Supreme Court Weighs Domestic Violence Gun Restrictions In Case That Could Have Huge Impact On Second Amendment Law

Second Amendment

  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case, United States v. Rahimi, that challenges the federal law barring subjects of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms.
  • Zackey Rahimi, who a lower court wrote is “hardly a model citizen” in its decision ruling in his favor, mounted a constitutional challenge to the statute after he was indicted under it.
  • The justices struggled to understand the lawyer representing Rahimi, with Justice Elena Kagan saying at one point that it seemed like he was “running away” from his argument.

The Supreme Court considered Tuesday whether a law barring subjects of domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms violates the Second Amendment.

Zackey Rahimi’s constitutional challenge to the law in United States v. Rahimi provides the justices an opportunity to clarify a major Second Amendment ruling from just two years ago, which has sparked a variety of new challenges to gun regulations and varying interpretations in the lower courts. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, arguing the government’s position, suggested the domestic violence law was permissible on the the basis that guns can be constitutionally restricted from two categories of people: those who are “not law abiding” and “not responsible.”

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, along with Chief Justice Roberts, had questions for her test.

Roberts questioned whether going 30mph in a 20mph lane would make someone “not law abiding,” or whether failing to take out the recycling makes him “not responsible.” Thomas raised concerns about “assuming” an individual is dangerous based on the “thin record” created when the state court issued the restraining order.

Preloger explained that the concepts boiled down to individuals who have committed serious offenses or who pose a danger. (RELATED: Supreme Court Takes Case Involving Former Official Who Pressured Banks Not To Work With The NRA)

The lower court acknowledged in its ruling that Rahimi, the individual at the center of the case, is “hardly a model citizen” — among other things, he was involved in five shootings between December 2020 and January 2021. Yet, because Rahimi’s restraining order was issued through a civil proceeding and he had not been criminally convicted, the Fifth Circuit found that he was still “part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees.”

Pointing to the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the appeals court found the law did not fit within “our Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Justice Elena Kagan asked how the court should resolve the division and confusion in the lower courts about the meaning of its Bruen decision, which set out a standard for evaluating gun restrictions based on the nation’s history and tradition.

Prelogar argued courts have repeatedly made three missteps in applying Bruen: looking for a founding-era regulation that matches the modern law instead of looking more broadly to historical sources,”nit-picking” historical analogues offered by the government and reading meaning into the absence of a historic regulation.

“Here, we don’t have a regulation disarming domestic abusers,” she said. “But there is nothing on the other side of the interpretive question in this case to suggest anyone thought you couldn’t disarm domestic abusers, or couldn’t disarm dangerous people.”

The lawyer representing Rahimi, Assistant Federal Public Defender in Amarillo, Texas, Matthew Wright, had to reiterate his points several times before the justices, who struggled to grasp his argument, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressing she was “so confused.”

In their written brief, Rahimi’s lawyers wrote that the Government “has yet to find even a single American jurisdiction that adopted a similar ban while the founding generation walked the earth.”

“Is that what we should be looking for?” Kagan asked. Wright replied that was what Bruen requires, but that the test did not have to be “so narrow.”

Wright affirmed that there are instances where firearms can be taken from dangerous individuals, but a broad ban like this, which makes it a crime to keep a firearm in your own home, is not constitutional.

“I feel like you’re running away from your argument because the implications of your argument are just so untenable,” Kagan said.

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