Personal Freedom

When Gun Owners Become Felons in Utah

According to the Utah Department of Health, roughly six percent of adults in Utah admit to using marijuana. This of course doesn’t account for those who wouldn’t admit to it, nor does it include those who use one of the many other drugs on the market.

And of the tens of thousands of drug-using Utahns to whom this applies, how many of them are lawful owners of a firearm? Probably a significant percentage; it’s estimated that around 32% of adults in Utah own a firearm (which is a conservative estimate, because these studies don’t factor in the large number of firearms that aren’t registered or reported).

So, to sum — tens of thousands of Utahns use an illegal drug and also own a weapon of self defense.

Which makes them felons.

Of course, the drug possession is its own violation of law; this is obvious and apparent to those involved in the practice. What is far less known, if known at all by those affected, is that the mere possession of a lawful firearm suddenly becomes a felony once the person possessing it also has illegal drugs.

Utah law states that you are a “restricted person” if you are “an unlawful user of a controlled substance” — and that this person when purchasing, possessing, or even using a firearm “is guilty of a third degree felony.”

Responsible gun ownership should not be criminalized merely because the person violates another law. Firearm owners aren’t made felons because they jaywalked, or stole something from a store, or forged a document—and they shouldn’t become felons merely because they possessed an illegal drug.

Certainly, using a gun in furtherance of an actual crime can be prosecuted at a greater degree than the underlying crime—for example, robbery vs. armed robbery, or using your firearm to threaten someone while trying to get them to buy your drugs.

But that’s not what the law says—not at all. It’s broad, and it’s being used to felonize people merely because they have a weapon of self-defense in their home or on their person. And that’s wrong.

We’re working with Representative Karianne Lisonbee in the upcoming legislative session to reform this law and protect gun owners so they aren’t made felons merely because they broke another law which already carries its own punishment.