Misdemeanant Drug Offenders May Qualify for Gun Ownership

April 4th, 2011

From Cleveland.com:

A Cuyahoga County judge’s decision to allow a convicted drug criminal to own firearms for self-defense could pave the way for thousands of people with minor drug convictions to own guns.

At issue is whether an Ohio law prohibiting all drug criminals, among others, from owning guns is unconstitutional when applied to someone convicted of a misdemeanor drug charge.

Laws across the nation long have prohibited convicted criminals from owning firearms. In Ohio, the law denies gun ownership rights to all felons and fugitives, the mentally ill, chronic alcoholics and drug offenders of any kind.

In December, however, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan interpreted two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to mean that state laws restricting gun rights are intended for those convicted of felonies — not misdemeanors. Generally, misdemeanor charges involve possession of small amounts of drugs.

Corrigan dismissed a weapons charge against Marinko Tomas, a Cleveland man who pleaded guilty in 1991 to attempted drug trafficking, a misdemeanor for which he was ordered to pay a $150 fine. Prosecutors contended that the state gun prohibition applied to Tomas because of the drug conviction.

Generally speaking, people convicted of misdemeanor drug offenses do not pose a danger to society at large.

Corrigan, in his opinion, ruled that Tomas’ decades-old misdemeanor drug conviction does not negate his right to own guns for the purpose of self-defense and that the state has no compelling reason to strip him of that right.

“To have a blanket prohibition on an entire class of people who are not a danger to society is wrong,” [Larry Pratt, Eecutive Director of Gun Owners of America] said. “This case underscores how thoughtless such laws are and helps us recognize what we’re doing wrong in our criminal justice system.”

As I argue in The Constitutionality of Social Cost, why perpetually ban from from a fundamental constitutional right? There must be a stronger nexus between the applicants propensity to harm others and the deprivation of liberty.

Unsurprisingly, the prosecutor argues that drug users are dangerous, and their rights should be curtailed:

Prosecutors disagree and say Corrigan has made a grave error that must be reversed.

“Courts, including the Ohio Supreme Court, have continued to recognize that drug trafficking and firearms go hand in hand,” Assistant Prosecutor Thorin Freeman said in a recent interview. “When this search warrant was executed, Tomas had a small bag of dope on him. He lives in an area that he says is dangerous because of drugs and violence, yet he’s part of the problem.”

“The rifles themselves are capable of cutting a tree down,” Assistant County Prosecutor Bill Kaczmarek said during the hearing. “They’re capable of stopping a bus. They’re weapons that are used on the fields of war.”

Drugs and guns are a dangerous combination, prosecutors said. So the Second Amendment right to bear arms should apply to law-abiding citizens only — not drug criminals.

“It’s not an absolute right,” Kaczmarek argued. “It’s a right that can be controlled by the state for the overall health, safety, morals and general well-being of the community.”

Stay tuned.