After gun control victory at Supreme Court, justices have other firearms cases in their

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday upholding a law that bars domestic abusers from possessing firearms — a rare victory for gun control advocates — doesn’t mean it is going to stop striking down other gun restrictions.

The court has several pending cases that it could act on in the next week that would give further signs of how eager the conservative majority is to continue with a long-term campaign to re-shape the scope of the right to bear arms.

How the court approaches those cases will determine whether Friday’s ruling was an outlier or a sign that it is pulling back from an expansive understanding of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The increased activity on the gun rights docket stems from the court’s relatively new embrace of an individual right to bear arms as first articulated in a 2008 ruling but expanded significantly in 2022.

In the latter ruling — a case called New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen — the court said gun restrictions had to be analyzed based on a historical understanding of the right to bear arms. That led to a wave of new challenges to well-established gun restrictions including the domestic violence prohibition at issue in Friday’s ruling in United States v. Rahimi.

In the latest decision, the court stood by what has been dubbed its “history and tradition” test for reviewing gun restrictions but appeared to take a slight step back from the hardline approach of the Bruen ruling. In fact, Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion in the Bruen case, was the only justice on Friday to say they would have ruled that the federal domestic violence law was unconstitutional.

But it remains to be seen how the court will approach other gun restrictions, all of which have to be analyzed based on whether there is some kind of historical analogue.

Gun control advocates took some solace from the latest ruling, with Esther Sanchez-Gomez, litigation director at the Giffords Law Center, saying it showed that “common sense still needs to rule the day.”

The ruling, she added, “gives me hope” that the court might uphold other gun restrictions in future cases.

Andrew Willinger, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at the Duke University School of Law, said the Rahimi ruling was narrow and does not dictate the outcome of other gun cases.

“In some ways, the court is committing itself to deciding a number of other challenges in the coming years,” he added.

Among the cases the court could consider hearing in the coming days is a challenge to a federal law that bars nonviolent felons from possessing weapons, and another that similarly prohibits people who are users of illegal drugs from owning a firearm.

The latter case touches upon the same criminal statute under which Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, was recently convicted in Delaware. As such, any Supreme Court ruling that concludes the law can violate the right to bear arms in certain situations could end up helping him.

The nonviolent felon case involves a Pennsylvania man named Bryan Range, who was convicted in 1995 of making a false statement to obtain food stamps. The conviction led to his disqualification under federal law from owning a gun, prompting him to sue the government, claiming his right to bear arms had been violated.

The case with the closet similarities to Hunter Biden’s concerns Patrick Daniels, who was stopped by police in Mississippi in April 2022 and found to have marijuana, a loaded pistol and a loaded rifle.

In both cases, the Biden administration appealed after losing in lower courts where judges cited the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in ruling in favor of the gun owners.

The court could decide to hear either or both cases, or it could send them back to lower courts for further analysis in light of the Rahimi decision.

If the court were to take the cases up, there’s no guarantee they would both come out the same way, based on what the court said in the Rahimi ruling.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts focused in part on the fact that there had been a determination that accused domestic abuser Zackey Rahimi was a “credible threat to the physical safety of others.” He also highlighted that the prohibition was temporary.

Clark Neily, a lawyer at the libertarian Cato Institute, which backs gun rights, said the nonviolent felon and drug users cases present very different questions, including whether defendants in either case are a danger to others.

“These are distinct restrictions on gun ownership, in the sense that the characteristics of somebody who is an unlawful drug user are different from the characteristics of somebody who has been convicted of a felony,” he said.

As for Hunter Biden, who was convicted with one count of violating the gun law by obtaining the gun as a user of narcotics and two false statement counts related to purchase of the weapon at a gun dealer, legal experts say the Rahimi ruling may help his chances of knocking out the gun possession count on appeal.

Biden’s lawyers had argued in a court filing that his gun trial should be postponed until after the Rahimi case and potentially others were all decided, and predicted the outcome of the Rahimi case could offer “guidance” to the judge presiding over the case.

Willinger said Biden might be able to make use of the ruling on appeal by pointing to the high court’s focus on Rahimi’s violent behavior — something that was not an issue in the Biden case.

“You could imagine Hunter Biden’s attorneys making a strong argument distinguishing his case from this one,” Willinger said.

The shopping list of gun cases the court could choose to take up is not limited to the nonviolent felony and drug user issues.

Adam Kraut, executive director of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group, said he is hopeful the court will move beyond cases like Rahimi focused on who is barred from owning a weapon and focus on laws that bar specific types of guns and possession in certain places.

Among the petitions pending at the court is a challenge to a law enacted in New York that, among other things, bars gun possession in certain “sensitive places” and another case taking aim at a ban in Illinois on assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines.

“That would be another step forward” from a gun rights perspective if the court were to take up one of those cases, Kraut said.



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