Domestic Violence Advocacy Organizations File Amicus Brief in U.S. v Rahimi

Urges U.S. Supreme Court to overturn dangerous and misguided ruling allowing abusers to own guns

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — One survivor had a gun held to her head until she swore she would never leave him. Another abuser shot and killed his domestic partner with her five young children nearby. Still, another survivor was savagely assaulted by her son’s father and hospitalized for a month, suffering from multiple brain hematomas, teeth knocked out and severe facial fractures.

These are only some of the stories supporting an amicus brief filed today by nearly 60 domestic violence advocacy organizations from across the country asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that struck down three decades of federal law banning abusers under a domestic violence protective order from owning a gun.

“We urge the higher court to overturn this misguided decision that prioritizes a dangerous abuser’s access to firearms over the safety of another human life,”said Dawn Dalton, executive director of the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “The lethality of abusive relationships is best told by those who have experienced it. The stories in this brief are the experiences of survivors who collectively make up the fabric of our society—family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. The Court must make safety its priority as the lives of survivors and the community are at stake.”

At issue is a ruling from a three-judge panel of the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in February that found the federal prohibition on gun possession for people subject to domestic violence civil protective orders is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.

The 34-page amicus brief argues that removing that protection is tantamount to handing a gun to an abuser as it would eliminate the most tailored protection a survivor can seek—a protective order. The brief focuses on the challenges of trying to survive an abusive relationship when the chances that the relationship will turn deadly increase when an abuser owns or has access to firearms. This first-hand telling of experiences from survivors of domestic violence collectively demonstrates that domestic violence abusers frequently engage in a pattern of abusive conduct that includes the use of firearms to control and terrorize their victims.

Zackey Rahimi, a drug dealer and a suspect in multiple shootings with a history of violence toward the mother of his child, “is not a responsible, law-abiding” citizen and should be disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment’s text, historical foundation, and legal precedent, the domestic violence advocates argue. His dangerous choices are “not uncommon amongst those subject to domestic violence orders.”

“Prohibiting abusers who are under civil domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms saves lives,” said Melina Milazzo, deputy director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “When a male abuser has access to a firearm, the risk he will shoot and kill a female partner increases by 1,000%. The Fifth Circuit took away this lifesaving protection, putting millions of victims, their families, and their communities in danger. The bottom line: guns don’t belong in the hands of abusers.”

Statistics show that prohibitions on people who have abused their intimate partners and family members make society safer.

One survivor tells how her former partner used guns to control her. During their relationship, he frequently held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her if she left him and he threatened to kill their son if she reported him.

 “Over the years, the abuse became so bad that I did not want to live anymore,” a survivor shared. “This is the only way I escaped. I realized nothing I did was going to save me. Either I was going to end my life or he was going to end it for me. He told me he would bury my body under one of his construction sites and that no one would find me. I believe he will try to kill me one day. I’ve had to accept this and try to live with this reality. The hyper vigilance and pain this has caused me is significant. I stopped long distance running which was a hobby I had since the second grade. I avoid going out at night or in the early morning, in general. I live in an almost constant state of fear.”

“What the lower court decision misunderstands is that this prohibition is not a removal of a right historically protected in this country,” said Jason Stiehl, who is leading legal team from Crowell & Moring. “To the contrary, it reflects the historical preference of Americans to protect both individuals and society from further violence and harms to individuals judicially determined to be a dangerous risk. Nothing can make that clearer than the stories of survivors and their family members who live—or have lost their lives to—the daily reality of that risk.”

Another story demonstrates why survivors may not be comfortable seeking help from law enforcement. This woman’s abuser was an auxiliary police officer himself. On one occasion the officer drove his wife to a deserted parking lot, held a gun to her head and made her promise to never leave. All the problems in their marriage were her fault. Or, so he said.

The woman moved out and sought an order of protection, but the abuse didn’t stop. Her husband kicked in the front door of the house, held a gun to her head, and told her to call 911 because after he shot her, he was going to shoot himself and “someone needed to come get their eighteen-month-old baby.”  When the abuser violated the order of protection, the woman informed the police department that he had access to a weapon, but the gun was never taken from him. Her abuser had no respect for the order of protection, telling her it “was just a piece of paper that he would leave on my dead body for them to identify me with.”

Domestic violence is not just an issue for individuals, the brief argues.  It is a broad societal issue that affects every American from every socioeconomic class.

  • As of 2022, approximately one in three women and one in four men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • An average of three women are killed by a current or former partner every day.
  • When looking at who commits mass shootings in the United States, between 2014-19, more than two thirds of the mass shootings in the nation were carried out by a shooter with a history of domestic violence or killed at least one dating partner or family member during the mass shooting.

“Disarming dangerous individuals like the abusers in the stories told by these brave victims  falls squarely within our nation’s history and tradition of firearms regulation. The Supreme Court should do what is right and reverse the lower court’s decision and uphold this nation’s tradition of protecting its citizens,” said Lyndsay A. Gorton, counsel and member of the Crowell legal team.

The Crowell team included: Jason Steihl, a partner based in Chicago; Lyndsay A. Gorton, counsel based in Washington, D.C.; Eli L. Berns-Zieve and Idris Motiwala, associates based in Washington, D.C.; and Kevin D. Cacabelos, an associate based in San Francisco.

“Research has demonstrated time and again the deadly intersection of domestic violence and firearms,” said Gloria Aguilera Terry, chief executive officer of the Texas Council on Family Violence. “Over the past 10 years, the number of women murdered by an intimate partner with a firearm in Texas has nearly doubled. We fear for the many survivors at a terrifyingly high risk of being killed by a violent abuser with a firearm.”

About Crowell & Moring LLP

Crowell & Moring is an international law firm with operations in the United States, Europe, MENA, and Asia. Drawing on significant government, business, industry and legal experience, the firm helps clients capitalize on opportunities and provides creative solutions to complex litigation and arbitration, regulatory and policy, and corporate and transactional issues. The firm is consistently recognized for its commitment to pro bono service as well as its programs and initiatives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.  

About the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence (DCCADV) is the federally-recognized statewide coalition of domestic violence programs, organizations, and individuals organized to ensure the elimination of domestic violence in the District of Columbia.

About the National Network to End Domestic Violence

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is a leading national voice for domestic violence victims and their advocates, representing the 56 state and U.S. territorial coalitions against domestic violence. NNEDV works to make domestic violence a national priority; change the way communities respond to domestic violence; and strengthen efforts against intimate partner violence at every level of government.

About the Texas Council on Family Violence

Texas Council on Family Violence is the only 501(c) 3 nonprofit coalition in Texas dedicated solely to creating safer communities and freedom from family violence. With a state-wide reach and direct local impact, TCFV, with the collective strength of more than 1300 members, shapes public policy, equips service providers, and initiates strategic prevention efforts.

Media Contact:
Dawn Dalton: [email protected]
Lisa Winjum: [email protected]
Rebecca Carr: [email protected]

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SOURCE Crowell & Moring LLP

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