The Supreme Court seems poised to affirm a federal statute that prohibits individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing firearms. This case, U.S. v. Rahimi, pivotal in the current term, could set a precedent affecting gun rights legislation nationwide.
“It’s so obvious that people who have guns pose a great danger to others, and you don’t give guns to people who have the kind of history of domestic violence that your client has or to the mentally ill,” Justice Elena Kagan told the defense attorney.
Concerns linger, however, about the broad application of the term “irresponsible,” which Chief Justice John Roberts highlighted.
“It seems to me that the problem with ‘responsibility’ is that it’s extremely broad, and what seems irresponsible to some people might seem like, well, that’s not a big deal to others.”
Zackey Rahimi, the defendant in the case, contested his right to bear arms for self-defense despite being under a restraining order. His involvement in multiple firearm-related incidents led to his arrest and subsequent guilty plea for violating federal law, which he appealed.
The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in Rahimi’s favor, stating the federal restriction was unconstitutional without a historical precedent. Yet, even conservative justices expressed concern over Rahimi’s dangerous conduct.
“Well, to the extent that’s pertinent, you don’t have any doubt that your client’s a dangerous person, do you?” Roberts queried Rahimi’s lawyer, highlighting the gravity of Rahimi’s actions.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued for the necessity of the law, citing the increased risk of murder in domestic situations when firearms are accessible.
“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.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, known for his stance on expanding gun rights, questioned the ease with which state courts can deny gun ownership in civil cases without a criminal conviction. The debate centers on whether the federal prohibition aligns with 18th-century legal principles regarding domestic violence and gun rights.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and Justice Amy Coney Barrett also weighed in, probing the historical justification and the process of the current law.
The court’s decision, expected by next summer, will likely focus narrowly on the Second Amendment’s protection of individuals deemed dangerous, leaving broader legal frameworks for future court decisions. This comes as the court prepares to address other federal gun regulations, including the ban on “bump stocks.”
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