ATF...WTF? End The Government Assault On Pot Smokers’ Gun Rights

Photo via Flickr (M&R Glasgow)

On Nov. 14, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives modified Form 4473 — a piece of government paperwork required of anyone wishing to exercise his or her right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. One of the little tweaks involved a clarification of question 11e, the one that reads, “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug or any other controlled substance?

Now, you, me and every man bun-wearing hipster on the planet knows that more than half of the states have legalized the use of marijuana in some capacity or another (29 allow medical marijuana, and eight have legalized recreational use). Which would suggest that the gun-toting, weed-toking denizens of, say, Washington State are well within their rights to check “no” to that question, leaving them free to (a) legally purchase their weapon of choice, (b) pop over to the local dispensary for an ounce of Blueberry Kush, and then (c) head home to blaze up and while away the weekend blowing a bunch of clay pigeons to kingdom come. Like God intended.

DoD photo

But not so fast, sparky. Because the ATF has added a major buzzkill to the form — offering a little more guidance on how to answer this question:

WARNING: The use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.

The change came after the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld ATF’s ban on gun sales to marijuana users, noting, that ganja “raises the risk of irrational or unpredictable behavior with which gun use should not be associated.” The court ruled that prohibiting medical marijuana cardholders from purchasing guns does not violate their Second Amendment rights.

What are these guys smoking? I know the government has had it in for marijuana users since the days of “Reefer Madness.” But it’s a new millennium. Pot heads are everywhere, and for some very valid reasons. Cannabis is considered an effective treatment for nausea (which often accompanies cancer therapies), pain, depression, and anxiety, among other things. Not to mention — it gets you high, bro.

The idea that someone who chooses to partake of a botanical substance that is legal in many states and decriminalized in many others should be suddenly ineligible to exercise his right to own and operate a firearm is asinine. What’s the big risk? That somebody’s going to pass out holding a AR-15 and accidentally shoot their flatscreen TV while watching “The Walking Dead”? That he’ll get the munchies and mistake the business end of a SIG Pro semi-automatic pistol for a sugary churro?

The health effects of marijuana are still being studied, but it mostly seems to lead to eating entire sleeves of stale saltine crackers and mild irritation due to breaking open a freshly purchased dime bag and finding it full of stems and seeds. Admittedly, there’s no doubt that actually getting baked impairs your motor coordination (indeed, for some, it’s the whole point). One 2011 meta-analysis showed operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana was associated with a heightened risk of accidents. All kidding aside, getting stoned and messing around with a firearm is not a smart thing to do. Do not do it. But there’s nothing in the research to suggest that the occasional use of marijuana makes one any less able to handle a weapon.

So the question is not whether you should fire a gun while high. The question is whether you should have the right to purchase a gun if you’re an occasional pot user. The federal government says no.

Meanwhile, you say you’re popping 150mg of Oxy a day? Danny, get your gun. Took a few Ambien and woke up in the neighbor’s kitchen with the remains of an Entenmann’s coffee cake in your beard? What the hell, go get you an AK-47. Taking anti-psychotic meds? As long as you’ve never been declared a danger to yourself or others, blast away, buddy.

And then, of course, there’s old demon alcohol. Any country boy worth a pinch of dip knows the best way to enjoy a little target practice is making your way through half a 30-rack of Natty Ice and setting up the empties on that beat-up husk of a Buick LeSabre out in the side yard. Then again, a 2013 study of firearm-related homicides revealed that 48% of the killers were reportedly under the influence of alcohol.

We think we know the problem: Despite the wave of decriminalization sweeping the country, pot heads still have a bad rap. They’re considered lazy, weak, poorly groomed, and even un-American. As the legendary Merle Haggard once put it, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Of course, that was before old Merle started growing his own medicinal herb, recorded “It’s All Going to Pot” with Willie Nelson, and marketed his own weed strain. Times change.

A medical marijuana user for PTSD and a back injury lights up after his speech to the Washington State Liquor Control Board Thursday night, March 7, 2013 at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton, Washington.AP Photo/Kitsap Sun, Larry Steagall

To some, it may seem surprising that a pot smoker would even want to buy a gun, given the drug’s association with a chilled-out mellow vibe. But even space cadets have constitutional rights. And if we let the ATF get away with turning down stoners, what’s to stop them from adding other dangerous substances to the no-buy list, like say, whiskey, or steroids, or pork rinds?

Of course, the ATF’s decision places a particular burden on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, many of whom have found marijuana to be a highly effective treatment. Although the VA’s National Center for PTSD does not recommend it, some veterans treatment programs do prescribe it.

So how does someone get around the prohibition? Well, in many states, it's perfectly legal to sell guns out of the trunk of your car to just about anyone, without recording serial numbers or doing a background check. If you prefer to buy from a registered gun shop, though, you’ll have to lie on the form, as long as you're cool with committing a felony offense punishable by up to five years in prison.

Because until the ATF decides to pop their heads out of their own asses, fire up a doobie and chill the hell out, you're going to be on the wrong side of the law.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

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Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

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