Watch CBS News

Supreme Court gun case could reverse protections for domestic violence survivors. One woman has a message for the justices.

Supreme Court weighs domestic violence gun law
Supreme Court case could overturn domestic violence firearms law 03:50

Barbara Pettis still vividly remembers the phone call she received on the night of August 24. From the other end of the line, a frantic voice told her Jaylen Sarah Hasty, her great-grandniece from South Carolina, was murdered.  

"She had been shot five times by her ex-boyfriend who stalked her. He was so intent on killing her, he left his car running," said Pettis. "He jumped out of his car. He assaulted her, dragged her into her apartment and shot her five times." 

The Richland County Sheriff's Department arrested Kenardo Bates, 31, in connection with the shooting. Deputies called the shooting a case of domestic violence.  

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 4 women in the United States experience severe intimate partner physical violence. That includes Pettis. 

"I've had a fractured nose, I've had a concussion, I've had black eyes and swollen face and swollen jaws," said Pettis. "I've had been choked to where I was unconscious. There was a weapon. And I didn't doubt for a minute that he would use it. During the last incident, he put me in a chokehold. I saw evil in his face. I heard evil in his tone of voice. And he said he would kill me." 

Fearing for her life, Pettis took out a restraining order against her abuser which triggered a 1994 law prohibiting anyone with a domestic violence restraining order against them from owning a gun. She wishes her great-grandniece had done the same.  

But that law, which has prevented tens of thousands of firearm purchases from people under domestic violence restraining orders, now hangs in the balance of the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the justices heard arguments in United States v. Rahimi. 

The case, out of Texas, centers around Zackey Rahimi, who is currently serving a 6-year prison sentence. Rahimi was under a domestic violence restraining order when he was suspected of carrying out a string of shootings and threatening a woman with a gun. While investigating, police found firearms in his apartment — a violation of the 1994 federal law.  

A federal grand jury indicted Rahimi, who pleaded guilty. He was able to appeal his case after the nation's highest court established a new legal standard for gun regulations nationwide in 2022. 

"The question before the court is whether or not they will uphold this federal law preventing those who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns in light of their new test," said CBS News legal contributor Jessica Levinson. "[The test] says restrictions will only be upheld if it's consistent with the history and tradition of the Second Amendment when it was ratified in the late 1700s." 

As Levinson points out, the Supreme Court's ruling could impact other gun laws making their way through the nation's lower courts.  

"If the court decides in favor of Rahimi in this case, it really means that any similar laws dealing with restrictions on those who have, for instance, been convicted of domestic violence, all of those will fall," said Levinson. "And I think those in favor of these laws would say it would make people much less safe." 

According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, women are five times more likely to die from domestic abuse when the abuser has access to a firearm.  

In the case of Jaylen Hasty, Pettis says that's exactly what happened.  

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't give you the tools necessary," she said when thinking about her great-grandniece. "I miss and love you so much." 

Survivor urges Supreme Court: Safeguard domestic violence gun law 05:10

Pettis is turning her pain into purpose by working at a women's shelter in Dallas for domestic violence survivors. Every week, she hosts a group meeting for fellow survivors — an open forum for the women at the shelter to share their stories. She thinks Supreme Court justices should hear from them before deciding the fate of women like her.  

"People are sitting there making decisions without having an intelligent perspective on what this does," says Pettis. "These people that are making laws, they have not been there. I feel like they need to come to places like this. I feel like they need to sit and talk to women like me that have been there and that have survived it." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.