A recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said the Second Amendment allows people accused of domestic abuse to have guns. While the ruling only applies in the 5th District, which encompasses Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, advocates for survivors of domestic violence said the ruling could have reverberations nationwide.
Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, said attention to this ruling is warranted for all Americans.
“Anything that could happen in one circuit could be applied nationally. … In Illinois, we have very, very strong domestic violence laws, particularly domestic violence laws relating to firearm ownership,” Pyron said. “People in Illinois should want to keep those laws. They should be reaching out to state legislators and asking how we can strengthen our laws and making sure that these protections stay in place so that any future challenges that arise at the Supreme Court only result in a federal decision and not in any changes to our state law.”
Rebecca Weininger, director of domestic violence at North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic, said she’s concerned the ruling will have implications that go beyond state borders.
“There is nothing that keeps an abuser in Illinois from crossing a state line,” Weininger said. “There is nothing magic about the borders between us and any of our sister states. The majority of gun violence is perpetrated by guns that were not purchased in Illinois. So when you have a federal restriction that is struck down, that means that the state laws that protect us here in Illinois are only as good as the surrounding states that don’t have those protections.”
Melanie Skach, manager of the domestic violence program at Guardian Angel Community Services in Joliet, said in her work, the protections offered by Illinois have been indispensable for helping keep survivors safe.
“We already have the [Illinois Domestic Violence Act] and other laws that are in place … but there we have protections and communities and agencies that are out there willing to help and jump in, and other domestic violence agencies …are out there working. So we have a good support system,” Skach said. “We need to continue building that and finding more people that want to join and help us in the movement of making sure everyone is safe. … We use all those laws that we have already in place.”
Research has shown that gun ownership among those under orders for domestic violence makes an already dangerous situation even worse, Pyron said.
“It increases the risk of lethality for domestic violence survivor by 500%,” Pyron said. “Survivors are threatened even by the presence of a gun. Whether it’s used or not, just knowing that a firearm is there increases the level of danger that they and potentially their children are experiencing. It affects their safety planning, it affects whether they decide to leave or whether they’re too afraid to leave and whether or not they reach out to family members or friends for support when they’re afraid that those family members or friends might be caught up in firearm-involved violence.”
Skach said she doesn’t believe the alarm among advocacy groups about this ruling is rooted in anti-gun sentiment.
“We’re also forgetting about the people who are getting involved in it and forgetting about the women involved in the families, involved in community,” Skach said. “I don't believe that anyone that does this work is starting out as, ‘We just hate guns, and we don't want anything to do with guns.’ I believe we’re looking out for the safety of our families and our communities and those survivors that are dealing with this day to day.”
Weininger said in her estimation, the arguments the 5th Circuit Court used to justify this ruling do not hold water.
“What it does is tries to interpret a Supreme Court ruling that came down recently, that requires judges to act as historians and puts them in an untenable position of having to decide whether there is a historical analog dating all the way back to 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified,” Weininger said.
“Basically what it says is: Was there gun regulation of this kind back in 1791?” Weininger continued. “And as we all know, in 1791, the only people who were regulating guns were wealthy white men, property owners; that they did not anticipate regulations that would protect women. Women were property, they weren't citizens, [nor were] Latinas, Latinos, indigenous populations, Black populations. So what they’re asking for courts to decide is something on historic level that makes absolutely no sense for judges to decide, and instead says gun regulations should only protect the political and social order, they should not protect individuals.”
“What is so ridiculously ironic about saying that, is that it’s someone who has been deemed by a court to be dangerous, in this case, someone who has an order of protection against them,” Weininger continued. “So the judges already deemed them to be dangerous to the entire community. If we can’t as a community say that someone who is dangerous to their intimate partner is dangerous to the whole community, then what is the point of a community at all?”