In a bold move challenging the boundaries of constitutional rights, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reevaluate a lower court ruling that deemed a federal law unconstitutional. This law, aimed at preventing individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms, was nullified last month by a three-judge panel from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Drawing on the Supreme Court’s influential New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen decision, the panel asserted that these individuals retain their constitutional right to bear arms.
The case, United States v. Zackey Rahimi, revolves around a man subjected to a civil protective order that forbade him from engaging in harassment, stalking, or threatening behavior towards his ex-girlfriend and their child. The order also explicitly prohibited him from possessing firearms. Texas police subsequently discovered a rifle and a pistol in Rahimi’s residence, leading to his indictment by a federal grand jury. Despite initially pleading guilty, Rahimi later contested his charge, arguing that the law preventing him from owning a gun violated his constitutional rights.
A federal appeals court initially ruled against Rahimi, emphasizing the societal necessity of keeping firearms out of the hands of those accused of domestic violence, which it deemed more significant than protecting an individual’s right to gun ownership. However, the Fifth Circuit’s panel overturned this decision, sparking the current dispute.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has remained true to his promise of pursuing further review of the Fifth Circuit’s controversial decision. In its petition, the DOJ highlights the legal traditions in both the U.S. and England that advocate for disarming individuals who pose a danger to their communities or threaten others. For example, the department cites the Heller case, in which the Supreme Court explained that the right to bear arms is reserved solely for “law-abiding, responsible citizens.” By this logic, the DOJ contends that federal law aligns perfectly with the long-established practice of disarming dangerous individuals.
As the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether to reexamine this contentious case, the balance between individual rights and public safety hangs in the balance, poised to reshape the landscape of gun control and the parameters of constitutional rights.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s landmark Bruen decision has prompted the appeals court to vacate Rahimi’s conviction, introducing new benchmarks for interpreting the Second Amendment. The court determined that the federal law barring individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms did not align with the nation’s historical tradition of gun regulation.
The DOJ, however, argues that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling was flawed due to its disregard for the substantial historical evidence supporting the government’s right to disarm dangerous individuals. Instead, the court evaluated each historical statute in isolation, an approach the DOJ deems inappropriate.
Attorney General Garland has openly criticized the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, expressing his disapproval on the day of its release. He asserted that the statute in question is constitutional, whether examined through the lens of Supreme Court precedents or the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment.
As the nation grapples with the complexities of gun control and the scope of individual rights, this case may serve as a pivotal moment in redefining the interpretation of the Second Amendment. Moreover, with the Department of Justice steadfast in its commitment to disarm dangerous individuals, the Supreme Court’s response to the petition has the potential to reshape the trajectory of gun regulation in the United States.