A Texas judge rules federal gun restrictions on domestic abusers are unconstitutional

Though researchers say such restrictions save lives, the district court says they violate the Second Amendment.

By Shelly BrisbinDecember 9, 2022 12:38 pm,

Under a federal law, people who are subject to domestic violence protection orders are prohibited from having access to guns.

In November, a federal judge in the Western District of Texas ruled that this law violates the Second Amendment to the Constitution, because no such gun restrictions existed when the country was founded. But keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers saves lives, advocates say, and academic researchers say studies support that claim.

April Zeoli is an associate professor of public health at the University of Michigan. She coauthored an article for The Conversation about the case and joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What can you tell us about this district court ruling that would prevent the government from restricting access to guns, even for domestic abusers? And we should point out that the ruling is on appeal at this point, right?

April Zeoli: The ruling is on appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court, yes. The outcome of that appeal is not certain. In the summer, the Supreme Court ruled in a case commonly referred to as Bruen, that to be constitutional, a firearm restriction has to have a historical analog. There has to be some kind of law that was present when the nation was founded that is similar to this restriction, because that’s how we’ll know whether the founders intended on the restriction being constitutional. So what this judge did in the recent Texas case is determine that, because there were no domestic violence firearm restrictions when the nation was founded, it’s not constitutional.

The case that you’re referring to is the Supreme Court case in which some folks in New York had challenged local ordinances on carry outside of one’s home. Is that right?

That’s correct.

So the judge rules saying that, based on the new precedent from the Supreme Court this summer, because there were no laws prior to the ones being challenged that would prohibit someone from having access to guns if they’re subject to domestic violence protection orders… Since there’s no historic analog, then that law is completely invalid.

That is what the judge ruled. Now, we do have many historical precedents of the nation prohibiting gun possession by individuals that were considered to be dangerous. Our definition of “dangerous” has changed over time. Back then, there really weren’t any laws against domestic violence, and there were very few prosecutions of the few laws that did exist. So we didn’t really consider domestic violence a crime, and we didn’t consider those people to be dangerous. But we do now. And so this law could stand under the argument that these people are dangerous and we have a history of prohibiting dangerous people.

You and your colleagues write that restricting access to guns – just access – lowers the risk of homicides overall, not just those committed with firearms. Could you say more about that?

I can, yes. We found that when a state has this firearm restriction, there is an associated reduction in intimate partner homicide. There’s a reduction in intimate partner homicide committed with guns. But it is total intimate partner homicide that ultimately is reduced. And what that means is that people aren’t just using other weapons in the place of guns. We’re not still killing the same number of people. It actually saves lives.

If the Fifth Circuit finds in favor of the original outcome here, what could that mean for laws in several states across the country when it comes to restricting gun access for people convicted of domestic abuse or violence?

Well, it gets a little more complicated because another court also ruled on this particular law under this new Supreme Court ruling and found the law is constitutional. And when courts disagree, we tend to continue to go up the ladder of courts till we reach the Supreme Court. But if it is ultimately found unconstitutional, it will ring in a new day of greater danger to domestic violence survivors and their families as their risk of homicide increases.

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