The Supreme Court’s Struggle with Originalism and Gun Control Laws

The Supreme Court’s conservative justices face a dilemma as they grapple with the constitutionality of gun control laws in relation to the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen created a wave of confusion and instability in lower courts by requiring gun laws to adhere to the Constitution’s “original meaning.” This ruling, which aimed to uphold the Second Amendment, has now come under scrutiny as the Court hears oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi, a case that challenges the constitutionality of a federal law preventing people under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns. The conservative justices on the Court find themselves torn between upholding the law and reconciling it with their commitment to originalism.

The Conservative Justices’ Struggle with Originalism

The conservative justices on the Supreme Court find themselves in a difficult position as they try to uphold Section 922(g)(8), a federal law that prevents people under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns, while also staying true to the originalist interpretation of the Constitution. During oral arguments in United States v. Rahimi, the justices struggled to find a way to reconcile these two conflicting principles. While they seemed inclined to uphold the law, they also acknowledged the challenges in doing so within an originalist framework.

The Implications for Women’s Safety

The case of United States v. Rahimi highlights the potential consequences of the Court’s ruling on gun control laws for women’s safety. The law in question, Section 922(g)(8), was enacted to protect women from domestic violence by disarming their abusers. However, the conservative justices’ focus on originalism has largely ignored the impact on women. The Court’s discussion during oral arguments failed to address the alarming statistics of women being shot and killed by abusive partners, and the coercive and intimidating effect that guns have on women in abusive relationships.

The Limitations of Originalism

The Court’s struggle with originalism in the context of gun control laws reveals the limitations of this constitutional interpretation theory. Originalism, which seeks to determine the Constitution’s meaning based on the understandings of those who ratified it, fails to provide a consistent and principled approach that meets the needs of contemporary society. The conservative justices’ attempts to apply originalism to the case of Section 922(g)(8) highlight the difficulties of interpreting history and tradition in a way that aligns with modern sensibilities and societal needs.

The Problem of “Bad Facts”

The case of United States v. Rahimi presents a classic example of the “bad facts make bad law” adage. The extreme and unsympathetic nature of the defendant’s actions, including violent assaults and multiple incidents of firing guns in public, complicates the legal analysis. The Court’s conservative justices must navigate the complexities of the case while considering the broader implications for gun control laws and the Second Amendment.

The Need for a Nuanced Approach

The Court’s conservative justices grapple with the question of how to define responsibility in the context of gun ownership. The concept of responsibility is broad and subjective, making it difficult to establish a clear standard. The justices’ discussions during oral arguments highlight the need for a nuanced approach that takes into account modern understandings of responsibility and the evolving social context.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court’s struggle with originalism and gun control laws in United States v. Rahimi exemplifies the challenges of applying an outdated constitutional interpretation theory to contemporary issues. While the conservative justices seek to uphold the Second Amendment and preserve the Court’s institutional reputation, their commitment to originalism fails to provide a consistent and principled approach that meets the needs of a modern society. The case raises important questions about the role of history, tradition, and societal progress in shaping constitutional meaning and the protection of individual rights.






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