In the ruling on United States v. Rahimi earlier this month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a federal law prohibiting individuals facing domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. This decision is a direct result of last year’s Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen, where the conservative majority ruled that gun restrictions are constitutional only if there is a tradition of such regulation in U.S. history. This Supreme Court case stated that New York’s requirement of showing a “special need” for self-protection in order to carry a concealed firearm was unconstitutional. Justice Breyer dissented, arguing that the Court’s decision “severely burdens the States’ efforts” to curb the number of deaths caused by gun violence.
This Supreme Court case made significant changes to the way courts must judge challenges to gun regulations. This is proving to be extremely dangerous. The 5th Circuit’s case centered around Zackey Rahimi – a man in Arlington, Texas that was involved in five shootings between December 2020 and January 2021 and subject to a domestic violence restraining order after assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Federal law prohibited the possession of guns by those determined by the court to present a “credible threat to the physical safety” of an intimate partner or child. Clearly, Rahimi fell under this category.
However, the Trump-packed court followed the precedent set by New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen, and decided that “Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal.” Now, in order for gun restrictions to be held up in court, the government must prove the law is consistent with the historical tradition. In the Bruen decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition that delimits the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.”
The 5th Circuit stated that this federal ban on possession of firearms is an “outlier that our ancestors would never have accepted.” Of course, when the Constitution was written, domestic abuse was not even a crime. 1 in 4 women in the United States experience severe intimate partner physical violence and the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. The gun restrictions that have now been struck down had been proven to reduce intimate partner homicides by over 25%.
The 5th Circuit’s ruling currently applies in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to appeal the 5th Circuit’s decision, but the conservative majority in the Supreme Court does not offer much comfort in the protection of gun legislation. There are now approximately 50 cases challenging gun restrictions in federal courts as a result of the Bruen ruling, such as requiring guns to have serial numbers or prohibiting individuals under criminal indictment from owning guns. Conservative, Trump-appointed judges are making it easier and easier for people like Rahimi to maintain possession of their firearms, putting their partners and everyone around them at risk.
Sources: PBS 2/8/2023; Washington Post 2/4/2023; CNN 2/2/2023