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Practice Effects of Bruen on United States Firearms Cases

Last year, when the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling on New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, inc. v. Bruen, we wrote an article discussing how the new law could impact Ohio.  On the surface, it does not appear that such a law would impact Ohio because Ohio, like many States, did not require citizens to have qualifying credentials in order to obtain a Concealed Handgun License (CHL).

However, any time the Supreme Court issues a ruling significantly different from commonly accepted interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, the new interpretation can influence future cases in many different states.

One such case that was affected by Bruen was United States of America v. Zackey Rahimi.  Rahimi did not live in New York or any other state that required citizens to have credentials in order to apply for a concealed carry, so it may seem at first that he would not be affected by Bruen.  However, because Bruen was a federal case, it can affect other federal law, and that’s exactly what happened in Rahimi.

Rahimi was indicted for the crime of possessing a firearm while under restriction due to a restraining order.  His indictment resulted from a federal statute, 18 U.S.C. d 922(g)(8).  Rahimi tried to appeal the indictment but was unable to do so because the case law at the time made it clear that d 922(g)(8) did indeed prohibit him from legally possessing the firearm.

However, after Bruen, Rahimi levied a facial challenge to d 922(g)(8), meaning he was trying to show that the statute itself is unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court decision from Bruen.  The Fifth Circuit United States Court of Appeals agreed with Rahimi.

One major factor in the Court’s decision in this case was the definition of terms used in Heller and Bruen such as “ordinary, law-abiding citizen” or “law-abiding, responsible citizens.” To clarify these terms, the Court looked at both Bruen and District of Columbia vs. Heller, which both use this language.  Clearly, if Rahimi had a restraining order against him, he was, in some sense not a law-abiding citizen.  However, when looking at the context in Bruen and Heller, the Fifth Circuit Court decided that this language refers to people who have historically been stripped of Second Amendment rights (felons, the mentally ill, or people in sensitive areas, such as schools, etc.).  Furthermore, the Court took issue in a major way with the notion that Rahimi could be stripped of his Second Amendment rights because he was not “responsible” or because he was “unordinary.” The Court said these arguments “lacked a limiting principle,” which is basically to say that the terms are too vague.  If the State can strip Constitutional rights based on a person being “irresponsible,” there could be any number reasons to deny just about anybody their constitutional rights.

The Fifth Circuit Court’s decision does begin by saying that denying firearm access to someone with a restraining order may be a worthy policy goal.  There could be a constitutional way of prohibiting firearm access to such criminals.  However, this decision is significant because it shows that after Bruen, d 922(g)(8), which has previously been used to deny certain individuals access to firearms, is now considered unconstitutional when applied to some firearms cases.