Hunter Biden Gun Trial Kicks Off in Shadow of Rahimi Decision from SCOTUS

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

Hunter Biden's trial on federal gun charges is set to begin tomorrow in a federal courtroom in Wilmington, Delaware, and despite attempts by his attorneys to raise a Second Amendment challenge during the trial, both U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that Biden can only challenge the federal statues he's accused of violating during an appeal if he's convicted. 

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The good news for Biden is that if he is convicted for unlawfully purchasing a firearm as an unlawful user of drugs, and lying about his then-current drug use on the Form 4473 that was used for his background check, the Supreme Court will soon weigh in on a case that could have a direct impact on his appeal. 

The Court has more than 30 cases to work through before it breaks for its summer recess in a few weeks, and the Rahimi decision could come down as early as this week. SCOTUS is scheduled to release another round of opinions this Thursday, so there's even a chance that the Court will have released Rahimi by the time the closing arguments wrap up. 

Rahimi isn't about an unlawful user of drugs possessing a gun. Zachey Rahimi is accused of violating a domestic violence restraining order by possessing a firearm. We've discussed the background of his case ad nauseam by this point, as well as the fact that Mr. Rahimi, who was separately accused in a string of shootings in Texas, isn't exactly the poster boy for the Second Amendment. At oral argument, it seemed that there were a couple of conservative justices (most notably Amy Coney Barrett, in my opinion) who seemed inclined to agree that Rahimi could be prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a domestic violence restraining order, but the hope from many 2A attorneys is that, even if the Court upholds Rahimi's conviction or sends it back to a lower court for review rather than reversing it, the decisions is crafted in a way that requires a finding of dangerousness before someone's Second Amendment rights can be taken from them, even temporarily. 

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The Court doesn't have to go beyond the particulars raised by Rahimi, but the fact that the justices have kept six other prohibited persons cases on hold until Rahimi is decided is a pretty good clue that the opinion will impact other defendants besides Zachey Rahimi. One of those cases is U.S. v Daniels; appealed by the DOJ to the Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Section 922(g)(3), which bars "unlawful" users of drugs from possessing firearms or ammunition, violated the Second Amendment rights of Patrick Darnell Daniels.

Daniels was sentenced to 46 months in prison for possessing a gun while regularly using marijuana; a conviction overturned by the Fifth Circuit's decision. If the Court is hanging on to Daniels because it expects Rahimi to have implications on the outcome of that case, then U.S. v. Biden will almost certainly be impacted as well.

Even if the Court does adopt a "dangerousness" standard, the DOJ's position to this point has been that drug users are dangerous, and therefore can be prohibited from possessing a gun. The Fifth Circuit concluded that while the national tradition of gun ownership does support bans on possessing and carrying firearms while intoxicated, it doesn't support bans on gun ownership for people who use (or even abuse) intoxicating substances. Unless SCOTUS addresses this directly in Rahimi, this will be another issue for the lower courts to fight about for several more years before the Supreme Court does weigh in.

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Rahimi could end up doing some heavy lifting for Biden and other defendants in similar circumstances, or it could simply keep the status quo in place. There's also the issue of how the Supreme Court will reach its decision. 

If it upholds Rahimi's conviction based on historical analogues to a domestic violence restraining order that has little resemblance to that modern statute, it's going to empower anti-gun judges to uphold a host of gun control laws on the flimsiest of findings (not that we aren't seeing that already in places like the Seventh and Ninth Circuits). Hunter Biden probably won't care about that, so long as Rahimi's outcome offers him a chance at escaping his gun charges. If you're a gun owner who cares about your Second Amendment rights, however, the Court's roadmap to Rahimi's conclusion is going to be almost as important as the destination itself.  

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