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Durbin Questions Witnesses in Judiciary Committee Hearing on Public Safety & Gun Safety Laws in a Post-Bruen America

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today questioned three witnesses at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Protecting Public Safety After New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.” Durbin first questioned Stephen Lindley, former member of law enforcement and current Program Manager for Combating Crime Guns Initiative at Brady, about how frequently law enforcement officers are called to respond to incidents of domestic violence.  

“I want to thank you personally for 27 years in law enforcement.  I want to thank all men and women in law enforcement…We are mourning in Chicago because two weeks ago today, an officer responded to a domestic violence incident.  He came across a man with a gun and chased that man, who turned on him and killed him in a playground of a school in Chicago while the children around were cringing in fear.  How often have you run into domestic incidents in your practice of law enforcement?” asked Durbin.

Mr. Lindley described the stress law enforcement officers experience when responding to domestic violence calls, noting that often these officers cannot assess the full scope of the situation, or the weapons present, until on the scene.  Mr. Lindley underscored that these calls can result in significant injuries to law enforcement or the victim.

“One of the witnesses here says, ‘well, it’s okay.  Rahimi says that if that person has a gun, they’ll probably break some other law that they can be prosecuted for.’  Does a gun, or presence of a firearm, in a domestic violence dispute make it more dangerous for the police?” Durbin asked.

Mr. Lindley promptly agreed that the presence of a firearm in an emotionally-charged situation does make responding to the call very dangerous for law enforcement. 

Durbin then asked Eric Ruben, Assistant Professor of Law at Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, about the recent Fifth Circuit Court decision in United States v. Rahimi.  The Rahimi court applied the Bruen test and deemed a longstanding federal prohibition on gun possession by those with domestic violence retraining orders unconstitutional and vacated the conviction of a man who threatened public safety.  Durbin asked about how the Supreme Court in Bruen presumptively deemed modern firearms to fall within the protection of the Second Amendment, but applied a strict historical analogy test to modern firearm safety laws.

“[The Fifth Circuit] decided in Rahimi that they couldn’t find an analogy to removing a firearm from a person who was under a domestic violence protective order.  As a consequence, they struck down the applicable law in that situation.  Yet, when it comes to the firearms themselves, they don’t go back to 1791 and ask the obvious question – what did the founding fathers have in mind when they used the word ‘arms?’  They seemed to have expanded it to almost anything.  I used the example before of Highland Park at a Fourth of July parade with a man on the roof of a building firing off 83 rounds in 60 seconds, killing seven people, injuring dozens of others.  There wasn’t even a weapon imaginable in 1791 that could do that.  How did they make that leap when it comes to ‘arms’ to include that type of assault weapon?” Durbin asked.   

Mr. Ruben responded by emphasizing the difficulty of making sense of historical gun laws in present-day America after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen.  Mr. Ruben argued that if our laws are going to expansively construe the definition of “arms” in order to keep up with modern technology, then gun safety laws and regulation should be viewed in tandem.

Durbin then asked a question to Ruth Glenn, President of Public Affairs at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence / National Domestic Violence Hotline and a survivor of domestic violence.

“Ms. Glenn, you have a personal experience with this, which is chilling to think of what you went through.  As a survivor of domestic violence, what do you think about the argument that someone with a gun in a domestic violence episode is likely to break some other law that they can be prosecuted for, and that’s good enough?” Durbin asked.

Ms. Glenn responded firmly that prosecuting other crimes after a domestic violence situation is not good enough.  Additionally, a separate crime is not always committed in a domestic violence situation.  Ms. Glenn reiterated that protective orders are necessary measures for survivors to prevent harm by an abuser.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations.