Some defense attorneys have challenged the controversial gun law [prohibiting gun ownership by illegal drug users], calling it unconstitutionally vague. Others have argued that it violates the Second Amendment. But federal appellate courts have so far upheld the convictions, including one that cited a “well-established link between chronic drug use and violence” in its opinion issued last year.
[South Texas College of Law-Houston professor Dru] Stevenson, an expert in regulatory law who wrote a paper last year on drug use and firearms, said the cases that have gone to trial typically involved people who used to be drug users but got clean. He said he agrees with critics that the law is vague about what constitutes an “unlawful” drug user.
Courts have interpreted that to mean drug use must be “reasonably contemporaneous” to the gun possession, he said. One doesn’t have to be caught with drugs and guns at the same time, he said. You just have to be an “ongoing drug user” who happens to have guns, he said.
The idea behind the law, he said, is that guns are dangerous and regular drug users are not always lucid and in control of their faculties, making it a potentially deadly mix. And it’s easier for politicians on both sides of the gun control debate to agree that keeping them away from drug users is a good idea, Stevenson said.
One could, however, make the same argument about alcoholics, who are equally dangerous with guns, he added.
Stevenson has argued that the nation’s federal drug laws have become “functionally speaking, our society’s primary mechanism of gun control.”
The big problem with that currently, he said, is the fact that many states have legalized marijuana use. This complication has led to more legal challenges, Stevenson said. And some states have passed laws preventing officials from sharing data on approved medical marijuana users with law enforcement, to avoid the conflict.
Still, for the average lawful marijuana user, it’s likely not a concern, Stevenson said, adding that one would have to be committing other crimes to draw the attention of law enforcement. As he put it: “How is anyone going to know?”
You could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, he said, if for example a friend gives you a joint and you are carrying a gun. But authorities try to be reasonable, Stevenson said. If you’re getting arrested again and again for drug use, authorities can reasonably “draw an inference,” he said.