The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a case challenging a federal law that prohibits individuals subject to a domestic violence court order from owning a gun. The case, US v. Rahimi, marks the first challenge to gun control measures since a case from last year imposed a new framework to assess whether firearm restrictions impede on an individual’s rights under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
The new framework was established by the court in its 2022 decision from New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. In that case, the court relied exclusively on historical tradition in resolving Second Amendment cases, ignoring the government safety interest in passing gun control laws. This decision brought uncertainty to gun ownership that fell outside of the historical tradition bounds.
The defendant in Tuesday’s case, Zackey Rahimi, assaulted his girlfriend in a parking lot, fired a gun at a bystander who witnessed the assault and threatened to shoot his girlfriend if she told anyone of the incident in Texas in December 2019. Two months later, a Texas court granted the girlfriend a protective order against Rahimi, finding that he “committed family violence” that is “likely to occur again in the future.” A search warrant issued by police at Rahimi’s residence later uncovered a pistol, rifle, rifle magazines and ammunition.
On several later occasions, Rahimi violated the court order by threatening another woman with a gun and firing a gun at several locations within a month’s timeframe. He pleaded guilty to violating federal law prohibiting his actions. On appeal, the court overturned Rahimi’s conviction and struck down the law. After reviewing the decision, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
Rahimi is now challenging his conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), which makes it a crime for people to possess a gun if they are subject to a domestic violence restraining order.
During oral arguments, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the government, defended the domestic violence law. She urged the court to refine their reading of the Bruen case for lower courts to follow, which she said was a “profound misreading.” She stated, “Bruen recognized that Congress may disarm those who are not law-abiding responsible citizens. That principle is firmly grounded in the Second Amendment’s history and tradition.”
However, the federal public defender for Rahimi said that the federal law is dissimilar to the country’s historical traditions, which makes the law unconstitutional under the court’s Bruen framework.
Prelogar argued that a stronger framework from the country’s earlier period was to keep firearms away from dangerous people. “Guns and domestic abuse are a deadly combination,” Prelogar said in opening statements. “As this court has said, all too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun,” Prelogar continued, referencing the opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a 2014 case.
During the roughly 90-minute argument, the nine justices searched for a rationale to maintain their 2022 Bruen ruling. They appeared inclined to agree with Prelogar’s argument that individuals deemed dangerous to society should not be armed, following her argument that suggested that people considered irresponsible are not covered by the Second Amendment. However, Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned how expansive the ruling in this case should go, possibly leaving the same law at issue in Tuesday’s case open for future challenges.
The justices will convene privately in a few days to cast a preliminary vote. The decision on the case is expected by the end of the court’s term, in June 2024.