The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is the most recent court to find that federal cannabis gun control legislation is unconstitutional. The case, United States v. Daniels, was published on August 9, 2023. The court joins a growing list of courts which have all found these restrictions unconstitutional.
Federal law prohibits cannabis users from buying or owning guns. A 2022 U.S. Supreme Court case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, held that the test for determining whether a gun control law is constitutional is (1) whether the affected person has Second Amendment rights, and (2) whether the restriction is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
All or virtually all courts that have dealt with the federal cannabis gun control law agree that cannabis users have Second Amendment rights. And nearly all courts agree that the federal cannabis restriction is not “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” Now, we can add the Fifth Circuit to that list:
[O]ur 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. Nor do more generalized traditions of disarming dangerous persons support this restriction on nonviolent drug users. As applied to Daniels, then, § 922(g)(3) violates the Second Amendment.
I’ll keep this post very brief and not analyze every aspect of the Daniels decision, since I’ve written about many of the other federal cannabis gun control cases (see below) and the analysis here is very similar. Three things are important to keep in mind following the Daniels decision:
The ruling is an “as applied” ruling, meaning that the law was found to be unconstitutional as applied to the defendant. So the ruling is narrower than it could have been. This is similar to what happened in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Range v. Attorney General of the United States of America, which was also as-applied. For what it’s worth, Range wasn’t a cannabis case – it was a case based on gun control restrictions due to a prior disqualifying misdemeanor conviction (which is one of the other many gun control restrictions).
Earlier this year, a federal court in Texas decided a case on very similar grounds, in United States v. Connelly. I wrote about that case here. The federal district courts in Texas are part of the Fifth Circuit, meaning that if Connelly is appealed, it will likely end up with the same or similar outcome to Daniels.
While this is the first Fifth Circuit case applying the Bruen test to federal cannabis gun control laws, it’s not the first case to apply the Bruen test to other federal gun control laws. Earlier this year, the Fifth Circuit decided United States v. Rahimi, holding unconstitutional (under Bruen) federal restrictions on gun possession by persons subject to civil domestic violence restraining orders. Rahimi was recently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case in the upcoming term. Rahimi is not a cannabis case, but it is certainly possible that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling could affect the sea of cannabis gun control cases pending in federal court now.
In sum, Daniels is just one of many federal cases that are chipping away at gun control restrictions. This raises the chances, yet again, that people won’t have constitutional rights stripped away just because they consume cannabis to help with debilitating illnesses or even recreationally.
For some of my other posts on cannabis gun rights, please see this list: