Zackey Rahimi has vowed “to stay away from all firearms and weapons” in a case that could expand gun rights protections, but advocates say he is not an ideal poster boy for the Second Amendment.
In a handwritten letter from jail, the man at the center of a major Supreme Court gun rights case to be heard on Tuesday apologized for going down “a wrong path” and wrote that he would no longer carry a gun.
“I will make sure for sure this time that when I finish my time being incarcerated to stay the faithful, righteous person I am this day,” the man, Zackey Rahimi, wrote. He added that he wanted “to stay away from all firearms and weapons, and to never be away from my family again.”
Despite Mr. Rahimi’s vows in the July 25 letter addressed to a local judge and prosecutor, gun rights advocates acknowledge that he is not an ideal poster boy for the Second Amendment.
“It’s a fundamental strategic goal to present cases in the most favorable light possible, and that would include having a sympathetic and relatable person,” said Clark Neily, the senior vice president for legal studies at the Cato Institute, which has advocated gun rights. “I don’t know anyone who would see Zackey Rahimi as either of these things.”
Mr. Rahimi, 23, of Texas, faces not only multiple gun-related charges, but prosecutors also say that after a judge barred Mr. Rahimi from carrying weapons under a domestic violence protective order, he participated in a string of five shootings over just two months.
A panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit wrote that he was “hardly a model citizen,” even as they sided with him.
Mr. Rahimi’s case could expand gun rights protections by undoing a federal law that makes it a felony to possess a gun while under a domestic violence protective order. Although the case has garnered a flood of amicus briefs from groups like the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, and the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, the organizations have largely shifted focus away from Mr. Rahimi.
“I think that a lot of times, the gun rights advocates who litigate these cases, as with other impact litigation, try to reverse-engineer the case with the most compelling litigants, and this case simply does not fit with that strategy,” said Eric Ruben, an associate law professor at Southern Methodist University and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “You could imagine a different case challenging this same law with a much more sympathetic plaintiff.”
Mr. Rahimi declined an interview request, but court and police records paint a portrait of a troubled young man who turned to drugs and guns after growing up in poverty in a family that immigrated to Texas from Afghanistan. Painfully shy and overweight, he said he was a target for school bullies.
He felt financial pressure from a young age to help support his family, and he earned money by detailing cars, mowing lawns and moving appliances. He built a successful business flipping used cars, he wrote, before he “started hanging around the wrong crowd.” He began “smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, doing pills and all type of mess.”
He said he wanted to take responsibility for his decisions, that “it was all my fault from Day 1 for being around that circle.”
Mr. Rahimi’s letter does not directly address the incidents that led to his incarceration or give any mention of his Supreme Court case, but state and federal court records lay out the charges against him.
In December 2019, Mr. Rahimi and his girlfriend got into an argument in a Texas parking lot. During the fight, Mr. Rahimi knocked the woman to the ground, dragged her to his car and shoved her inside, according to court records. When he realized that a bystander was watching, he pulled out a gun and fired a shot.
Mr. Rahimi’s girlfriend ran away from him, and he later called her and threatened to shoot her if she told anyone what had happened, records show.
A Texas judge issued a two-year restraining order in February 2020 against Mr. Rahimi, who has a child with the woman. The judge found he had “committed family violence” and that such violence was “likely to occur again in the future.” As part of the order, the judge suspended Mr. Rahimi’s handgun license.
Mr. Rahimi’s case could expand gun rights protections by undoing a federal law that makes it a felony to possess a gun while under a domestic violence protective order.Credit…Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office
Prosecutors say Mr. Rahimi flagrantly defied the court’s order. In August 2020, he reached out to his girlfriend on social media and went to her house in the middle of the night. In November 2020, prosecutors say he threatened another woman with a gun, leading to his arrest on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to a brief by the government’s lawyers, after someone who bought drugs from him “started talking trash” online, he fired an AR-15 at the man’s house. The next day, during a traffic crash, they say, he shot at a driver. He is accused of firing a gun into the air in a residential neighborhood three days after that. A few weeks later, after a truck flashed its headlights at him, prosecutors say he followed the truck and shot at another car. In January, they say, he fired shots in the air after his friend’s credit card was declined at a Whataburger restaurant.
During a search of Mr. Rahimi’s bedroom in January 2021, detectives say they found a loaded Glock and a rifle, along with a copy of the domestic violence protective order.
A grand jury indicted Mr. Rahimi on charges of violating the federal law that prohibits a person under such an order from having a gun, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Mr. Rahimi argued the law violated the Second Amendment.
At Mr. Rahimi’s sentencing, a prosecutor said that “it’s a miracle of God that he hasn’t killed anybody.”
“You’re talking about six separate shootings here,” Frank Gatto, the prosecutor, told the judge. “And to me that first video, where he causes this accident, gets out and just starts shooting, is one of the most bone-chilling videos for me to watch and see. If that doesn’t send chills down anybody’s spine seeing that, I don’t know of much else that can.”
Mr. Rahimi’s lawyer argued that he was still maturing and noted that Mr. Rahimi had a supportive family who wanted to help him.
After the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned Mr. Rahimi’s conviction, finding the federal law violated the Second Amendment. The appeals court based its reasoning on the fact that it could find no analogous historical law from the 1700s or 1800s.
The government asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.
Mr. Rahimi remains in the county jail, awaiting the outcome of pending state criminal charges.
“I had firearms for the right reason in our place to be able to protect my family at all times,” he wrote in his letter. He added that he would do whatever it took “to be able to come home fast as I can to take care of my family” at all times.
Krista Torralva contributed reporting from Fort Worth, Texas, and Kitty Bennett contributed research.