© 2024 Marfa Public Radio
A 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Lobby Hours: Monday - Friday 10 AM to Noon & 1 PM to 4 PM
For general inquiries: (432) 729-4578
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. Supreme Court upholds ban on guns for domestic abusers in Texas case

Guns on display Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Frisco Gun Club.
Yfat Yossifor
Guns on display Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at Frisco Gun Club.

Zackey Rahimi wasn’t supposed to have any guns after he was accused of attacking his girlfriend. That was a requirement of a protective order she obtained. He was accused of five crimes involving firearms while that protective order was in effect.

Rahimi decided that he should have a right to keep his guns. But the Supreme Court on Friday disagreed with him.

Rahimi allegedly knocked his girlfriend to the ground and slammed her head into a car dashboard during an argument. She got a protective order in Feb. 2020 that required him to stay away from her — and barred Rahimi from having guns.

And while the protective order was in effect, police say Rahimi – who they described as a drug dealer — allegedly shot into the air after his friend’s credit card was declined at a Whataburger. He also was accused of shooting at another driver after a car accident, and three other incidents in which he fired a gun.

Police investigating the shootings found a copy of the protective order — and several firearms — when they executed a search warrant at Rahimi’s home.

Violating the terms of a domestic violence protective order prohibiting the alleged abuser from having firearms is against federal law. Rahimi’s attorneys appealed his conviction for that offense, arguing that he should not have been banned from having guns in the first place because that violated his constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court’s ruling stated that the domestic violence law fit the tradition of historical firearm regulations.

"When an individual has been found by a court to pose a credible threat to the physical safety of another, the individual may be temporarily disarmed consistent with the Second Amendment," the court said.

Amanda Aubrey, a legal policy analyst for the Texas Council on Family Violence, said Rahimi’s criminal history made him less sympathetic.

“He was anything but a poster child for the Second Amendment,” Aubrey said.

Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to agree.

“You don’t have any doubt that your client is a dangerous person, do you?” Roberts asked Rahimi’s attorney, Matthew Wright, during oral arguments.

Wright said he would want to know what dangerous person means.

“Someone who is shooting at people,” Roberts said.

Lethal Consequences

Aubrey said the presence of a firearm in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of death.

“A domestic violence survivor is five times more likely to go from being a survivor of domestic violence to being a victim of a homicide when a firearm is present,” Aubrey said.

Texas had its second-highest domestic violence homicide rate in a decade in 2022 according to a report from the Texas Council on Family Violence that was published in October 2023. Of the 216 victims, about 70% of them were shot.

Sarah Hilderbrand, who cowrote the report, said at a town hall when the report was released that she estimates as much as 40% of the perpetrators of domestic violence killings last year were prohibited from owning a firearm.

Texas doesn’t have a statewide program in place to collect and store firearms from people who are subject to protective orders. Aubrey said fewer than ten out of the state’s 254 counties have a system set up to do so.

“They send the respondent away with a with a warning and almost on a wing and a prayer and basically a pinky promise that they're going to get rid of their firearm,” she said. “But there is no, explicit proof of compliance often required.”

Tarrant County, where the Rahimi case took place, doesn’t have a firearm transfer protocol.

Most protective orders in Texas are issued in civil court. A judge issues the order, which typically lasts two years, after a notice and hearing if there’s a credible threat found to an intimate partner or child.

Kathryn Jacob, the president and CEO of SafeHaven, the family violence center for Tarrant County, said the purpose of the law in the Rahimi case is to protect survivors of domestic violence. Jacob said all men who own guns won’t shoot their wives. Rather, she compared it to a bottle of wine in the hands of someone who doesn’t have a drinking problem versus a bottle of wine in the hands of an alcoholic.

“A gun in Rahimi’s hands is different than a gun in my hands,” Jacob said. “I was not named the subject of a protective order. I'm not a known abuser.”

Rahimi’s attorney’s based their case on the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen in June 2022. The ruling created a framework for Second Amendment cases that require modern gun regulations to have a similar law from the country’s founding to be upheld as constitutional.

Kari Still, a law and policy advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said the court’s ruling in Bruen has had a dramatic effect on firearm cases in courts.

“We're seeing a host of new challenges to long established gun laws,” Still said.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Caroline Love