On the 31st of August, a federal appeals court ruled that a federal ban on the sale of guns to medical marijuana card holders does not violate the second amendment rights of cardholders. The ruling will apply to states within the jurisdiction of the 9th US. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes nine western states such as Washington, Oregon, and California.
Federal laws currently prohibit selling guns to fugitives, convicts, “mental defectives”, and any person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance”. The court said that congress came to a reasonable conclusion that cannabis “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.” The case began with a lawsuit by a medical cannabis cardholding Nevada woman who tried to buy a gun for self-defense in 2011, and was refused on the basis of a federal ban on the sale of guns to illegal drug users. The woman’s attorney has discussed plans to appeal the decision, which may involve submitting an appeal to a larger panel of the circuit court, or even the US Supreme court. The attorney, Chaz Rainey, says there needs to be more consistency in the application of the second amendment.
To understand why this ruling should be considered abhorrent to non gun-nuts, and to gun control activists alike, we must take a look at the existing exceptions to the second amendment, and what this ruling says about the way cannabis is still viewed by lawmakers and the judicial system. First of all, it is important to remember who is still allowed to buy guns. This includes people on terrorist watch lists, the no-fly list, alcoholics, former hard drug addicts, and people convicted of a variety of crimes such as misdemeanor domestic violence (in some cases). Even people convicted of violent felonies can (in some cases) avoid background checks by buying guns online, or at gun shows. This ruling asserts that medical cannabis cardholders are more likely to misuse a firearm than any of those groups of people. Not to mention that anyone in recreationally states can legally smoke as much as they want, and remain unaffected by this ruling.
As a true moderate on this issue, I am ambivalent about limiting firearm rights for groups like those on the no-fly list. Terrorist watch lists are secretive and don’t involve the use of evidence or any actual ruling by a court when it comes to alleged wrongdoing. This an issue with two sides, and is well worthy of intelligent debate. Nonetheless it goes to show that, in this way, medical cannabis users are considered more of a threat in the eyes of the law than people on such a watch list. Furthermore, as things stand now, even someone actually convicted of certain violent crimes can walk into a gun store and buy a gun. It’s hard not to see the hypocrisy there.
This hypocrisy opens up an important question. Did the judges who ruled on this case fail to consider the range of the unsavory types who will still have no problem buying a firearm? It seems unlikely to me that these judges - whose job It is to consider such matters - didn’t think of this. What seems more likely to me, is that a bias against cannabis still exists that relies on decades-old propaganda and myths about the nature of cannabis. For decades, the story was that cannabis renders its users reckless, violent, unpredictable, and with a tendency toward committing crime in general. As I’ve touched on previously in prior articles, this image of cannabis was built on a foundation of racism and xenophobia. Such notions have been disproven time and time again - not least importantly by widespread personal experience and common sense - but the American legal system continues to make decisions about cannabis that seem based in 1930s propaganda. On some level, its likely that many of the people making these decisions believe that the consumption of cannabis will lead to an individual exhibiting violent behavior worse than alcohol. As a result, cannabis use is considered grounds for limiting ones constitutional rights, whereas alcohol is not – no matter how proven the dangers.
If facts were a priority, lawmakers might notice studies that point to an actual reduction in violent crime, such as the homicide in states with medical cannabis legislation. They might also consider that 30 people a day (that’s right, a day) are estimated to die from alcohol related homicides. Gun suicides in which alcohol was involved would add to that body count. 15 percent of robberies in the US were committed under the influence of alcohol. The same is true for 37 percent of rapes, 27 percent of aggravated assaults, 25 percent of simple assaults, and a total of 40 percent of all homicides.
At the end of the day, the second amendment does exist, whatever your feelings may be. If we accept that, we see that the ruling sets a terrifying precedent that could be cited to take away other constitutional rights from medical cannabis cardholders. Even if you believe in erring on the side of caution when it comes to who can buy guns – surely, this ruling reveals an egregious double standard in the law that we should not take lightly.