The Corner

Drugs and Guns

Chuck Schumer proposes that when prospective military recruits admit drug use in interviews — as Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner did — they should be reported to the FBI and entered into the database of people who are forbidden to buy guns.

As Schumer points out, it is already illegal to sell a gun to a drug user or addict; this policy, therefore, would make existing law more effective. However, there are several reasons to be concerned.

The first is that Americans have a Second Amendment right to own handguns, and this right cannot be denied without due process. Schumer’s policy, as outlined in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, contains little in the way of process: The military would report to the FBI, and the individual’s gun rights would be gone.

The second is that Schumer has offered no guidelines as to how long these individuals would stay in the database. Federal law doesn’t forbid selling guns to former drug users or addicts (so long as they are non-felons), or even to those convicted of misdemeanor drug offenses, and there’s no reason to deny rights to people for life on the grounds of their smoking pot at 17. There should be a way for these individuals to get their Second Amendment rights back — for example, by passing drug tests.

Third, there is no reason to believe that this would prevent violence. Loughner went on his rampage because he was mentally ill, not because he was a drug user; many drugs, pot in particular, do not cause violent behavior in themselves; and the most worrisome participants in the drug trade — dealers, addicts of hard drugs — often have convictions that make them ineligible to own guns anyway. What’s more, this new policy would apply only to drug users who admitted their illegal behavior to government officials, a phenomenon that seems to be rare. One Army official called Loughner’s admission “bizarre,” adding, “I certainly wouldn’t go through the whole process only to say, ‘Hey, I’ve been smoking marijuana for the past couple of years.’”

Fourth, removing the privacy protections from the military’s recruiting interviews will give candidates a reason to be less frank, denying the armed services crucial information.

Drugs are illegal, for good or (mostly) ill, and therefore drug users are by definition criminals. This makes them legitimate targets for gun control. But let’s not be under any illusion that policies such as Schumer’s will accomplish anything more than satisfying the urge to Do Something.

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