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Nessel says SCOTUS gun ruling confirms constitutionality of Michigan gun laws

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Nessel says SCOTUS gun ruling confirms constitutionality of Michigan gun laws

Jun 21, 2024 | 4:51 pm ET
By Jon King
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Nessel says SCOTUS gun ruling confirms constitutionality of Michigan gun laws
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Attorney General Dana Nessel speaks at a gathering at the Michigan Capitol following the Feb. 13, 2023 mass shooting at Michigan State University, Feb. 15, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Following Friday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a federal law that bars people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning a firearm, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she was thankful that “common sense prevailed on the matter.”

The 8-1 decision overturned a lower court ruling that vacated the conviction of a Texas man, Zackey Rahimi, who had been prohibited from possessing a firearm by a restraining order issued after he assaulted his girlfriend in 2019. While the lower court cited a 2022 Supreme Court decision – New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen – that greatly expanded gun rights in its decision, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the 8-1 majority opinion, said “individuals who threaten physical harm to others from misusing firearms,” could be legally disarmed.

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Nessel, speaking to reporters Friday afternoon, said the decision would undoubtedly help protect countless lives. 

“This is a victory for crime victims and survivors everywhere, but no more so than the estimated 4.5 million women who have been threatened by an intimate partner with a gun, as well as all those who are at higher risk of gun violence, including Black and Indigenous women, women who are under 20, women who are pregnant or have disabilities, and also members of the LGBTQ community,” she said. “Michigan’s recently passed ERPO [extreme risk protection order] law was modeled after the federal law at issue in the Rahimi case, and the Supreme Court’s decision today only confirms the constitutionality of our own law.”

Nessel said her office had deep concerns about which way the court would rule considering the “significant legislation” that was signed into law last year, including expanding background checks, initiating safe storage requirements, creating extreme risk protection orders and strengthening penalties for those convicted of domestic abuse

“I’m grateful to be sitting here today to tell you that I truly believe that the Rahimi decision, if anything, supports the work that was done in those cases and upholds the constitutionality of those new laws,” she said.

Nessel also pointed to the creation on Thursday of a Gun Violence Prevention Task Force by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, which she said would be helpful in making sure there was collaboration between agencies across the state to craft the best policies and practices in regard to enforcing the new laws.

The AG said she was mostly encouraged at the instances that the ERPO laws were being utilized, with 62 cases since it went into effect in February.

“I think if more people knew about them, I think more people would utilize them,” said Nessel. “And when they do, what we find is that we save lives. And we’re talking about not just the prevention of homicides, but suicides as well. And so I think the more that we’re out there educating people about these laws, the more lives that we’re going to save.”

The lone dissenting vote on Friday’s ruling was from Justice Clarence Thomas, who argued that a restraining order was not the same as a criminal conviction, and in and of itself was not enough to deprive someone of their Second Amendment rights.

However, Nessel said the ruling was a win for common sense.

“This was not a close call,” she said. “It was an 8-1 decision. Those who were appointed by Democratic presidents as well as Republican presidents, eight of the nine agreed that the statute at issue was constitutional and that there are people who can be restrained and prohibited from ownership and possession of firearms if they pose a credible threat to the public and to specific individuals. That’s a person that shouldn’t own a firearm.”

Nessel was also asked how the ruling squares with a Supreme Court decision last week that invalidated an executive order by former President Donald Trump that outlawed bump stocks, which allows a semi-automatic weapon to have the same rate of fire as a machine gun. 

The attorney general said that particular decision was more about the constitutionality of executive orders than it was about gun laws, although she said it did open up the possibility for legislative action on a ban either at the federal or state level.

“There could be a bump a stock ban here in the state of Michigan,” she said “In fact, I have talked to several legislators who are very interested in proposing such legislation, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pass here in Michigan.”