US bishops ask Supreme Court to ratify weapon bans in domestic violence cases

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues an amicus brief related to the US v. Rahimi case, arguing for upholding a federal law preventing people under domestic restraining orders from carrying firearms.

By Edoardo Giribaldi

“The basic principles of social order, reflected in various ways in this Nation’s historic legal traditions and in Catholic Social Teaching, include the government’s role in promoting the common good by protecting human life and dignity.”

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops thus opened an amicus brief related to a pending Supreme Court case, arguing in favor of ratifying a federal law allowing gun bans in domestic violence cases.

Firearm possession

The document referred to the case of Zackey Rahimi, a Texas man with a history of dealing drugs who received a restraining order after knocking his girlfriend to the ground, following an argument between the two in a parking lot, and dragging her to his car, causing her head to hit the dashboard, as reported by a court filing.

After a search warrant at his home, officers found a rifle and a pistol that belonged to Rahimi, who was charged with unlawful firearm possession under a 1994 federal law that prohibited a person subject to a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a firearm.

On February 2, 2023, a three-judge panel of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal prohibition was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, based on a June 2022 court landmark ruling known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which overturned New York state’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.

Danger to the common good

The bishop’s document argued that the 1994 federal law doesn’t happen to be in contradiction with the Bruen case. In fact, according to the brief, “uniquely dangerous individuals can lose their right to keep and bear arms” as part of the “Congress’s legitimate authority to disarm those who have demonstrated—to the three satisfaction of a judicial fact-finder—that they pose a unique danger to those close to them and to the common good.”

The document stated the necessity to “be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of such regulations,” referring to restriction on firearms.

The Church’s duty

In this regard, the bishops recalled the words of Catholic thinkers such as St. John Henry Newman and Pope Benedict XVI, exploring the relationship of the Church’s twofold duty “to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion” and “to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us.”

While the document recognized “the autonomy of the family and other institutions of civil society,” it also acknowledged that that same autonomy “is not unlimited,” calling, therefore, for law interventions.

Domestic violence

In fact, “the right to keep and bear arms can thus be limited in situations where possession of arms is unusually likely to harm innocent victims instead of helping, such as when the possessor has demonstrated a willingness to engage in unjustifiable violence.”

The document reported Pope Francis’ words in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on “the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union.”

Protecting vulnerable individuals

The document brought up historical examples demonstrating how individuals could be disarmed when considered dangerous for others, challenging the distinction that was made between protecting society as a whole and protecting individuals. 

“The genuine protection of political and social order is not truly a separate aim from protecting the vulnerable individuals whose moral claim on society is most pressing,” bishops claimed.

The document concluded by challenging the Fifth Circuit affirmation on the task of obtaining a restraining order, which, according to the bishops, is “hardly a simple task” and “by no means assured,” as “victims of abuse may be unable to afford filing fees or counsel, particularly when their finances are controlled by their abusers.