U.S. vs. Rahimi: Defining the Scope of the Second Amendment

Facts of the Case

Zackey Rahimi, the respondent from Arlington, Texas, originally challenged a statute criminalizing the ownership of a firearm by anyone with a domestic violence restraining order. In 2019, Rahimi had an argument with his then-girlfriend in which he pushed her over, dragged her to his car causing her head to hit the dashboard, and fired a warning shot into the air to prevent bystanders from intervening. Later, he called his then-girlfriend threatening further violence, specifically that he would shoot her if she told anyone about the assault. In response, a Texas state court filed a restraining order against Rahimi, and revoked his handgun license under the federal firearm statute.

In 2021, Rahimi was suspected of being involved in shootings unrelated to the event with his then-girlfriend, which resulted in his home being searched by police. They found that he was in possession of multiple firearms and ammunition. He was then charged with illegally owning a firearm, violating Title 18 U.S. Code Section 922(g)(8), which banned those subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning a gun. Rahimi argued that the law violated his Second Amendment rights, but it was rejected by the court. He pled guilty, and he was sentenced to 73 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

Rahimi appealed his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, maintaining that Title 18 U.S.C Section 922 infringed upon his Second Amendment rights. Initially, the court of appeals upheld the decision of the lower court and Rahimi’s conviction. However, after the Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen in 2022, the appeals court changed course and agreed with Rahimi’s argument that the law is unconstitutional. As such, his charges were dropped. The Biden administration appealed the case to the Supreme Court, requesting the Court reverse the 5th Circuit’s ruling.

New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen

Since the appeals court reversed its decision based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen, the case’s outcome and implications are relevant. Prior to the case, state law in New York permitted public concealed carries to those that could acquire a permit by demonstrating “proper cause,” which was interpreted by county sheriffs and local court systems to be beyond the mere desire for self-defense. Two men whose concealed-carry applications were denied challenged the law, which was denied by lower courts and appealed to the Supreme Court. When the Court heard the case in 2022, they ultimately decided that the law was unconstitutional in a 6-3 ruling. Furthermore, they established that gun-ownership restrictions are only constitutional if there is a tradition of similar regulations throughout U.S. history.

The appeals court in the Rahimi case was influenced by the new litmus test established in Bruen, holding that there is no historical tradition of denying domestic abusers the right to own a firearm. So, Section 922(g)(8) violates the Second Amendment, and Rahimi’s conviction was dropped. In appealing to the Supreme Court, the U.S. government will argue that there is a historical precedent of limiting peoples’ access to firearms if they pose a danger to others. Section 922(g)(8) only applies to people that have already been deemed as a danger to people in their domestic lives, so it has historical precedent and passes the Bruen litmus test.

Potential Implications

If the Supreme Court rejects the 5th Circuit’s decision, the scope of the litmus test will be somewhat limited. In the narrowest sense, people subject to domestic violence restraining orders will be prevented from owning a firearm. In a potentially broader sense, such a decision would provide precedential support for other laws criminalizing the possession of firearms by court-designated dangerous or violent people. That would extend beyond domestic violence, indirectly bolstering laws preventing felons or other violent criminals from obtaining firearms.

If the Supreme Court upholds the 5th Circuit’s decision, its precedent will increase the range of people whose firearm ownership rights are protected by the Second Amendment. Such a precedent could be used to invalidate other laws restricting potentially dangerous people from owning firearms. In other words, this decision could be the first of many in the fallout of the Bruen decision.

In an amicus brief, the ACLU highlights another consequence of upholding the 5th Circuit’s decision, that being the precedential strengthening of the Bruen test. They argue that requiring a “historical twin law” to uphold gun restrictions today has two significant issues. First, it prevents the government from responding to novel threats, as they would have no historical tradition since they were not perceived as threats – or did not exist in the first place. Second, it “tethers the authority to regulate gun possession to periods when governments disregarded many forms of violence directed against women, Black people, Indigenous people, and others.” Many laws that protect historically unprotected groups from violence could be at risk of a similar fate to that which Rahimi challenged, which could have significant, wide-ranging impacts.

Arguments have been set for Nov. 7, 2023. 

James Gaspar is from Oak Park, CA, studying Biology and Philosophy with a certificate in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.

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