What You Need To Know About The Rahimi Case Coming Before The Supreme Court On November 7th

By Roberta Valente, Esq.

On November 7th, the United States Supreme Court will hear a case called U.S. v. Rahimi. It’s a case that is very important to survivors of domestic violence and the people who help them.

In U.S. v. Rahimi, the Supreme Court will decide whether some people who have been found by a judge to have committed domestic violence should have access to a gun.

That this is even a question is mind-boggling. Since 1994 federal law has said that people subject to domestic violence protection orders should not have access to a gun while that protection order is active. This has saved countless lives.

Under state law, a survivor of domestic violence can ask their local court to issue a protection order, which can provide many protections for the survivor, such as a requirement that the person found to be abusive stay away from the survivor, the children and the family home. A protection order can give a survivor temporary financial support and child custody. And for survivors who face firearms violence, the protection order can also require the abusive person to turn in their firearms to the police. In states that have adopted this protection, there has been a 12% drop in domestic violence homicides.[1]

Under federal law, the fact that there’s a state protection order that meets certain requirements (“qualifying protection orders”) triggers the domestic violence firearms prohibitor (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8)). The requirements are that the person subject to the protection order had an opportunity to be heard in court, was an intimate partner of the person protected by the order, and that the court found that the abusive person had used or threatened to use serious violence against their intimate partner.

If those factors are satisfied, federal law says persons who are subject to those qualifying protection orders cannot purchase, possess or transfer firearms or ammunition as long as the state-issued protection order is in effect. They may fail a background check if they are subject to a qualifying order. If they access a gun anyway, they may face criminal penalties.

The state protection order laws and the federal law work together to prevent firearms homicides in domestic violence cases.

The petitioner in the Rahimi case is Zackey Rahimi. He was subject to a qualifying domestic violence protection order, which prohibited him from accessing firearms. In violation of that prohibition, he possessed firearms and used them, shooting at another intimate partner, as well as conducting a shooting spree around Houston. He was arrested for violating the federal domestic violence firearms prohibition (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8)).

Mr. Rahimi challenged the federal law, saying that it was unconstitutional, because it limited his right to self-defense even though he hadn’t been convicted of a felony.

Not long afterwards, the Supreme Court decided a case called New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen (June 23, 2022). In that case the Court held that the Second Amendment right to self-defense extended outside the home, and that any laws restricting gun usage must be similar to laws the Founders were familiar with in 1791.

Mr. Rahimi updated his appeal in light of this new Supreme Court decision and said that the federal domestic violence protection order firearms prohibition had no historical precedent as the understanding of the dangers of domestic violence were not understood by the Founders. The 5th Circuit agreed with him and declared the federal domestic violence protection order firearms provision to be unconstitutional.

The U.S. Department of Justice petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to take the decision up on appeal, and the Court accepted it for review. The parties in the case have submitted briefs on the issues in the case and oral argument will take place on November 7, 2023. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will decide if the federal law that prohibits persons subject to qualifying protection orders from having access to guns can continue to stand. The potential impact on domestic violence survivors is very real.

[1] April M. Zeoli et al., Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations with Intimate Partner Homicide, 187 Am. J. Epidemiology 2365, 2367 (2018).