Supreme Court Rulings Could Completely Change Gun Control

Two Supreme Court cases could completely change gun control laws, one affecting who can legally own a firearm and the other defining what modifications may be made to existing weaponry.

The rulings, to be given sometime this term, could affect hundreds of thousands of people under restraining orders, their alleged victims and half a million gun owners.

‘United States vs. Rahimi’: Restraining Orders & Gun Rights

One of the cases involves Zackey Rahimi, an alleged small-time marijuana and cocaine dealer, who was having an argument with his girlfriend in an Arlington, Texas, car park in December 2019.

As he became aggressive, she tried to flee but Rahimi grabbed her wrist and knocked her to the ground.

“He then dragged her back to his car, picked her up, and pushed her inside, causing her to hit her head on the dashboard. Realizing that a bystander had seen him, he retrieved a gun and fired a shot,” according to a Solicitor General petition to the Supreme Court.

While he was firing the shot, his girlfriend, identified only as C.M. in court documents, escaped from the car and ran.

Police mugshot of Zackey Rahimi, who won the right to own a gun after an appeal court struck down a law that banned people under restraining orders from gun possession. The government is now challenging that decision before the U.S Supreme Court.
Arlington Police Department, Texas

Rahimi later called her and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone about the assault. In February 2020, a Texas state court granted C.M. a restraining order, which was valid for two years. The order also suspended Rahimi’s handgun license and warned him that possessing a firearm while the order remained in effect may be a felony.

“Rahimi, however, defied the restraining order. In August 2020, he tried to communicate with C.M. on social media and approached her house in the middle of the night, prompting state police to arrest him for violating the order,” the Solicitor General petition states.

In November 2020, he threatened another woman with a gun and was charged in Texas with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The following month, after someone who had bought drugs from him “started talking trash” on social media, the Solicitor General petition states, Rahimi went to the man’s home and fired an AR-15 rifle into it.

The next day, after colliding with another vehicle, he got out of his car, shot at the other driver, fled, returned to the scene, fired more shots at the other car, and fled again. Three days later, Rahimi fired a gun in the air in a residential neighborhood in the presence of young children.

A few weeks after that, a truck flashed its headlights at Rahimi to caution him against speeding. In response, Rahimi slammed his brakes, cut across the highway, followed the truck off an exit, and fired multiple shots at another car that had been traveling behind the truck. Finally, in early January 2021, Rahimi pulled out a gun and fired multiple shots in the air after a friend’s credit card was declined at a fast-food restaurant, the Solicitor General notes.

coney barrett
Amy Coney Barrett on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on October, 1, 2020. Justice Coney Barrett drew attention to the terms of Zackey Rahimi’s restraining order during Supreme Court oral arguments in Rahimi’s gun rights case on November 3, 2023.
Greg Nash/Getty Images

The petition, filed in March 2023, notes that a later police search of Rahimi’s room “uncovered a .45-caliber pistol, a .308-caliber rifle, pistol and rifle magazines, ammunition, approximately $20,000 in cash, and a copy of the restraining order.”

To the seeming disbelief of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Rahimi won his right to gun ownership after a Texas federal appeal court struck down a 1994 law that prohibits people under a restraining order from owning a gun.

“That holding was profoundly mistaken,” the Solicitor General’s petition told the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear a government appeal to the Texas court’s decision.

In oral arguments on November 3, Coney Barrett appeared to have barely disguised contempt for Rahimi, whatever her view of the Second Amendment arguments. When Justice Clarence Thomas asked Rahimi’s lawyers how criminal danger could be determined by a civil restraining order, Coney Barrett pulled out a copy of Rahimi’s restraining order and read from it.

She said Rahimi was instructed to stay at least 200 feet away from his girlfriend and child because of the physical risk he posed to their safety.

Rahimi is one of two major cases that will help shape gun control law, legal analysts believe.

‘Cargill v. Garland’: Bump Stock Ban

The other is Cargill v. Garland, on the issue of whether a bump stock device is a “machine gun” because it is designed and intended for use in converting a rifle into a rapid-fire machine gun.

A bump stock is attached to a semi-automatic firearm to enable it to fire bullets more rapidly.

The case is a challenge to a regulation issued after America’s worst-ever mass shooting, in which 60 people were killed and over 850 were injured at a county music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The killer, Stephen Paddock, had used semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks while firing at the music festival from his hotel room.

Amid public outrage, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives [ATF] issued a rule concluding that bump stocks are machine guns and ordered that anyone who owned one should destroy it or drop it at a nearby ATF office to avoid facing criminal penalties.

bump stock restraining order supreme court
Stock images. The Supreme Court will hear two cases this term that could completely change gun control laws.
George Frey / Stringer / designer491/Getty Images

That order is now being challenged by Michael Cargill, an army veteran and Texas gun shop owner, who says he purchased two bump stocks and that the ban violates his Second Amendment rights.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, which supports Cargill’s Supreme Court challenge, said the bump stock ban affects over 500,000 gun owners.

According to New York University constitutional law professor, Peter Shane, Rahimi and Cargill could help bring clarity to gun ownership after the confusion caused by last year’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, in which the Supreme Court urged lower courts to ensure that gun laws are “consistent with the nation’s historical tradition.”

“There are a lot of gun regulations on the books throughout the country. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court decision in Bruen has generated huge uncertainty as to what kinds of regulation are permissible,” Shane told Newsweek.

Justice Clarence Thomas’s decision for the majority in Bruen caused major confusion, especially as it urged lower courts to look to historic precedent without defining that precedent. His ruling struck down New York’s 1911 Sullivan Act, which required a person applying for a concealed pistol permit to show “special cause” for doing so.

Thomas wrote that, for a gun law to be constitutional, “the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with the nation’s historical tradition”—a phrase that has been interpreted in many ways by the lower courts.

Research by Jacob Charles, a law professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, shows that 12 state and federal laws have been struck down, either completely or in part, since the Bruen decision, with little consistency in how it has been interpreted.

Writing in the Duke Law Journal last January, Charles was highly critical of the historic legacy approach of Bruen, which he says is “an extension of an increasingly historically-focused Supreme Court” that “imbues an absent past with more explanatory power than it can bear.”