Less than three months after the worst mass shooting in American history, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was busy as always.
America’s founding fathers desired for its citizens the right to “bear arms.” They did so in a context when “arms” meant muzzle-loading muskets, which, in the hands of experienced users, could reasonably expect to be fired two or three times a minute (and were thus often deployed as spears rather than firearms).
In recent years, when acquiring a weapon of war capable of killing 58 people and wounding more than 540 in a matter of minutes has become an accomplishment no more daunting than a hobbyists’ chore, the NRA has famously pushed a broader—some might say tortured—interpretation when working the halls of Congress in its zealous defense—some might say selective expansion—of the Second Amendment.
Tortured and selective, because the NRA has been conspicuously absent and silent, even as a real-world example of its “they’re taking your guns!” fantasy-doomsday scenario comes to pass.
Several states appear ready to follow federal policy to the logical extreme and ban legal marijuana users from acquiring or possessing firearms—and lo, the NRA is nowhere to be found.
Five years and several lifetimes ago, in the months after the 2012 massacre of a first-grade class in Newtown, Connecticut, the NRA could truthfully say that change—code for “common sense safeguards like background checks, or other measures that would see owning a weapon of war become almost as onerous as owning a car”—might at last be coming to America. More than any other entity, the NRA owns responsibility for ensuring that, in the context of weapons modeled after the U.S. military’s standard-issue assault rifle, the specter of “big government taking your guns” remained a chimerical talking-point, vital scare tactic with immutable utility, invaluable for scooping up votes and contributions.
It’s been said before: With that battle won, the NRA possibly won the war. The Las Vegas shooting came and went with gun control seizing barely 140-characters’ worth of attention. Now, the latest, greatest threat to the “right to bear arms” is any possible abrogation of your right to hide a pistol in your purse while traveling across state lines. Approved by the House of Representatives last week, the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act” is “the strongest piece of self-defense legislation to ever come before Congress,” according to the NRA’s lobbying arm.
While votes for legalizing armed vigilantes’ ankle holsters were being whipped up, registered and responsible gun owners in Hawaii received instructions from police to surrender their weapons, a scene that could be repeated in Ohio, Delaware, and other states signing on to America’s steadily widening experiment with medical cannabis.
Technically, gun owners are already aware that illegal drug use renders their weapons contraband. According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, nobody who uses medical cannabis in any capacity is eligible for gun ownership.
Since cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance, “any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legalization authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance, and is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition,” according to the ATF. This hard-line stance survived an appeals court challenge, filed by a Nevada pot user who sought to overturn the ATF on Second Amendment grounds—and did so without any support whatsoever from the NRA, who stayed silent on the issue.
As Reason noted, Hawaii is the only state where law enforcement has a list of both medical-marijuana patients AND gun owners. On November 13, three months after Hawaii’s first medical-cannabis dispensaries at last opened for business, Honolulu police Chief Susan Ballard sent a letter to people appearing on both lists.
“Your medical marijuana use disqualifies you from ownership of firearms and ammunition,” the letter read. “If you currently own or have any firearms, you have 30 days upon receipt of this letter to voluntarily surrender your firearms, permit, and ammunition to the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) or otherwise transfer ownership. A medical doctor’s clearance letter is required for any future firearms applications or return of firearms from HPD evidence.”
After a brief outcry—from civil-liberties advocates and the marijuana community, not from the gun lobby—Ballard reversed herself.
Honolulu police will let current pot-smoking gun owners hang onto their weapons, and instead deny any future firearms permits to cannabis patients. What compelled her in the first place to enforce ATF policy to its logical endpoint, we still don’t know. All the hoopla, however, has had the unfortunate impact of compelling cops in other states to follow her lead.
The gun impasse was picked up by the Dayton Daily News in Ohio—where as much as 24 percent of the population could be eligible for entry into the state’s medical-marijuana program beginning in September, when they’ll also have to register with the state. How police plan to react there is an open question, but a tricky precedent has clearly been set.
Following Hawaii’s move, police in Delaware are now openly calling to make gun ownership more rigorous, but only for pot users—who, if one police chief has his way, will be “marked” or advertised as pot users by a “special” identifier on their drivers’ licenses.
“It would make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that prohibited people are not buying firearms in Delaware,” said Camden, Delaware police Chief William Bryson, chairman of the Delaware Police Chiefs Council, according to the Associated Press.
It does not take much imagination to see why putting a “weed mark” on someone’s license is a terrible idea that would be roundly abused by law enforcement—who would have instantaneous probable cause for stops, searches and detentions—but Bryson and other chiefs are serious.
“Anything we can do to keep the persons that are prohibited from getting the firearms I think is a positive step,” he said.
This is a stance consistent with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who earlier in the year mocked a Justice Department intern who dared ask about his administration’s tough policy on cannabis and hands-off approach towards gun ownership.
You will notice the sudden concern for 350 million guns stashed across America happens only when legal marijuana use is involved. There’s a clear double-standard at play—and artful dodgers over at gun lobby could care less. They’re part of the charade.
Dana Loesch is a right-wing political commentator who “doubles” as an NRA spokeswoman. (The jobs, they are the same.) In recent weeks, she’s taken time to post messages in support of an ISIS-level religious extremist accused of molesting a teenage girl and exploiting a freak tragedy for political gain, against victims’ wishes. She will surely be among the first to denigrate those politicizing tragedies, after the next mass shooting, but has stayed silent on this particular issue.
If we were to guess, if the NRA did involve itself, it would be to offer some specious nonsense about just why lawful cannabis users can’t be gun owners. It will use the same logic as the “if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” saw. Loesch used a similarly tortured interpretation to suggest Philando Castile bore some of the responsibility for his own death.
If this surprises or disappoints, it also reveals.
Remember: The drug war has always been about politics, taking away the power and rights of the people who use them, in the service of an authoritarian state. For the architects and acolytes of this policy, weed users fail a binary litmus test, and so the gun lobby will take a pass and snooze through a test of its very reason for existence.