Gun Rights

42-Year-Old Pot Conviction Stops 20-Year Army Veteran From Buying a Rifle


Ron Kelly, a 20-year Army veteran, recently tried to buy a .22-caliber rifle at the Wal-Mart in Tomball, Texas. He was turned away because he failed the FBI background check. He appealed the rejection, and last month he got a Justice Department letter explaining that he was legally disqualified from owning guns, after handling them in defense of his country for two decades, because of a 42-year-old marijuana conviction. As a high school student in Durham, North Carolina, he had been caught with a small amount of pot and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession, receiving a sentence of probation because he was a first-time offender. The probation lasted a year, but according to the Justice Department the ensuing loss of Kelly's Second Amendment rights lasts a lifetime. "I am ashamed of the way my government has treated me," Kelly told The Houston Chronicle. "The government may have the greatest of intentions with the [law], but they messed it up."

Kelly's disqualification may in fact be unjustified under current law, which bars gun sales to people convicted of felonies but not misdemeanors (except for misdemeanors involving domestic violence). Unless the feds are treating what North Carolina called a misdemeanor as a felony for some reason, Kelly's pot conviction should not be covered by that provision. The only other disqualifier that seems possibly relevant is the one for anybody who is "an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance," but more than a 1971 conviction for possession should be required to demonstrate that Kelly falls into that category.

Even if it turns out that Kelly is allowed to own a gun under current law, the case illustrates the folly of the absurdly broad criteria used to strip people of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms, since it clearly would be illegal to sell Kelly a gun if he still occasionally smoked pot, whether for medical or recreational purposes, or if he had been caught with enough marijuana to be charged with a felony four decades ago. "Better" background checks can only mean more injustices like this.

[Thanks to Allen St. Pierre for the tip.]

NEXT: SWAT Team Raids Home of Libertarian Activist Adam Kokesh, Arrests Him on Drug and Gun Charges

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. See, kids? Drugs will eff up your life.

    1. I know it will never happen, but it would be really nice if the jug-eared shitweasel had to answer a question about this idiocy.

      How is someone who risked his life for his country so easily stripped of his constitutional rights?

      As a constitutional law professor who has been filmed twice on national television swearing to uphold the Constitution, I would that think that Barry “O” is uniquely qualified to explain to this guy, who got shot at in Southeast Asia, exactly why he has been reduced to the status of “disfavored subject.”

      I’m starting to think that Eisenhower was our last non-cunt President.

      1. I’m starting to think that Eisenhower was our last non-cunt President

        Ford wasn’t that bad, but he was in no prepared to deal with all the social and economic upheaval that took place at the time. He had a sensibility and demeanor more suited for the 1890s than the 1970s. It’s actually quite remarkable that Carter didn’t beat him as badly as he probably should have.

      2. Why the fuck should it be more difficult to strip ex-military of their constitutional rights than the rest of us?

        1. I shouldn’t be, but it would be harder for the President to weasel out of answering if we use this guy as our example rather than the stoner down the street. I think the point is that you have to show how these laws ruin the lives of good people if you want to change them. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the world we live in.

          1. Get high, loose you 2nd Amendment rights decades after the fact…

            …or become the president of the United States of America.

    2. Yes kids, drugs will eff up your life, unless inhale something called “choom”. Then you get to be President of the United States.

    3. No, kids… this is how the GOVERNMENT can fuck up your life..

  2. Good thing he didn’t try buying a case of sparkling water!

    1. He probably looks old enough to get away with that.

  3. Considering the random and rather sweeping drug tests the Army has, I think he has pretty good evidence that he was no longer an addict or user.

    1. That’s not what movies like Platoon and Buffalo Soldiers has taught me.

      1. Well, during Vietnam, there may have been just a wee bit of drug usage. Just a little by, you know, people in involuntary armed servitude.

        Us dumbassed volunteers got made to piss in bottles quite frequently.

        My second year as an officer, I lost a really good E-6 who decided to give up a 16 year military career rather than MJ. Sigh.

