OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a coalition of 25 attorneys general, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the court to reverse a decision that would endanger domestic violence victims and put guns into the hands of their abusers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision in U.S. v Rahimi vacated a criminal conviction under a federal law that prohibits individuals subject to Domestic Violence Restraining Orders (DVROs) from possessing firearms. In the lower court’s decision, the Fifth Circuit vacated the criminal conviction of a defendant who had possessed a firearm after being subject to a DVRO, which had been issued by a state court in Texas because the defendant had allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend. Attorney General Bonta and the coalition argue that the lower court’s decision that the DVRO violated the constitutional right of the defendant puts at risk domestic violence victims who may be harmed or killed by their abusers, curtails the rights of states and the federal government to protect residents’ safety, and conflicts with historical law.
“Violent individuals who would assault or harm another person should not be in possession of a gun,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The federal law prohibiting individuals subject to Domestic Violence Restraining Orders from possessing firearms is a critical tool in protecting domestic violence victims and the public from known abusers. Should the courts take away this evidence-based, constitutional, and commonsense tool, they will endanger victims and our communities. The government must maintain the ability to protect residents from violence from those who are a demonstrated threat to public safety.”
Red flag laws or protective orders, such as DVROs, authorize courts to issue temporary protective orders that suspend a person’s access to firearms if the court determines that they have demonstrated a serious risk to themselves or others. A DVRO is a written order signed by the court, which includes multiple vital safety protections including prohibiting a named person from harassing or physically abusing a family member or current or former intimate partner. DVROs are a resource available to protect people who have suffered violence, threats, or abuse from a current or former spouse, intimate partners, cohabitants, or other family members. Under California and federal law, DVROs also generally prohibit the named person from accessing firearms while a restraining order is in effect against them. DVROs are a critical tool which have been shown to increase survivors’ safety and prevent gun violence, including mass shootings.
The states argue that the federal law prohibiting abusers from accessing firearms while they are subject to a DVRO was passed to address a significant public safety risk: The threat posed to victims of domestic violence by the dangerous individuals who abused them and who are likely to reoffend in the absence of protective measures. These efforts have succeeded; studies show that statutes such as the federal law in question can prevent homicide of both intimate partners and law enforcement officers called to intervene, serving the interests of public safety.
Nearly every state in the country has enacted a law limiting access to firearms for those subject to domestic violence restraining orders. These laws save lives as an abuser is five times more likely to murder his or her intimate partner if a firearm is in the home. In the United States, 80% of these homicide victims are women, and pregnant women and women of color are disproportionately the targets of intimate partner violence.
In the brief, which can be found here, the coalition urges the Supreme Court to reject the lower court’s decision, because:
California has also been a leader in establishing other civil court protection order processes for people experiencing threats, violence, and abuse. These include the gun violence restraining order, the civil harassment restraining order, the workplace violence restraining order, the elder/dependent adult abuse restraining order, and the private postsecondary school violence restraining order. Under California law, these court orders include a range of safety protections including the suspension of the respondent’s access to firearms as long as the restraining order is in effect.