Prosecutors of 6-Year-Old Shooter’s Mother Claim Gun-Owning Pot Users Are ‘Inherently Dangerous’
On Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced Deja Taylor, a 26-year-old Virginia woman whose 6-year-old son used her pistol to shoot a teacher last January, to 21 months in prison for owning a gun while using marijuana. In June, Taylor pleaded guilty to violating 18 USC 922(g)(3), which makes it a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, for an “unlawful user” of a “controlled substance” to possess a firearm. She also admitted that she falsely denied drug use on the form she filled out when she bought the pistol, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“This case is not a marijuana case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa McKeel wrote in the government’s sentencing memorandum. “It is a case that underscores the inherently dangerous nature [of] and [the] circumstances that arise from the caustic cocktail of mixing consistent and prolonged controlled substance use with a lethal firearm.”
McKeel is partly right: Strictly speaking, this is a firearm case, not a marijuana case. Yet there would be no firearm case without federal marijuana prohibition. And while the evidence indicates that Taylor was neither a model gun owner nor a model cannabis consumer, her federal firearm offenses do not hinge on the details of her behavior. Survey data suggest that millions of Americans are gun-owning cannabis consumers, meaning they are guilty of the same felony that earned Taylor a prison sentence, even if they pose no danger to anyone. As a federal appeals court recently noted, that situation is hard to reconcile with “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 60 million Americans used illegal drugs (mainly marijuana) in 2021. Based on surveys indicating that roughly one-third of American adults own guns, we can surmise that something like 20 million people violated Section 922(g)(3) that year. Yet on average, federal prosecutors file just 120 charges under that provision each year. In other words, only a minuscule percentage of the potential defendants will ever become actual defendants.
It is no mystery why Taylor ended up being part of that tiny minority. First, her marijuana use attracted official attention as a result of the investigation that followed her son’s January 6 assault on Abigail Zwerner, a teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, who underwent five surgeries to repair the damage that the bullet he fired did to her hand and lung. Second, that investigation also revealed a pattern of irresponsible conduct, which was not legally necessary to prosecute Taylor’s firearm offenses but surely played a role in the decision to pursue a fede
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