        1. My dad told me about how guys would come out of the jungle with trash bags full of weed to sell to the Marines at the base. And then there was the acid. And the heroin. My dad did a lot of drugs in Vietnam. But he was a volunteer, not a draftee.

          1. Yes, plenty of weed – I was mentioning draftees, because if I was a slave, I would want some sort of release.

            Heroin – right around the corner, over in the Golden Triangle!

          2. I can see wanting to smoke weed and do heroin, but taking acid in a potential combat situation must be absolutely terrifying.

            1. But you get to shoot giant purple elephants!

              1. Doesn’t work that way on a bad trip. You get to experience massive uncertainty about the world you are experiencing, and then the waves hit. The worst trip I ever had I had convinced myself Pat Robertson was right about everything. Soon as I got down, I was going to turn my life around and read the Bible every day and turn to Jesus. Thankfully, that was only the drugs talking.

                1. LSD let me down. So I turned to PCP. You can trust the dust.

          3. The good times still rolled well into the seventies and eighties, cousin Anthony pretty much stayed high when he was stationed near Seattle.

        2. Unfortunately, if he was a 16 year E-6 he probably figured his career wasn’t all that great.

          ‘Course he did give up those sweet bennies for finishing 20.

          1. I concur – I don’t know for certain, but have heard that in the 70s and 80s in a particular unit in Germany, when piss tests first started they would simply ask who could pass and excuse others…

            1. I did my active service from 1976 to 1980 and didn’t even know of anybody who did a piss test. As I remember the technology was not cheap or reliable enough to roll it out service-wide at the time.

              Weirdos like me who did not do drugs were the exception so if anybody had been required to “piss in a bottle” I’m sure they would have asked me to supply them with my “clean” piss.

    2. You know what the reply will be: “If we had better background checks back then he wouldn’t have been allowed in the army.”

      Proving that you aren’t a fuckup doesn’t matter, it’s a pure power exercise by the current authorities and nothing more.

      1. Well… during war, especially when a draft is on, requirements decrease (for all kinds of things, like criminal past, education attainment, ASBAV score…)…

        But I don’t believe a misdemeanor for possession of pot would have kept him out of the service even when requirements are at their height (which is anytime not engaged in major conflicts/wars).

        1. Jeez, in the 1970’s it was not uncommon to meet a guy in the service who enlisted because a judge had given him that choice in lieu of jail time. This doesn’t mean that every guy making that claim was as honest as the day is long but if people were being barred from enlisting due to minor infractions like this it would have been commonly known.

    1. Political agendas held by mindfuckingly corrupt slavemaking degenerates like Barack Obama? Not at all surprising.

    2. Your link is good and all, but this one is better:
      Sex-crazed government workers could be leakers, Obama admin warns

      Government workers with “a lust for money and sex” could be potential “insider threats” to the government, according to the Obama administration.

      The Obama administration has quietly implemented the “Insider Threat Program” to force federal employees to report their co-workers if they identify signs that they might harm the government’s interests from within.

      “Insiders who seek to harm U.S. security interests normally are either long-term plants or they are people who have been lured to betray their nation for ideological reasons, a lust for money or sex, or through blackmail,” warns the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive on its website, the federal government’s top counterintelligence agency.

      Communist Honey Pots FTMFW!

      1. “If you’ll just do this one more completely dirty thing, I’ll give you the password…”

      2. Their crazed desire for filthy harlots and filth lucre!

        /Obama Advisor Increase Mather

      3. Let me be perfectly clear: a true whistleblower is one who blows the whistle on a whistleblower.

      4. Only missed 1984 by 29 years.

        You know who else had citizens reporting on each other?

        1. King George III?

          1. I see what you did there.

      5. I forget being at that meeting where we sent Barry out to be a double agent for the libertarian cause and undermine everything statist believe, but fuck is it ever working.

