On February 3rd, a Federal Judge dismissed, with prejudice, the charges from a May 2022 arrest of Texas man Jared Harrison in the case, United States v. Jared Michael Harrison. The state charged Harrison with unlawful possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance (marijuana) under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3). While the case is a win for Constitutional rights, it’s important to understand how the court came to its decision.
United States v. Jared Michael Harrison —
From the court’s decision, here is the background of the case:
On May 20, 2022, Harrison was pulled over by an officer of the Lawton Police Department for failing to stop at a red light. When Harrison rolled down his window to speak to the officer, the officer smelled marijuana and questioned Harrison about the source of the smell. Harrison told the officer that he was on his way to work at a medical marijuana dispensary, but that he did not have a state-issued medical-marijuana card.
The officer asked Harrison to step out of his car. When he did, the officer noticed that Harrison was wearing an ankle monitor. Harrison told the officer that he was on probation in Texas for an aggravated assault (note 1). The officer searched Harrison and found no contraband. The officer did not conduct a field sobriety test, nor did he request a blood draw to determine if Harrison was under the influence of marijuana or some other unlawful substance.
Another officer arrived, and the two officers searched Harrison’s car. They found a loaded revolver on the driver’s side floorboard; two prescription bottles in the driver’s side door, one empty and one containing partially smoked marijuana cigarettes; and a backpack in the passenger seat. The backpack contained marijuana, THC gummies, two THC vape cartridges, and a pre-rolled marijuana cigarette and marijuana stems in a tray.
Harrison was arrested at the scene. The next day, the State of Oklahoma charged Harrison with possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, and failure to obey a traffic signal. Harrison is awaiting trial on those charges. Then, on August 17, 2022, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Harrison with possessing a firearm with knowledge that he was an unlawful user of marijuana, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3).
Note 1: It turns out this wasn’t completely accurate; Harrison was actually on bond pending trial in Texas for that aggravated assault. Harrison and another man are alleged to have shot into a crowd at a college party, seriously wounding at least one partygoer. It is not clear from the available records in the Texas case whether any conditions of release were imposed on Harrison other than the location monitoring.
In essence, Harrison’s argument affirmed by the court is that the United States Supreme Court ruling in NYSR&PA v Bruen affirms the Second Amendment’s plain text understanding of an individual’s right to possess a firearm, and 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(3) violates that right.
The Court’s ruling is substantive and I highly encourage reading all 54 pages. While reading, it quickly becomes clear how monumental the Bruen decision was, not just because of the decision, but how Bruen reset the process by which courts are to judge the constitutionality of the laws that restricting the Second Amendment.
Effects of Bruen on the Harrison Case—
What the court did in Bruen was evaluate New York, subjective ‘good cause’ requirement as part of its may-issue handgun licensing program. In Bruen, the SCOTUS said lower courts must consider the plain text of the Second Amendment, and the historical and contextual meaning of the Second Amendment, rather than a means test that weighed if the law’s supposed public safety, outweighed the individuals right to possess a firearm.
The court, in the Harrison case, deconstructs the states arguments that there exists a historical basis for revoking an individual’s constitutional right to self-defense with a firearm based on their classification as a felon or a user of a controlled substance. In fact, it’s not really until 1961 that any law existed that prohibited people convicted of crimes punishable by a term exceeding one year (felons), as the prohibition previously applied only to those convicted of “crimes of violence.”
Additionally, there is no evidence that anyone who simply used illicit or legal substances were prohibited the right to possess a firearm and lose their Second Amendment rights. There is historical evidence to uphold laws that would temporarily curtail the right to carry or bear a firearm in public or certain places if a person were under the influence, but never an outright ban on possession if one were sober and simply use drugs at some time in the past.
Here is an expert that shows, in part, the basis for the court’s decision:
The United States also points to a New York law from the colonial era that was passed “for the prevention” of “great Damages . . . frequently done” around the New Year’s holiday “by persons going from House to House, with Guns and other Fire Arms and being often intoxicated with Liquor.”44 The law appears to have prohibited all persons from “fir[ing] or discharg[ing] any Gun . . . in any House Barn or other Building or before any Door or in any Garden, Street, Lane or other Inclosure [sic] on” the “eve of the last Day of December, and on the first and second Days of January.”45
The United States’ reliance on this law is unclear: It includes the law as an example of “state laws [that] have historically prohibited carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol.”46 But as explained above, the law applied to all persons, not just intoxicated persons or those who use intoxicants.47 And it is difficult to see how this law could indicate any sort of “well-established,”48 constitutionally relevant tradition of regulation: The law was in effect for only two years, applied to only certain places in one county and two towns, and restricted the discharge of firearms for only three days a year.
Again, for a deeper understanding of the court’s decision, you should consider reading the entire document embedded below.