Zackey Rahimi was just the kind of person that victim’s rights advocates worry about – a violent, angry man with guns.
In December of 2019, Rahimi and his then-girlfriend, referred to as C.M. in court documents, argued in an Arlington parking lot. When the woman tried to leave, Rahimi knocked her down, dragged her to his car, and threw her in. He took out a pistol and shot at a bystander who had seen the assault.
C.M. did what thousands of vulnerable women have done in similar circumstances over the years: She got a restraining order. The order prohibited Rahimi from threatening her or her family for two years. He was warned that during the two-year period it would be a federal crime for him to possess guns. However, a year after abusing C.M., Rahimi shot his pistol in public five times over a monthlong period, including once at a constable’s car and another time at a Whataburger after his friend’s credit card was declined.
Police searched Rahimi’s home and found his guns. He was indicted for violating federal law 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), which prohibits a person under a domestic-violence restraining order from possessing a firearm, the violation of which is punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment. The law was enacted in 1994 with the support of the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who said, “All too often, the only difference between a battered woman and a dead woman is the presence of a gun.” Indeed, studies show that domestic abuse victims are five times more likely to be killed when the abuser has a gun.
The 30 years of precedent behind Section 922(g)(8) was upended last year by the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Bruen, which made it a constitutional right across the nation to publicly carry a gun. The court’s decision, authored by Clarence Thomas, changed the way that courts decided whether gun laws are constitutional, requiring judges to consider whether the laws would have been acceptable to society in 1791, when the Second Amendment was ratified.
“When our agency read Bruen we knew it was only a matter of time before the analysis was applied to domestic violence,” said Bronwyn Blake, the chief legal officer of the Texas Advocacy Project, a group which provides free legal help to domestic abuse survivors. And sure enough, when Rahimi filed a lawsuit claiming that Section 922(g)(8) was now unconstitutional, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, overturning the law last February.
The Biden administration appealed the decision and the Texas Advocacy Project filed an amicus brief to lend their support. So, Blake found herself at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Nov. 7 for oral arguments. “It was thrilling,” Blake said. “And I definitely got the impression that the justices were leaning toward an opinion that would be favorable to us. The questions they asked really seemed to indicate that they understood that the Fifth Circuit’s opinion was in error.”
Much of the court’s discussion centered on the ludicrousness of evaluating how a law meant to prevent domestic violence would be received by people in 1791. “Two hundred some years ago, the problem of domestic violence was conceived very differently,” Justice Elena Kagan said during the session. “People had a different understanding of the harm. People had a different understanding of the right of government to try to prevent the harm. People had different understandings with respect to pretty much every aspect of the problem.”
Blake said that Section 922(g)(8) should be considered constitutional under Bruen because our country has historically taken guns out of the hands of inherently dangerous people, like those who are mentally ill and children. The problem is that Bruen now requires modern gun laws to have an “analog” to gun laws going back to 1791. “We had to research the history and tradition of gun ownership, looking for an analog,” Blake said. “And it is nearly impossible to research laws from 1791 because the material just isn’t there. A law from North Carolina from that time period might be, but there wouldn’t be one from Georgia. What happened to it? Well, maybe it was destroyed in the fire. Maybe they didn’t keep the records.”
The court is expected to rule on Rahimi next year. Blake hopes the justices will do more than just overturn Bruen. “We’re hoping we can get some guidance from the Supreme Court on how to interpret it,” she said. “And we always want people to know that if you’re experiencing abuse, please feel free to reach out to the Texas Advocacy Project for free legal services and free social services. Our number is 1-800-374-HOPE.”
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