Unsurprisingly, Supreme Court Justices Alito and Thomas stand by the right of a known dangerous person to have a gun over the obligation of the government to keep guns out of dangerous people’s hands. The Second Amendment keeps us all “safe,” where “safe” is in danger of being shot at any moment wherever we go, especially on the most mundane of errands.
Justice Thomas seems to think the Second Amendment gives everyone a right to have a gun under any circumstance not prohibited by the Constitution. It really does seem that the right to have a gun overrides almost every other common sense thing we can come up with. While these two are in the minority here, this kind of thinking by people on the highest court is as scary as their lack of ethics.
Here’s the backstory: Zackey Rahimi’s ex-partner got a two-year restraining order against him in February 2020 after a 2019 incident in which he dragged her by her hair into his car in front of their child. When he saw that a bystander witnessed it, he pulled out a gun and fired at them. The woman escaped, but he later called her and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone about the assault. As part of the protective order, a Texas state court judge suspended Rahimi’s gun license—but not only did he contact his ex and go to her house, he also continued to keep guns. In November 2020, he was arrested after shooting at another woman and charged with aggravated assault. After three more shooting incidents, police searched his home and found multiple guns. A grand jury indicted him of violating a 1994 federal law that bans people under protective orders from owning guns; it’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Rahimi was initially sentenced to a little over six years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Then, in June 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an earthquake opinion saying that restrictions on gun ownership are unconstitutional if they didn’t have a historical analog. (That case was N.Y. State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.) After that ruling, the ultraconservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that laws preventing people subject to domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns are unconstitutional. In effect, because the Framers didn’t address domestic violence, modern lawmakers can’t either. Rahimi has been in county jail as the appeals process plays out, and he said in a handwritten letter this summer that he no longer wants to own guns. But that hasn’t stopped gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association from lining up behind him and submitting friend-of-the-court briefs urging SCOTUS to strike down the 1994 law.
Domestic violence groups have made the stakes crystal clear with their amicus briefs, noting that removing guns from domestic abusers saves lives. And according to gun safety group Everytown, 70 women are shot and killed every month by current or former partners. In her opening comments, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar—the person tasked with defending the law—made the same point. Prelogar said that the court recognized in a 2014 case that “all too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.” Prelogar said the U.S. does have a long tradition of disarming people who are considered a danger to society. She also noted that domestic violence wasn’t considered a problem at the time of the founding, but that shouldn’t prevent governments from passing laws against it now. After all, modern laws ban guns in schools even though there isn’t a historical analog.