The New York Times found only 63 federal cases nationwide over the past five years of people being indicted on a charge of having a weapon while being under a domestic violence protection order. The defendant at the center of the case the court will hear on Tuesday, Zackey Rahimi, is one of them. In just 20 of the cases did prosecutors charge a person with only the crime of possessing a gun while having a protection order.
Still, the law can ensure that the person faces federal charges on top of local ones — most often they face other and often more serious charges. It can also guarantee that someone potentially dangerous is immediately detained.
For instance, John Allen Muhammad, the older of the two men who terrorized the Washington area with sniper killings in 2002, was originally arrested on the charge; his wife had a domestic-protection order against him when he was known to have a firearm.
But the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in June last year vastly expanded a person’s right to carry a gun in public and upended the standard for determining whether gun laws are constitutional. In his majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said courts must look to early American history in judging restrictions on guns rights, and lawyers, in turn, started mounting a variety of challenges to gun laws, including the one prohibiting people subject to domestic abuse orders from having a firearm.
If the court overturns the federal law, the ruling is likely to reverberate across the country, legal experts say.