More mass shootings like the one in Maine? Supreme Court will soon consider unleashing the violence

A case made to appeal to Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito may end mental health and domestic violence gun restrictions

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 27, 2023 6:00AM (EDT)

Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Wednesday night's mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine was many things: horrific, terrifying, unfathomable, all the adjectives that get trotted out after these now-routine massacres. What no one can pretend it was, however, was surprising. Maine is especially hostile to even the most reasonable gun laws. The state has been scored an F by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Sure enough, intial reports on the suspected shooter, 40-year-old Robert Card, show he is a bundle of red flags that, in any functioning legal system, would have prevented him from being armed in the first place. He was recently released from a mental health facility that he had been committed to for two weeks. Maine has no "red flag" law to allow law enforcement to take guns from people in a mental health crisis, nor do they require convicted domestic abusers to relinquish guns. In a little more than one week, arguments in favor of and against expanding such relaxation of gun regulations nationwide begin in the country's highest court. 

On November 7, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could force every state to let men like Maine's suspected mass shooter run wild with all the guns they wish. Unfortunately, there's a very real chance that the court — led by the gun radicalism of justices like Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett and Samuel Alito — will pull the trigger, unleashing even more would-be mass shooters to prey on us all. 

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The upcoming case is United States v. Rahimi. On its surface, this should be a slam-dunk win for the U.S. lawyers, because Zackey Rahimi is exactly the kind of person no one should want in possession of a gun. As Francis Wilkinson of the Washington Post explains:

In 2019, Rahimi, of Arlington, Texas, threw his girlfriend to the ground before dragging her to his car, where he slammed her head against the dashboard. He later threatened to shoot her if she told anyone about the attack. The threat was credible; Rahimi had already fired his gun at a witness to the assault and later engaged in five shootings in and around Arlington over the course of a month. Yet Rahimi challenged his loss of firearms as a consequence of domestic violence.

Not exactly the "good guy with a gun" that gun rights advocates love to wax poetic about. But, because Republicans keep showing us their true faces these days, Rahimi has become the latest cause célèbre of the right. Judge Cory Wilson, a Donald Trump appointee to the Fifth Circuit Court, ruled that the right to own a gun cannot be limited to "law-abiding, responsible citizens." To back this argument up, he approvingly cites a dissent that Barrett wrote in Kanter v. Barr, where she argued that, "Founding-era legislatures did not strip felons of the right to bear arms simply because of their status as felons."

On November 7, the Supreme Court will hear a case that could force every state to let men like Maine's suspected mass shooter run wild with all the guns they wish.

To make things even more disturbing, Judge James Ho, another Trump appointee, wrote a concurring opinion arguing that domestic violence restraining orders shouldn't count, because, according to him, women lie about being beaten all the time in order to screw men during divorce disputes. As Vox legal analyst Ian Millhiser points out, Ho's "evidence" for this claim is "decades-old cases in faraway jurisdictions," namely a 30-year-old case in New Jersey and one odd situation involving a mentally ill woman who fixated on David Letterman in 2005. But Ho is the same judge who argued women should be forced to give birth to provide doctors and family members cute sonogram photos to look at, showing that he believes there is no such thing as a bad argument when it comes to ruling that women have no human rights. 

All this is so off-the-charts radical, that it may be hard to believe that even very conservative judges would go there. Unfortunately, as Millhiser explains in another Vox analysis, not only are these Trump judges dead serious, but they are well within the bounds of what Thomas laid out as the only legitimate test of a gun regulation in a 2022 Supreme Court decision: Would this regulation have existed in 1791?

If that sounds hyperbolic, it's not, as Millhiser explains:

Bruen held that, in order to justify nearly any law regulating firearms, “the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” This means that lawyers defending even the most widely accepted gun laws, such as the federal ban on gun possession by domestic abusers, must show that “analogous regulations” also existed and were accepted when the Constitution was framed — particularly if the law addresses “a general societal problem that has persisted since the 18th century.” If they cannot, the challenged gun law must be struck down.

Needless to say, restraining orders were not a thing in 1791. Indeed, the concept of "domestic violence" didn't really exist. Women were functionally the property of their husbands, and so if you wanted to beat your wife up, there wasn't much the law could say about it. It wasn't until 1871 that spousal abuse laws were ruled legal in the U.S. By the logic of Thomas's opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, you cannot bar wife-beaters from being gun owners.

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The pro-gun people pushing Rahimi's case are smart to make the first big test of how absolutist the Supreme Court is on gun rights. This case isn't just about guns, but about whether women deserve state protection. As Ho's response shows, judges who are already sour about women having rights are going to be open to "lying bitches" arguments. Alito, who literally ruled that the opinions of a 13th-century witch-burner should determine a woman's access to abortion, is an obvious contender for the "who cares about domestic violence" angle. Brett Kavanaugh, who is still outraged at being accused, credibly, of attempted rape, is likely in the mix, as well. Barrett's been appealed to on her "let felons have guns" view, but she's also a fan of the ideology of wifely submission. Thomas's misogyny is well-documented — ask Anita Hill — plus he's probably not keen on abridging his 2022 decision because some poor woman got her head bashed in by her violent boyfriend. 

What does this have to do with mass shootings, you may be asking. Well, first of all, laws that keep guns out of the hands of wife-beaters also prevent mass shootings. Most mass shooters have a history of violence against women before they escalate to shooting up large groups of people. Disarming violent men before they turn up the dial doesn't just save the lives of abuse victims, but can save the lives of strangers. 

But also, if the Supreme Court uses the Rahimi case to double down on Bruen's claims that gun laws cannot be updated to reflect changing laws and social norms since 1791, then it's not just domestic violence-related restrictions that will fall. Background checks and red flag laws that screen for people, like Card, who are having mental health episodes will likely also be rendered illegal. After all, the discipline of psychology wasn't even really invented until the mid-19th century, decades after the cut-off date that Thomas laid out for when gun laws can be adapted to reflect legal and social changes. 

Maine's radical laws on guns are rejected by most Americans for a reason. Most of us have some experience with mental illness and understand that it's not stigmatizing or cruel to suggest that the last thing people having a mental health crisis need is access to guns. Even if they aren't hearing voices, as Card reportedly was, they are often a danger to themselves, which is why the suicide rate in states with lax gun laws is so high. Nor is there any legitimate reason to let wife beaters have guns, especially when the reason most of them want one is to increase the amount of control they have over their victims. 

But the radicalized, deeply misogynist Supreme Court is poised to hear a case that we already know appeals to the ugliest impulses of the far-right — because Trump appointees on the Fifth Circuit already signed off on these claims. If the court gives into its culture warrior side, then it will be unleashing even more mayhem on a country already shell-shocked by a relentless drumbeat of mass shootings. Wednesday in Maine is what you get when MAGA attitudes on guns set the laws the rest of us have to live — and increasingly die — with. There's a very real chance that the Supreme Court will make the dystopian vision our reality. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Clarence Thomas Commentary Robert Card United States V. Rahimi