      6. Is that tactical eye liner and battle lipstick?

      7. But not lust for power?

      8. re: “Government workers with “a lust for money and sex” could be potential “insider threats” to the government, according to the Obama administration.”…

        I haven’t had any kids (that I know of…); Obama has TWO… AND he makes LOTS more money than I ever did before I retired…

        Should the Administration classify O as one of those guys?

        Could be…

    3. I’ll bet their faces were red when they realized Zimmerman was also a minority.

        1. No a white Hispanic Jew. A triple threat.

          1. Not even – we’re on to a new “just one drop” principle in this country.

            If you have just one drop of white in you then you’re not a minority.

            1. So Obama isn’t our first black president?

              1. Ooh, snap!

              2. No, Bill Clinton was.

  4. Universal Background Checks work!

    1. Clearly he was an unlawful user of a controlled substance — he broke the law, didn’t he?

  5. Now, I realize that your First Amendment rights can be stripped for being a felon, but I have never been caught smoking pot (or even done it without getting caught). Which one of you jerks couldn’t help yourself and went and got our alt-text forbidden?

  6. I can only imagine what sort of reprobates you’d find were able to pass the background check at that same store when purchasing firearms.

  7. Fuck the NICS. Seriously.

  8. I was investigated for selling drugs back in high school. I was never charged. Never went to court. Never convicted. Yet it kept me from getting a security clearance. Haven’t tried to purchase a firearm since the background checks went all anal, but I’ve got a sinking feeling that that little investigation some twenty five years ago will cause a red flag to go up.

    1. With no charge, it would not be in NCIS.

      You can see arrests, charges, convictions.

      1. it would not be in NCIS

        Never underestimate the powers of Jethro Gibbs.

      2. But it is now, since he posted this H&R comment.

    2. if the investigation was in CO and a couple other states, it might throw up a red flag.

      In CO, if you were ever arrested (not charged, just arrested) they can deny you and then you have to go prove that you were acquitted/not charged before they will pass you for purchase. The gun-nazis have the nerve to call this a “more secure” background check than National.

      But nationally, that you were investigated should not disqualify you from owning a gun, even though it can fuck up your chance for security clearance.

      1. “More secure” meaning “more secure” for the tyrants running the local Gestapo.

  9. I would support “better” background checks, including possibly universal ones (with appropriate privacy safeguards) if they pared down the criteria for being denied to just things that indicated you were a legitimate threat with the firearm (i.e. violent crimes and dangerous mental illness) and provided a method for appeal.

    1. Did you know the ATF department responsible for rights restoration hasn’t been funded since the early 90s and Chuckie Schumer has blocked attempts at refunding it time and time again?

      Heads they win, tails you lose.

      1. I did know that, and it is a travesty.

    2. Except the ‘experts’ say that marijuana use can make it dangerous to own a firearm. Heck, admitting mj use to your doctor can lose you your driver’s license in some states.

      1. ‘Experts’ also say that alcohol use makes it dangerous to use a firearm, and in certain cases they are absolutely right.

        In the fantasy world where my “better” background check exists people are also smart enough to have “reasonable restrictions” on drug use, as opposed to the unreasonable ones we have now.

    3. I support stripping away the citizenship of every person ever employed in law enforcement, but I really can’t get behind your idea. Yours would have at best a small effect on public safety, but mine would improve it substantially.

    4. A 40 year old conviction for a misdemeanor should have been completely wiped off the records at least 30 years ago, so thoroughly that even the NSA and the FBI do not know about it.

  10. That’s how felony convictions work. I mean, to be clear based on this story, I’m guessing that Sullum’s speculation is correct: The feds treat a marijuana possession charge as a felony, even though the state treats it as a misdemeanor.

    Since it’s a federal background check, the feds get the last call.

    1. It would have to be felony weight in the state charge to be counted as a fed felony, yes?

      1. Not sure. One would think so. But when you have a federal law that’s in direct contradistinction to state law, who trumps?

        The feds may just see “marijuana possession” come up on their computer and it automatically gets a red x.

    2. Does that mean that it would be legal for him to purchase a gun from a private seller, since under state law he’s fine and there is no NICS check? Fuck the feds.

