United States v. Zackey Rahimi: A restraining order’s power to restrain the right to bear arms

By Amanda Mueller and Meredith Brown
Attorneys at Law

On June 21, 2024, in United States v. Zackey Rahimi, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Second Amendment right to bear arms does not extend to a person who is a domestic abuser; when there is a restraining order with a finding that they pose a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner.

The Supreme Court was able to issue such a powerful ruling because of the courage of a woman, only identified by the initials C.M. A woman, who survived the violent acts of an abuser. The facts of this case are disturbing; please read at your discretion.

In December 2019, Zackey Rahimi and C.M., his girlfriend at the time, got into a fight that escalated to Rahimi physically harming C.M. As C.M. attempted to retreat from Rahimi, Rahimi dragged C.M. by the wrist back to his vehicle, with such force that C.M.’s head bashed against the vehicle’s dashboard. When Rahimi noticed a witness, he retrieved a gun from under the passenger seat. As Rahimi got his gun, C.M tracked away. As C.M. ran away, Rahimi fired shots in the direction of C.M. and the witness. After, Rahimi threatened C.M.’s life if she reported the incident.

Undaunted by Rahimi’s minacious acts, C.M. went to the court to seek a restraining order against Rahimi. On February 5, 2020, a Texas State Court found that Rahimi committed domestic violence, that was likely to occur again, and Rahimi posed a credible threat to C.M. and their minor child. Based on the court’s finding, Rahimi’s gun license was suspended for two years.

Rahimi’s restraining order was subject to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)(i), which bars a person from possessing a firearm, if the restraining order includes a finding that the person poses a credible threat to the physical safety of a protected person. As a result of Rahimi’s violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)(i), Rahimi was indicted. However, Rahimi moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8)(i) violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Following a thorough discussion of precedent, The Supreme Court held, “Our tradition of firearm regulation allows the Government to disarm individuals who present a credible threat to the physical safety of others. Section 922(g)(8) can be applied lawfully to Rahimi.”

We are thankful that C.M. survived and made this ruling possible, but we mourn so many people who were unable to physically escape an abuser. We also send strength to the countless people who are trying to escape an abuser, and we share this historical story of C.M. 

Why is This Ruling Important?

Family courts often issue orders related to a person’s conduct, and the Supreme Court clarified that when certain circumstances are met, a person’s right to bear arms can be limited.

Circumstances being a family court restraining order, which finds that an individual poses a credible threat to the physical safety of a protected person. Keep in mind, a restraining order can be established by boilerplate language such as, “parties are mutually restrained…” A restraining order should not be confused with a no adverse contact order, which does allow for parties to engage with one another, if both parties consent to such engagement.

How Does this Ruling Impact My Life?

A restraining order, coupled with a finding that an individual possesses a credible threat to a person’s physical safety can either: (a) become protection from armed domestic violence; or (b)limit a non-violent gun owner’s right to bear arms.

What Should I Do?

If you need a restraining order, hire an attorney who can effectively advocate your experience(s) to the court, to increase the likelihood of a finding that the alleged abuser is a credible threat to your physical safety. If there is a said finding, your attorney must be sure to draft the order, if applicable, with language to create a restraining order.

Alternatively, if you anticipate domestic litigation, hire an attorney who is knowledgeable of the terms of art for drafting an order in family court. An attorney that is learned in drafting family court orders, can decrease the likelihood of your Second Amendment right to bear arms being limited unnecessarily, as a result of needless boilerplate language being in an order.

Burnette Shutt and McDaniel family law attorneys have the experience and skill set to advocate for you and draft an order that caters to the needs of you and your family.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline to seek support, at 1-800-799-7233, or visit thehotline.org for more information.

Amanda Mueller and Meredith Brown are attorneys at Burnette Shutt & McDaniel in Columbia, SC. You can reach them at 803.850.0912.

Information or interaction on this page should not be construed as establishing a client-attorney relationship or as legal advice. For advice about your specific situation, please consult one of our attorneys.