To the surprise of many, the National Rifle Association (NRA) announced its support for regulations on so-called “bump stocks" - attachments that allows semiautomatic rifles to fire faster.
While many viewed this announcement with skepticism, it is noteworthy that one of the largest political organizations in the United States - and one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the United States - is announcing its support for reform.
While the debate rages around gun regulations, many who value the Second Amendment over any other amendment believe that the NRA will continue to defend their constitutional right. However, there is an ever-growing segment of the population whom the NRA is falling to protect - namely, the ever-growing body of medical marijuana patients.
In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act. This act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created restrictions on classes and categories of individuals who could own guns. The act was later amended to prohibit licensed federal firearms retailers and other gun transferors from selling, giving, gifting, or otherwise transferring firearms or ammunition to those whom the retailer or transferor knew were using or were addicted to a controlled substance codified in the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.
This restriction, originally intended to curb the sale of firearms to drug addicts and drug dealers, has not been amended since its adoption in the early 1970s. However, while the act's language and interpretation have stayed the same, society has progressed beyond it.
As of late 2017, there are 29 fully operational and inclusive state medical marijuana programs functioning across this country, covering over 160 million Americans - or roughly 60 percent of the United States population. Currently, in these 29 states, there are roughly two million registered medical marijuana patients. Counting all medical marijuana access laws, roughly 45 states have some kind of access to marijuana products, covering almost 90 percent of the U.S. population. By operation of federal law, these people are prohibited from purchasing a firearm or ammunition.
Numerous attempts have been made to have 18 USCs § 922(g)(3) declared unconstitutional. All of these attempts have proven useless, however, with the most recent challenging of Wilson v. Lynch being denied by the Supreme Court in 2016. The NRA has been completely silent on these constitutional challenges seeking to protect medical patients' Second Amendment rights. The NRA has even failed to file amicus briefs for any of these constitutional challenges, adopting a policy of conspicuous silence instead.
The NRA’s Bias Against Marijuana
The NRA’s silence on medical marijuana patients' gun rights should not be surprising to anyone who has followed the organization over the years. The NRA has systematically failed to speak out for the gun rights of citizens who are killed in part because of their possession of a firearm when marijuana was involved.
The prime example of this defining silence was the tragic murder of Philando Castile by officer Jeronimo Yanez. The NRA failed to speak out about Castile's death, even though he followed every legal rule required to posses a firearm and did the right thing by informing the officer there was a gun in the vehicle.
However, Officer Yanez attempted to justify Castile’s murder by stating: “As that was happening as he was pulling at, out his hand I thought, I was gonna die and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls was screaming.”
Almost a month after Officer Yanez’s acquittal for murdering Castile, the NRA finally released a statement, which partly blamed Castile’s marijuana use for his death. Combined with the NRA’s total inaction in supporting gun reform for marijuana patients, it has become increasingly clear that the NRA will not stand up for the gun rights of marijuana patients.
Medical Patients Forgotten in The Gun Debate
As the gun debate continues, it's important for medical marijuana patients to remember that they are the group in the greatest need of reform. The NRA has failed medical marijuana patients, and seems it like it will continue to fail in protecting their Second Amendment rights.
Hopefully, with Republicans in firm control of Congress, they can work to amend the “Gun Control Act” in a simple and straightforward way to better reflect the changing views of Americans toward marijuana. Unfortunately, Congress, like the NRA, appears unwilling to discuss the subject of marijuana.
Hunter J. White is the Communications Director of the national Republican political organization, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP, a Non-Profit 501-c3 organization dedicated to the complete repeal of marijuana prohibition in all its forms. In this series of articles, Hunter shares the challenges, experiences, and insights that he has gained from years of working to bring marijuana policy reform to the Republican Party.