearly two-thirds of intimate partner murders, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. A 2021 research found that most mass shootings are also related to domestic violence.
While some states subject to the appellate court have similar restrictions on state law, the new ruling undermines a critical tool that survivors must protect from their abusers. If the logic of the 5th Circuit were adopted by the US Supreme Court across the country, the consequences would be devastating, advocates say.
“People find out that their abuser still has a weapon. They will continue to live in absolute, disgusting fear,” said Heather Bellino, CEO of the Texas Advocacy Project, which works with victims of domestic violence. “They will be afraid to get a protection order because now these weapons will not disappear.”