Appellate and District Courts Grapple with Second Amendment Rights Post-Bruen
Second Amendment Rights Challenged Post Bruen
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court, through the New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen case (142 S. Ct. 2111, 2022), altered the legal landscape regarding the evaluation of restrictions on Second Amendment rights. This change has sparked a wave of challenges nationwide, the constitutionality of criminal laws limiting the right to possess firearms.
United States vs. Rahimi: A Challenge to the Firearms Laws for an Unsympathetic Defendant
Rahimi's Unconstitutional Firearm Possession
A recent case in the Dallas Metroplex area sheds light on these challenges. In Rahimi, No. 21-11001, the defendant faced charges for possessing firearms while under a civil protective order, following activities that raised concerns. Despite the explicit prohibition in the protective order, Rahimi moved to dismiss the indictment under 18 USC 922(g)(8), claiming unconstitutionality. Initially unsuccessful, the Bruen case prompted a rehearing, ultimately leading to a groundbreaking decision.
Bruen Test: Protecting Second Amendment Rights
Bruen set forth a critical test to evaluate the constitutionality of firearm restrictions. The court clarified that when the Second Amendment covers an individual's conduct, the government must prove that the regulation aligns with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. This means demonstrating a historical precedent that justifies the restriction.
Dissecting the Prosecutor's Argument: In Rahimi's case, prosecutors argued that Bruen and Heller restricted Second Amendment rights to "law-abiding, responsible citizens." However, the court rejected this argument, emphasizing that such a limitation lacked clarity and consistency. The court pointed out that historically prohibited groups, like felons and the mentally ill, were exceptions explicitly mentioned in Heller.
The Limiting Principle Issue: Further, the court questioned the absence of a true limiting principle in the argument, raising concerns about potential overreach. If applied broadly, it could lead to the exclusion of various groups, such as speeders or political nonconformists, from Second Amendment protection.
Bruen Test Application in Rahimi: Applying the Bruen test to Rahimi's case, the court determined that his possession of firearms fell within the purview of the Second Amendment. To constitutionally restrict his right, the government had to demonstrate a historical tradition justifying such regulation. However, the evidence presented by prosecutors failed to establish a sufficient analogue to the proposed statute.
Update: Rahimi Case Goes to Supreme Court, Where Justices Seem Skeptical
The Rahimi case was argued by the Supreme Court recently. Rahimi's position as an unsympathetic and dangerous defendant was put on display there:
Representing Rahimi, J. Matthew Wright faced a tougher reception from the justices. Roberts made clear that, in his view, Rahimi was not someone who should have a gun. “You don’t have any doubt that your client’s a dangerous person, do you?” he said to Wright.
Other justices appeared skeptical of Wright’s position, which Justice Elena Kagan interpreted as requiring the government to show a historical regulation “essentially targeting the same kind of conduct as the regulation under review.”
Justice Samuel Alito chimed in, asking Wright whether his position was that, “except for someone who has been convicted of a felony, a person may not be prohibited from possessing a firearm in his home?”
Wright later hedged on that position, prompting Barrett to say that she was “so confused.” And when Wright answered “maybe” to a question about whether a legislature could ban the possession of guns by people with mental illnesses, Kagan told Wright that she believed he was “running away from [his] argument” because its implications were “just so untenable.” “I mean, it just seems to me,” Kagan continued, “that your argument applies to a wide variety” of gun restrictions “that we take for granted now because it’s so obvious that people who have guns pose a great danger to others.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked Wright about another possible effect of a ruling in Rahimi’s favor. In its reply brief, Kavanaugh noted, the Biden administration indicated that the federal background check system used for the sale of firearms incorporates information from domestic-violence protection orders. But if Rahimi prevails, Kavanaugh said, the system “could no longer stop persons subject to those domestic-violence protective orders from buying firearms.”
Amy Howe, SCOTUSBlog. The Court could rule any time between now and July of 2024.
In a landmark decision, the Western District of Texas has declared a significant federal statute, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8), unconstitutional in the case of Perez-Gallan. This ruling, influenced by the recent Bruen decision, marks a pivotal moment in firearm challenges, impacting cases involving family violence protective orders. This article provides a simplified overview of the case for easy comprehension.
Background of Perez-Gallan
In the case of Perez-Gallan (4:22-cr-00427-DC, W.D. Tex.), the district court ruled on the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(8) post-Bruen, ultimately granting the defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment. Section 922(g)(8) criminalizes individuals subject to court orders related to family violence protective measures. This statute makes it a crime for individuals under specific court orders that involve:
- (A) A court hearing with notice and an opportunity for the person to participate.
- (B) Restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child.
- (C) Inclusion of a finding that the person poses a credible threat to the safety of the intimate partner or child, or explicit prohibition of the use of force.
Following a thorough legal and historical analysis in line with Bruen's framework, the court concluded that 922(g)(8) lacked the necessary historical support. According to Bruen, the constitutionality of gun regulations now hinges solely on historical inquiry. The court emphasized that the government failed to demonstrate that 922(g)(8) aligns with the historical tradition of firearm regulation in the nation.
In embracing the principles outlined in Bruen, the court unequivocally stated that the government's inability to prove alignment with historical traditions renders 922(g)(8) unconstitutional. The court firmly declined to insert its own public policy concerns, aligning with Bruen's framework. Consequently, the court held that 922(g)(8) is unconstitutional, setting a precedent for challenges related to family violence protective orders.
The Perez-Gallan case showcases the impact of Bruen on firearm challenges, particularly in cases involving family violence protective orders. This historic ruling emphasizes the critical role historical analysis plays in determining the constitutionality of firearm regulations. As the legal landscape evolves, this decision holds significance for future cases and discussions surrounding Second Amendment rights.