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Arbitrary Restrictions Explain Why Trump Was Not Allowed To Buy That Glock

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Donald Trump speaking and pointing at a lectern | Joshua Boucher/TNS/Newscom

Did you know that Glock makes a special Donald Trump edition of its popular G19 pistol? The gold-colored handgun, which retails for $830, features a drawing of the former president on the grip against a stars-and-stripes background, plus the phrase “Trump 45th” and the presidential seal on the barrel. Trump admired the weapon during a visit to a Palmetto State Armory outlet in Summerville, South Carolina, on Monday—so much so that, according to a social media post that Trump spokesman Steven Cheung later deleted and corrected, he bought one from the store.

“President Trump buys a @GLOCKInc in South Carolina!” Cheung wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. That caption accompanied a video of Trump’s visit, during which he twice remarked, “I want to buy one.” Someone else could be heard saying, “That’s a popular model.” The seemingly innocuous post was immediately controversial, because it inadvertently implicated Trump in a federal felony.

Since Trump is under indictment for crimes punishable by more than a year of incarceration, it is illegal for him to “receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” Willfully violating that provision is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Cheung took down the video within two hours of posting it, and the Trump campaign issued a corrective statement: “President Trump did not purchase or take possession of the firearm. He simply indicated that he wanted one.”

This episode should be more than an occasion for mockery by Trump’s opponents, because it illustrates the arbitrariness of federal laws that bar people from buying or possessing firearms even when they have no history of violence. It is bad enough that Americans permanently lose their Second Amendment rights when they are convicted of nonviolent felonies such as drug offenses. The provision that Trump would have violated if he had done what Cheung initially reported goes even further, barring gun purchases by people who have merely been accused of crimes, provided the potential penalty exceeds a year behind bars.

Unless you count Trump’s 2016 boast that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” there is little reason to think he would be inclined to use a gun for criminal purposes. The charges lodged against him in the four indictments he currently faces range from trivial (e.g., bookkeeping entries allegedly aimed at concealing a hush money payment that was not inherently criminal) to grave (e.g., conspiring to overturn a presidential election). But none of them suggests that Trump’s possession of a firearm would pose a serious threat to public safety. And for the time being, they remain unproven allegations.

It clearly never occurred to Cheung that Trump, who so far has no criminal record, nevertheless would not be allowed to exercise his Second Amendment rights by purchasing a legal firearm from a federally licensed dealer—or that such a transaction also would expose the dealer to criminal liability for selling Trump a gun while “knowing or having reasonable cause to believe” that he was “under indictment for…a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” While you could attribute Cheung’s oversight to arrogance, an alternative explanation is a naïve belief that federal gun laws make sense.

Trump’s close call should (but probably won’t) make his supporters less keen on the idea of sending Hunter Biden to prison for violating another, equally arbitrary provision of the same statute: the ban on gun possession by unlawful users of controlled substances. The current maximum penalty for breaking that rule, which applies even to people who use marijuana in states where it is legal, is 15 years in prison, although it was 10 years when Biden made the 2018 gun purchase that triggered his prosecution.

Biden faces two additional felony charges, both based on his false denial of illegal drug use on the form he filled out when he bought that revolver. If Trump had actually tried to buy the Glock 19 with his face on it, he would have had to complete the same form. In addition to inquiring about drug use and criminal convictions, it asks, “Are you under indictment or information in any court for a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could imprison you for more than one year?” That question might have alerted Trump to his potential legal jeopardy. But if he had checked “no,” that answer in itself could have been the basis for charges that carry combined maximum penalties of 15 years in prison.

The constitutionality of these gun laws is unsettled. Biden’s father, who also happens to be Trump’s likely opponent in next year’s presidential election, insists that the ban his son violated is “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation”—the test that the U.S. Supreme Court has said gun control laws must pass. But several federal judges, including a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, have said the provision fails that test.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit likewise has questioned the constitutionality of the ban on gun ownership by people with certain kinds of criminal records. In June, it said that policy was unconstitutional as applied to a Pennsylvania man who had been convicted of food stamp fraud—a misdemeanor that nevertheless triggered the federal disqualification because it was theoretically punishable by more than a year of incarceration.

As a dissenting judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett went even further, saying a felony mail fraud conviction did not justify the loss of Second Amendment rights. “History is consistent with common sense: it demonstrates that legislatures have the power to prohibit dangerous people from possessing guns,” Barrett wrote. “But that power extends only to people who are dangerous.”

In short, there are good reasons to think arbitrary gun restrictions like these are unconstitutional as well as unfair and illogical. Those reasons do not hinge on whether you happen to like the people to whom the restrictions apply.

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