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Mississippi man free after court rules part of federal gun statute ‘unconstitutional’

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A Mississippi man was behind a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to void a federal law that prevents unlawful drug users from possessing firearms.

26-year-old Patrick Daniels of Gulfport was arrested in April 2022 after police found the end of a marijuana joint, a pistol, and a semiautomatic rifle in his vehicle during a traffic stop. He was convicted in July 2022 and sentenced to nearly four years in prison and three years of probation – a conviction that was thrown out Wednesday.

In the case known as U.S. v. Daniels, the court unanimously found that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen decision to bar anyone who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” from possessing a gun unconstitutional as it applied to Daniels.

According to court records, the three judges decided that the restriction was too broad to apply to Daniels as the statute’s language does not distinguish between a person who is intoxicated or a person who is sober but in possession of drug paraphernalia at the time of their arrest. Daniels, an admitted habitual marijuana user, was not drug tested following the traffic stop.

“Just as there was no historical justification for disarming a citizen of sound mind, there is no tradition that supports disarming a sober citizen who is not currently under an impairing influence,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote in the opinion. “Indeed, it is helpful to compare the tradition surrounding the insane and the tradition surrounding the intoxicated side-by-side.”

The court compared Daniels’ case to that of an alcoholic, saying that the federal law “allowed alcoholics to possess firearms while sober.” Further, the court said there was no historical basis for stripping gun rights from non-violent drug users.

“The government asks us to set aside the particulars of the historical record and defer to Congress’ modern-day judgment that Daniels is presumptively dangerous because he smokes marijuana multiple times a month,” Smith continued. “But that is the kind of toothless rational basis review that Bruen proscribes. Absent a comparable regulatory tradition in either the 18th or 19th century, § 922(g)(3) fails constitutional muster under the Second Amendment.”

The decision, which Judge Stephen Higginson said was based on the “uncertainty and upheaval” Bruen created in how the federal government applies public safety laws, is being considered a victory for gun rights activists.

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