July 16, 2024
Federal appeals court strikes down law prohibiting users of illegal drugs from possessing firearms

Editor’s Note: A version of this story ran on August 8. It has been updated following the indictment of Hunter Biden.


A federal appeals court in August struck down a decades-old law barring users of illegal drugs from possessing firearms – another blow to US gun regulations after the Supreme Court cleared the way for courts to reexamine the nation’s gun laws under a new legal standard – and a ruling that could be relevant in the new indictment of Hunter Biden.

In a unanimous judgment from a three-judge panel of the conservative 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, 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 ruling means that the man who brought the challenge to the regulation, Patrick Daniels, will have his July 2022 conviction under the law thrown out. Daniels had been sentenced to nearly four years in prison and three years of probation.

“As applied to Daniels, then, (the federal gun law) violates the Second Amendment,” Smith wrote.

Daniels had been arrested in April 2022 after law enforcement officers searched his car during a stop and found marijuana butts and two loaded firearms. The officers did not administer a drug test the night of the stop, but Daniels admitted that he was a frequent user of marijuana.

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 is one of the laws that Hunter Biden has been accused of breaking by special counsel David Weiss.

Hunter Biden purchased a firearm in October 2018. While buying a revolver at Delaware gun shop, he lied on a federal form when he swore that he was not using, and was not addicted to, any illegal drugs – even though he was struggling with crack cocaine addiction at the time of the purchase.

At this time the 5th Circuit ruling has no legal bearing in Biden’s case, which was brought in Delaware.

The Justice Department has declined to comment on the appeals court ruling. The administration is still weighing whether to appeal the decision.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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