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Appeals court strikes gun restriction implicated in Hunter Biden case

Right-wing courts are expanding the Second Amendment. That's good news for the president's son.


In a case from Mississippi, a federal appeals court just ruled against a prohibition on drug users having guns. This issue may sound familiar if you've been paying close attention to the Hunter Biden case unfolding in Delaware.

Whatever impact the ruling has on the president’s son, it’s a significant nationwide issue that’s worth watching as the Supreme Court inevitably addresses it.

Wednesday’s ruling in United States v. Daniels comes from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the right-wing court based in New Orleans that covers Texas and Mississippi in addition to Louisiana. In the case of confessed cannabis consumer Patrick Daniels, a three-judge 5th Circuit panel said the federal law barring gun possession by such an “unlawful user” violates the Second Amendment.

The opinion was authored by Ronald Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, joined by Donald Trump appointee Don Willett and Barack Obama appointee Stephen Higginson, who wrote a concurring opinion that demonstrated the absurd state of Second Amendment jurisprudence. Higginson also observed that, even though the panel only struck down the law as applied to Daniels, its reasoning would likely apply to others, too.

Of course, it was the Supreme Court’s decision in the Bruen case last year that unleashed new attacks on gun laws. The 6-3 party-line ruling made them presumptively unlawful unless they’re consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.

Unsurprisingly, that historical test has led to some funky outcomes, like when the 5th Circuit struck down a prohibition on domestic abusers having guns. The Supreme Court is reviewing that case, United States v. Rahimi, in the coming term that starts in October.

Hunter Biden at the White House, on July 7, 2022.
Hunter Biden at the White House on July 7, 2022.Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images file

As for Hunter Biden, who was charged in June with possessing a firearm while being addicted to a controlled substance, he was already looking at a diversion agreement for the gun charge that could result in its dismissal. Plus, he also faces tax charges.

So practically speaking, the prospect of the gun law being struck down nationwide might not change his bottom line — especially if he and the prosecution can reach an agreement covering both the tax and gun charges after the plea deal went off the rails last month.

There’s an irony, of course, in the Democratic president’s son — a favorite political target of Republicans — benefiting from right-wing court rulings that his father's administration is challenging. Still, whether United States v. Biden becomes a landmark Second Amendment case is far from clear. It's unclear if it becomes much of a case at all, if the parties sort out their plea deal.

But whatever the fate of that Delaware case and its subject, we’ll be watching the Supreme Court to see how much further it takes that amendment.