On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit struck down a federal law that forbids illegal drug users from owning firearms.
The law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), prohibits those who are “unlawful users of or addicted to any controlled substance,” including marijuana, from owning a firearm. Infringers risk up to 10 years in prison. However, a three-judge panel unanimously determined that the act was unconstitutional as applied to defendant Patrick Daniels, citing the Supreme Court’s significant gun rights ruling from the previous year.
When police searched Daniels’ car in April 2022, they discovered marijuana and two loaded guns. Daniels, an admitted frequent marijuana user, was then taken into custody. In July 2022, he was found guilty and given a sentence of almost four years in prison and three years on probation, which the 5th Circuit panel has now overturned.
Although the ruling is only applicable to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, it may have an influence on Hunter Biden’s current federal case because he is accused of breaking the same law in Delaware. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy told Fox News that the Justice Department might justify a fresh plea deal using the 5th Circuit’s ruling.
“Even though Hunter Biden’s situation is readily distinguishable from that of Patrick Daniels, it’s possible the Justice Department could rationalize that the 5th Circuit’s ruling supports its exercise of discretion to give Biden deferred-prosecution treatment (as currently proposed, two years of probationary conditions followed by dismissal if the conditions are met) in a plea agreement,” McCarthy said.
The judges Jerry Smith, Stephen Higginson, and Don Willett rendered judgement in the U.S. v. Daniels case from the Fifth Circuit. They concluded that the 922(g)(3) prohibition as applied to Daniels was excessively wide and was not supported by a “historical tradition of firearm regulation,” as required by the Bruen decision of the Supreme Court.
“Just as there was no historical justification for disarming a citizen of sound mind, there is no tradition that supports disarming a sober citizen who is not currently under an impairing influence,” Smith wrote. “Indeed, it is helpful to compare the tradition surrounding the insane and the tradition surrounding the intoxicated side-by-side.”
The text of the law makes no distinction between someone who is sober at the time of their arrest but in possession of drug paraphernalia and someone who is drunk.
The court observed that the founding-era law “institutionalized the insane and stripped them of their guns; but they allowed alcoholics to possess firearms while sober.”
“In short, neither the restrictions on the mentally ill nor the regulatory tradition surrounding intoxication can justify Daniels’ conviction,” Smith wrote. Furthermore, the court ruled that it is not historical practise to deny gun rights to non-violent, drug-using, or other individuals.
“The government asks us to set aside the particulars of the historical record and defer to Congress’ modern-day judgment that Daniels is presumptively dangerous because he smokes marihuana multiple times a month. But that is the kind of toothless rational basis review that Bruen proscribes. Absent a comparable regulatory tradition in either the 18th or 19th century, § 922(g)(3) fails constitutional muster under the Second Amendment.”
In accordance with Bruen’s precedent, the 5th Circuit has now ruled that two federal gun laws are unconstitutional. In an earlier case, U.S. v. Rahimi, the court invalidated a federal law that made it illegal for someone to possess a pistol while under a domestic violence restraining order; this ruling has been appealed to the Supreme Court.
Higginson, who wrote a concurring opinion, faulted Bruen for “uncertainty and upheaval” in how the government might implement public safety statutes, which he claimed “face inconsistent invalidation.” He noted that lower courts have used Bruen in dramatically different ways, which has resulted in inconsistent outcomes for people across the nation accused of the same federal crime.
“Already, as courts work through the impact of Bruen, defendants guilty of a gun crime in one jurisdiction are presently innocent of it in another,” the judge said.
For instance, Hunter Biden is accused of breaking the law by purchasing a Colt Cobra.38 Special from StarQuest Shooters, a firearms retailer in Wilmington, Delaware, in 2018. At the time, he was using crack cocaine, and as a result, he is accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3).
McCarthy claimed that even while there are significant distinctions between Daniels and Biden, the Justice Department could still utilise the 5th Circuit’s ruling to lighten Biden’s punishment.
“The 5th Circuit panel unanimously ruled that the 922(g)(3) restriction was too broad as applied to Daniels. Historically, the law has permitted gun possession prohibitions against people who were actively under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but not against people who were sometimes under the influence but apparently sober at the time they possessed guns,” he explained.
“Unlike Daniels, who by his own admission is a regular marijuana user, Biden was a cocaine addict who was provably binging on cocaine in the October 2018 time frame when he possessed at least one firearm,” McCarthy continued. “Marijuana is now legal in many states (even though it is still deemed a prohibited substance under federal law that is not enforced); cocaine is an illegal substance under state and federal law — it is more addictive, more debilitating, and consequently its possession and distribution are punished more severely in penal statutes.
“So the cases can be distinguished,” McCarthy said. “Nevertheless, it would not be unreasonable for the Justice Department to say it needed to rethink prosecution standards for 922(g)(3) in light of the Daniels decision. Of course, the question would then be whether Hunter Biden was being given favourable treatment — i.e., was he being given a pass when the Biden Justice Department would still prosecute similarly situated people? It’s too early to answer that question.”
Gun rights advocates applauded the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the Second Amendment is not protected by 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3).
Higginson issued a warning, however, that Bruen’s “further reductionism” “will mean systematic, albeit inconsistent, judicial dismantling of the laws that have served to protect our country for generations.”
“This state of affairs will be nothing less than a Second Amendment caricature, a right turned inside out, against freedom and security in our State,” Higginson wrote.