Supreme Court case puts Second Amendment groups in a bind

Second Amendment


WASHINGTON – Zackey Rahimi’s legal troubles began in 2019 when he pulled out a gun and fired at a passerby who witnessed him dragging his girlfriend through a parking lot.


Months later, after getting into an accident, Rahimi repeatedly shot at the other driver, court records show. A year later, he threatened another woman with a gun and was charged with aggravated assault. In 2021, he fired several times into the air after a friend’s credit card was declined at a burger joint near Fort Worth, Texas.

Rahimi’s case is now before the Supreme Court in a blockbuster Second Amendment challenge that may prove especially thorny for the gun lobby and the court’s conservative wing. That’s because Rahimi is challenging his conviction under a federal law that bars Americans who are subject to restraining orders from owning guns.

“The facts of this case make it really unpalatable for them to have to stand up and say, ‘No, we believe that domestic abusers have a Second Amendment right to their firearms,'” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Politically speaking, that’s deeply unpopular.”

Some gun rights groups pushed back on that characterization, arguing that even if Rahimi himself is an unsympathetic figure, the federal law is still inconsistent in their view with the Second Amendment. Rahimi, they say, could have gone to jail for any number of other crimes.

‘Hardly a model citizen’: A test of new Supreme Court standard

As part of his challenge, Rahimi is relying on a standard the Supreme Court set last year that makes it easier for Americans to keep their guns.

In a 6-3 opinion invalidating a New York gun licensing law, the court’s conservative majority ruled that gun regulations must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation” to survive court challenges. That has set off a flurry of research by gun control advocates to find regulations from the nation’s founding era that a court may view as analogous to a modern-day gun prohibition.

Rahimi, in essence, argues that because there was no regulation that banned guns from people subject to restraining orders at the time of the nation’s founding, the federal law that prohibits that ownership today must fall. A federal appeals court in New Orleans sided with Rahimi in March, acknowledging he was “hardly a model citizen” but ruling that the law prohibiting him from owning a gun is an “outlier that our ancestors would never have accepted.”

The Biden administration appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed late last month to hear the case.

Arguments will likely take place in the fall.

“In some ways Rahimi…is the best case for gun safety advocates,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and a Second Amendment expert. “The justices are going to be understandably reluctant to say that domestic abusers have a right under the Second Amendment to possess firearms.”

Federal law also generally prohibits people from possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony, are in the country illegally or have been dishonorably discharged from the military. In 2021, the Supreme Court let stand a series of lower court rulings that prohibited people convicted of driving under the influence, making false statements on tax returns and selling counterfeit cassette tapes from owning a gun.

Muted response from major gun groups

That may also explain why the National Rifle Association, which sought the new standard, has been mostly silent about the case so far. Neither the NRA nor the Firearms Policy Coalition filed amicus briefs when the case was on appeal. And neither responded to multiple requests for comment. 

Rahimi is represented by a federal public defender in Texas. That office declined to comment.  

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said that his group intends to weigh into the case with a brief at the Supreme Court.

“While we are not sympathetic to the plaintiff in this case the law being challenged has constitutional problems,” Gottlieb said. “Sometimes it takes bad plaintiffs (to) make good case law.”

Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, said that his group is “thrilled” the Supreme Court agreed to decide the case.

“If someone is dangerous enough that society can’t trust them with a gun, they should be behind bars − it’s that simple,” Pratt said. “But this law disarms non-violent people who have never been convicted of a crime.”

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