When the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects individuals’ right to gun ownership, it emphasized the ability “of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” When it expanded that decision last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the court noted that “ordinary, law-abiding citizens have a similar right to carry handguns publicly for their self-defense.”
Zackey Rahimi was, one presumes, not the kind of upstanding citizen the justices had in mind.
Over a six-week stretch from December 2020 to January 2021, Rahimi took part in five shootings around Arlington, Tex. He fired an AR-15 into the home of a man to whom he had sold Percocet. The next day, after a car accident, he pulled out a handgun, shot at the other driver and sped off — only to return, fire a different gun and flee again. Rahimi shot at a police car. When a friend’s credit card was declined at a fast-food restaurant, he fired several rounds into the air.
Or, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit put it in vacating Rahimi’s conviction for illegal gun possession, “Rahimi, while hardly a model citizen, is nonetheless part of the political community entitled to the Second Amendment’s guarantees, all other things equal.”
This is the insane state of Second Amendment law in the chaotic aftermath of Bruen. The problem isn’t that decision’s precise outcome, striking down New York state’s gun licensing law because it required a showing of “special need for self-protection” to obtain a concealed carry permit.
The problem is that in doing so, the six-justice conservative majority imposed a history-based test — a straitjacket, really — for assessing the constitutionality of gun laws. No longer can judges decide whether restrictions are a reasonable means to protect public safety.
Instead, they have to hunt down obscure, colonial-era statutes to determine if there are counterparts to modern rules. So it’s little surprise that conservative judges in the lower courts are now busy declaring all sorts of perfectly sensible gun laws unconstitutional. …
All of which serves to underscore the real difficulty with the Supreme Court’s history fetish: As Bruen itself demonstrated, the matter of what historical examples to accept and what to reject is open to manipulation by judges predisposed to strike down gun laws.
And it poses a dilemma for the conservative justices, who are about to find this issue back in their laps. Are they going to instruct lower courts they have gone too far, or are they going to let it rip, while bullets fly and judges scour statutes from the age of muskets?