Fifth Circuit Strikes Down Law Forbidding Gun Ownership by Drug Users

The Bruen decision is still bearing fruit; in the latest episode, the Fifth Circuit Court has struck down a law forbidding known drug users from possessing firearms.

A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down a decades-old law barring users of illegal drugs from possessing firearms – the latest blow to US gun regulations after the Supreme Court cleared the way last year for courts to reexamine the nation’s gun laws under a new legal standard.

In a unanimous judgement from a three-judge panel at the New Orleans-based appeals court, the court said the 1968 law is unconstitutional, citing a landmark 2022 Supreme Court decision that changes the framework that lower courts must use when analyzing gun restrictions.

“In short, our history and tradition may support some limits on an intoxicated person’s right to carry a weapon, but it does not justify disarming a sober citizen based exclusively on his past drug usage,” Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote for the panel. “Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users.”

The case was brought by one Patrick Daniels, who was found in possession of two firearms and several marijuana butts. He was not tested, and there is no indication he was impaired, but he did admit to having used marijuana and so was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison. Daniels’ conviction has now been overturned, and other similar cases in the area under the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit (Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi) may be challenged as well.

Interestingly, this is the same law under which Hunter Biden was charged with possession of a firearm by a drug user.

The judgment also means that other defendants convicted under the law within the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction could seek to challenge their convictions under the new ruling. The circuit covers Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.

The statute examined by the 5th Circuit was one of the laws that federal prosecutors alleged Hunter Biden violated with a gun purchase in 2018. The Justice Department made the allegation as part of a proposed deal with the president’s son that also covered certain alleged tax crimes, but the agreement is now being scrutinized by a federal judge in Delaware. Biden has pleaded not guilty.

It’s interesting to consider the implications of this.

This is, of course, more fruit of the Bruen decision, and there will doubtless be more such cases brought. There has been a landmark change in how courts have to look at Second Amendment cases. In the Daniels case, the Bruen decision was published while his case was actually ongoing; as Bruen strengthened legal precedent recognizing the Second Amendment as a fundamental guarantee of the individual citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, the Daniels case was called into question, and similar cases will be as well – including, possibly, Hunter Biden’s case.

Second Amendment arguments aside, there is a due process argument to be made. It’s important to note that Daniels was not given a drug test; there is no indication that he was impaired at the time of the traffic stop; he was convicted, and his Second Amendment rights denied, based solely on the evidence of some marijuana remnants and his own admission. This seems shaky ground for the lifelong denial of a fundamental liberty.

Also, there is the larger picture to consider. The Bruen decision has far-reaching consequences. We are only beginning to see all of the implications this decision will have, not only on concealed-carry laws but on Second Amendment issues as a whole. It may even bring long-standing laws like the 1968 Gun Control Act into question.

We have not yet seen the last legal implications of Bruen. Far from it.

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