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Appeals court rules government can’t stop people with domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals ruled Thursday that a law prohibiting people with domestic violence restraining orders from having guns is unconstitutional.

People with domestic violence restraining orders have a constitutional right to own firearms, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday. 

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals ruled Thursday that banning people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms "embodies salutary policy goals meant to protect vulnerable people in our society." 

Police in Texas found a rifle and a pistol at the home of a man who was the subject of a civil protective order that banned him from harassing, stalking or threatening his ex-girlfriend and their child. The order also banned him from having guns.

A federal grand jury indicted the man, who pled guilty. He later challenged his indictment, arguing the law that prevented him from owning a gun was unconstitutional. At first, a federal appeals court ruled against him, saying that it was more important for society to keep guns out of the hands of people accused of domestic violence than it was to protect a person's individual right to own a gun.

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But then last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a new ruling in a case known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, set new standards for interpreting the Second Amendment by saying the government had to justify gun control laws by showing they are "consistent with the Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation."

The appeals court withdrew its original decision and on Thursday decided to vacate the man's conviction and ruled the federal law banning people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns was unconstitutional.

The decision came from a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Cory Wilson, James Ho and Edith Jones. Wilson and Ho were nominated by former Republican President Donald Trump, while Jones was nominated by former Republican President Ronald Reagan.

Following the decision, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department "will seek further review of the Fifth Circuit's contrary decision."

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Among those critical of the judges was California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who suggested the judge’s ruling gives "domestic abusers the right to carry firearms. 

"Will they be allowing guns in their courtrooms too?" Newsom tweeted. "This deranged vision of guns for all is a direct threat to safety – and it will only accelerate." 

The ruling has prompted California lawmakers to overhaul their law regarding permits to carry concealed weapons.

On Wednesday, Newsom endorsed a bill in the state Legislature that would ban people from carrying concealed guns in nearly all public places, with an exception for churches and businesses who put up a sign saying guns are OK.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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