Now, in Rahimi, the Supreme Court will decide whether lethal firearms can flood the homes of domestic violence survivors. The case arrives at the court after the Fifth Circuit a decision in favor of abusers. The Fifth Circuit has ruled that a government cannot prevent a violent individual, against whom a court has issued a domestic violence protective order, from possessing a deadly firearm. In striking down a federal law intended to protect survivors of abuse, the appeals court presented an outrageous legal theory that claims individuals with domestic violence orders have a constitutional right to own a firearm. Using Justice Thomas de Bruen’s historically focused argument as a precedent, the Supreme Court could rule that domestic violence survivors today deserve only the protections they had in the 18th century — a time before most women could own property or work outside the home, let alone vote.
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey indicates that about 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and report being affected by it in their lifetime. According to US crime reports, about 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, and more than half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or former male intimate partner. Here in New York, there are approximately 80,000 serious crimes such as assaults, sexual offenses and violations of orders of protection each year across the state, and data shows that in New York approximately 1 in 5 homicides are related to domestic violence.
The Supreme Court has a choice: It can lean toward the dangerous Fifth Circuit theory that guns cannot be regulated for the purpose of protecting survivors of domestic violence, or it can uphold a federal law that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
Before oral arguments are heard, there is no way to tell how the Supreme Court will rule. The precedent set by Bruen is extraordinarily troubling. However even within the majority of the court in Bruen, there was a split. Justice Thomas kept his focus on historical arguments. But a concurrence by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, left room for certain basic protections, noting that “properly interpreted, the Second Amendment permits a ‘variety’ of gun regulations.”
That consensus helped inform New York’s response to Bruen. After New York State’s century-old gun law was repealed, I took immediate steps to restore protections against gun violence, including signing new laws to strengthen training and licensing requirements. In the spring of 2022, we strengthened our state’s red flag laws, removing guns from people like domestic abusers who pose a risk to themselves or others and closing loopholes that enabled the tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas. As a result, courts issued about 9,000 extreme-risk protection orders last year, up from 1,400 in the previous two and a half years. Depending on the extent of the court’s decision in Rahimi, these protections could also be at risk. After a brief spike during the start of the pandemic in 2020, New York is gradually and steadily returning to pre-pandemic shooting levels and has one of the top five lowest rates of gun-related deaths. I have always said that public safety is my top priority as governor, and I am committed to using every tool at my disposal to keep our communities safe from gun violence.