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United States v. Rahimi

On Nov. 7, 2023, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Rahimi. The central issue in this case is whether a federal law that prohibits individuals with a standing domestic violence restraining order from owning firearms violates the Second Amendment. This case could have significant implications for the intersection of Second Amendment rights, domestic violence, and the protection of vulnerable lives. 

This case has significant implications for the religious liberty of Southern Baptists and people of all faiths. The ERLC filed an amicus brief in the case urging the court to raise the burden currently placed on employers to allow for greater religious accommodations in the workplace. A decision in this case is expected in June.

Why does it matter for Southern Baptists?

The ERLC did not file an amicus brief in the Rahimi case. However, there are two SBC resolutions that are relevant to the arguments and outcome of the case.

1. In 1979, the SBC passed a resolution on domestic violence, recognizing it as “one of the serious moral issues of our time.” Additionally, the resolution encourages the “establishment of clear and responsible public policy related to domestic violence, which policy should be effective at the local, state, and national levels.” 

2. In 2018, the SBC also passed a resolution on gun violence. As the resolution notes, “gun violence perpetrated against innocent persons is incompatible with the character of Jesus Christ.” The resolution affirms that gun ownership carries with it a great responsibility and calls on federal, state, and local authorities to implement preventative measures that would reduce gun violence and mass shootings while operating in accordance with the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

What is the case about?

The Supreme Court’s ruling will determine whether it is constitutional to prohibit individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms.

The law at the center of the case is 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), which prohibits the possession of firearms by individuals who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Here’s what happened:

  • Zackey Rahimi was convicted of possessing a gun while subject to a domestic violence protective order, which was issued after he violently assaulted his domestic partner in a parking lot and shot a gun when he noticed that others had witnessed his abuse.
  • Rahimi challenged the law as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
  • Until the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in New York Rifle and Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the constitutionality of this statute was consistently affirmed.
  • However, this decision in Bruen has cast doubt on the stability of established firearm regulations by altering the judicial approach to Second Amendment scrutiny.
  • The decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Following this Bruen precedent, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, reversed the standing federal law within these states in the Rahimi case.

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered unconstitutional?

Some of the arguments made by those who support the 5th Circuit’s determination that the law is unconstitutional are: 

  • Second Amendment: Some argue that the possession prong of §922(g)(8) prohibits and severely punishes conduct protected by the plain text of the Second Amendment, specifically the “right of the people” to “keep and bear arms” that “shall not be infringed.”
  • Due Process: Critics claim that the section does not require notice of the statute and the consequences of violating it, which they argue violates the Due Process Clause.
  • Equal Protection Clause: It has been argued that §922(g)(8)(C)(ii) is unconstitutional as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, as it treats individuals differently based on their status as prohibited persons.
  • Lack of historical support: It has been argued that the government’s efforts to defend §922(g)(8) are incompatible with the Second Amendment and the Constitution as a whole, as they lack support from precedent, rejected constitutional proposals, and the original intent of the Founders.
  • Ineffective and unnecessary: Some have argued that §922(g)(8) is a blunt instrument that does not effectively address the problem it targets, and that there are alternative means of addressing the issue of domestic violence without infringing on the Second Amendment

What are the arguments that §922(g)(8) should be considered constitutional?

  • Public safety: Proponents of the law argue that it is necessary to protect domestic violence survivors and prevent further acts of violence by prohibiting individuals with domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms
  • Constitutional interpretation: Supporters of the law believe that it is a reasonable restriction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms, as it is narrowly tailored to address a specific and compelling government interest. They say the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen established a “historical tradition” test for evaluating firearm regulations, which examines whether a regulation is consistent with longstanding principles, not whether it has a direct historical analogue.
  • Necessary for the common good: Basic principles reflected in U.S. tradition include the government’s role in promoting the common good by protecting human life and dignity, showing special concern for the vulnerable, and respecting family autonomy while intervening when necessary to prevent domestic violence. They claim this law only bans the possession of guns by individuals who are truly dangerous.
  • Consistent with historical regulation: The tradition of firearm regulation in the U.S. allows disarming dangerous individuals to protect the innocent. Laws dating back to the founding era restricted access to firearms by those deemed a threat.
  • Adheres to traditional principles: Some proponents claim that §922(g)(8), which prohibits firearm possession by persons subject to domestic violence restraining orders, adheres to these traditional principles by disarming only those who have shown a willingness to commit violence. They claim the Fifth Circuit erred by requiring an exact historical match for the law and by questioning assumptions about restraining orders, and that the analysis should have focused on identifying relevant traditional principles and evaluating consistency.

What happens next?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case in November, and a decision is anticipated in May or June.

During oral arguments, the U.S. solicitor general made a compelling argument that upholding this law is in line with Justice Scalia’s opinion in the 2008 Heller decision, which maintained the application of Second Amendment rights to “law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.”

Though we will not know the final ruling until an opinion is released, a majority of the court seemed poised to rule in the government’s favor.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24