Public Health

Physicians to high court: Keep firearms out of abusers’ hands

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

Noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has said in prior rulings that Second Amendment rights are not unlimited, physicians are telling the nation’s highest court that domestic violence abusers who have restraining orders against them are most certainly among citizens who do not have a constitutional right to bear arms.

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In an amicus brief (PDF), the AMA and several other medical associations explained why the nation’s highest court must reverse a lower-court decision and uphold a federal law that prohibits those with domestic violence restraining orders from possessing a firearm.

“Barring domestic violence abusers from access to firearms when the requirements of [the law] … are satisfied are critical to save lives and it must be constitutionally permissible,” says the brief that the AMA, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Public Health Association and Texas Medical Association filed in the case, United States of America v. Rahimi.

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The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing the case after a Texas man filed a lawsuit claiming the law violates his rights. The man was not allowed access to a firearm after a Texas state court found that he committed family violence and then imposed a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO). The man violated that order, threatening another woman with a firearm and participating in a series of five shootings, court records show.

Initially, the lower courts upheld the federal law and said the man, Zackey Rashimi, could not possess a firearm. However, the man asked to have his case reheard in light of the Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. et al. v. Bruen, which struck down a law that required anyone seeking a concealed carry license in New York to prove that proper cause exists.

In the Rahimi case, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Texas law did violate the Second Amendment, saying the government didn’t show that the restriction fit in the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.

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The 5th Circuit ruling said the government was creating a slippery slope for Second Amendment rights, asking whether “speeders [could] be stripped of their right to keep and bear arms? Political nonconformists? People who do not recycle or drive an electric vehicle?”

Physicians tell the Supreme Court that “these fanciful hypotheticals are utterly inapposite and overlook what is at stake.” They say the law in question does not apply to all firearm owners or firearms.

“It applies to a small, dangerous subset of non-law-abiding citizens and highly irresponsible citizens who are subject to DVROs based on a judicial finding after notice and an opportunity to be heard,” the brief says.

The AMA brief also tells the court that their Bruen decision reiterated that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” And when looking at the history of the law, the amicus brief notes that 18th- and 19th-century laws limited firearm ownership by prohibiting people against “bearing arms in a way that spreads fear or terror among the people.”

“Domestic abusers with access to firearms do exactly that—and far worse,” the brief says.

Along with physicians’ heart-wrenching stories from the front lines of American firearms violence, the brief details these sobering statistics:

  • At least once every 16 hours, a woman in the U.S. is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner.
  • Abusive partners with access to firearms are five times more likely to kill their victims than abusive partners without guns.
  • When an abuser has access to a firearm, the likelihood that a domestic violence victim will end up dead increases by 500% or more.

The AMA has declared gun-related violence a public health crisis. Learn how the AMA advocates to prevent gun violence and to increase gun safety.