The Supreme Court could undermine decades of congressional efforts to prevent gun violence if they agree with a lower court decision that struck down a nearly 30-year-old gun control law, two groups of lawmakers told the justices.
The members of Congress filed briefs Monday in a case now at the high court that is seen as a test on the limits of a 2022 decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, that expanded Second Amendment rights.
That decision kicked off a flood of litigation over firearms restrictions, changed the way federal judges evaluate the constitutionality of gun control laws. In some cases judges have struck them down. That includes a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that tossed a federal restriction on firearm possession for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
The three-judge 5th Circuit panel wrote that the Bruen decision meant the court had to find specific historical laws to justify modern firearm restrictions — and no colonial-era law dealt with firearms of domestic abusers.
A brief from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., told the justices that upholding the 5th Circuit decision wipes out an effective tool to prevent domestic violence and “jeopardizes decades of bipartisan efforts to protect some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens.”
“The Court must not stymie further work by Congress in this crucial area of law and policy. It should reverse,” that brief states.
Congress has gathered evidence that shows survivors of domestic violence “are safer when abusers subject to restraining orders do not have unfettered access to deadly weapons,” the brief states. “This is, frankly, common sense. And nothing in the text or history of the Second Amendment says or requires otherwise.”
Another brief from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, California Rep. Mike Thompson and 169 other Democrats in Congress argued that the 5th Circuit’s approach to evaluating gun laws would “unduly shackle Congress to the past, rendering it unable to develop innovative solutions for the benefit of the public.” The Democrats also argued that the 5th Circuit approach would let judges toss any gun law they thought didn’t have a specific enough analogue from the founding era and “allow courts to substitute their policy judgments for those of Congress.”
If the justices do not reverse the 5th Circuit, then the “already overburdened” courts will be flooded with challenges to federal gun laws, the Democrats’ brief argues.
“That deluge has already begun. This Court must stem the tide if it does not want courts to relitigate Bruen for years to come,” the brief states.