      1. Good question.

        If I would fail a background check, but have never been convicted of a felony within my jurisdiction (state), can I be busted by my local jurisdiction for illegal possession of a firearm?

        Also, if I legally (?) own a firearm in my jurisdiction, I won’t be able to get a conceal permit because I’d fail that background check.

        Who knows.

        1. When I used to deliver pizza in Austin back in the late 90s, I remember listening to G Gordon Liddy saying that as a convicted felon, he was forbidden from owning or possessing firearms. However, Mrs. Liddy chose to store one of the pistols she owned and possessed in the nightstand drawer on his side of the bed. Similarly, she would maintain possession of it all the way to the range, let him fire it, then maintain posssession all the way home.

          1. Huh, interesting… “let him fire it”, I believe that as a convicted felon, a firearm may not find its way onto your person or in your hand. But I could be wrong about that.

            1. You would be right. By the law a convicted felon cannot “have control of” a firearm. Merely picking it up off a table crosses that line.

    3. Except he was never charged/convicted in the federal system so the fed’s can’t have *any* say in it.

      On the other hand, the feds *can* add in all the ‘medical’ exemptions they want, and drug use is one of those exemptions.

    4. Or they treat it as evidence that you are an illegal user or addict. Even if it was 40 years ago.

  11. If I can get in touch with Kelly, I’ll GIVE him one of my .22’s as a gift.

    Jesus fucking Antichrist. I have several relatives who were in the armed forces, including my brother, and I’d trust any of them with a weapon before any goddamned local police department.

    Kelly – I’ll give you your pick. Even my beloved Ruger 10-22 – I can just buy another one. (cause – no pot convictions in my youth, yo!)

  12. “The government may have the greatest of intentions with the [law], but they messed it up.”

    Wrong. Their intentions were to deny as many people as possible their 2nd ammendment rights. They may not come right out and say it, but that’s the truth. And they didn’t “mess it up.” The law is working exactly the way they intended it. Perhaps if we didn’t have as many quislings going around making fucked up excuses for the government’s bullshit like “they have the greatest of intentions,” and more people willing and able to recognize shit like this for what it is we wouldn’t be so fucked up.

    1. The job of a person who issues permits and licenses to deny as many as possible.

    2. Exactly. The gun grabbers lost the battle but they are determined to win the war. Any. Way. Possible.

  13. “. . .pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession, receiving a sentence of probation because he was a first-time offender.”

    Wait, I thought it was only serious felonies that resulted in the loss of civil liberties. I guess we’re down to minor misdeamenors that usually don’t result in jailtime now.

    1. It’s only a matter of time before any alcohol related charge results in having your right to keep and bear arms denied. I mean, how can you trust a drunk with a gun? You can’t.

      And what about traffic offenses? If someone does not obey a sign out in the middle of nowhere with no one else around, how the fuck can they be trusted with a firearm? They can’t.

      And what about general health? Do you want someone with health problems shooting a gun? If they can’t take care of their bodies, how can they be trusted to use a gun safely? They can’t.

      And what if the person doesn’t fall into any of those categories, but someone who does is an immediate family member? Can’t allow that person to own a firearm.

      Freedom means asking permission and taking order. Submit and obey.

      1. On the off chance that Our Betters haven’t thought of this stuff already, I wish you wouldn’t give them ideas.

        1. I’m sure the legislation is already written and just waiting for a high profile event or two to gin up enough populist emotion to get it passed.

      2. And what if the person ever voted for either Team Red or Team Blue? Surely they must be insane!

  14. What if the governor of NC pardons this guy for his 1971 misdemeanor conviction? Would that restore the guy’s gun rights?

  15. I presume this fellow can still vote.

    So….we trust him to vote, but not have a firearm.

    That is so upside down: If I don’t trust you with a firearm, I sure as Hell don’t trust you with a vote.

  16. I think I figured this one out. His original conviction had a maximum jail term of two years or more, even though he didn’t serve any time.

  17. This is an Onion article, right?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.