The Complex Interplay Between the Controlled Substances Act and the Gun Control Act

42 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2020 Last revised: 1 Dec 2022

Date Written: February 9, 2020


Federal narcotics policy and firearms regulation intersect at several points. One of these junctures is 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(3), which incorporates the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) by reference and thereby prohibits violators of the CSA from possessing a firearm. This statutory intersection results in more than 14,200 individuals per year failing a background check for gun purchases, and more than 600 convictions per year for possession of guns by drug users. At the same time, the federal NICS background check database contains only 67,000 or so records of drug users, due to widespread under-reporting by state law enforcement agencies, courts, correctional institutions, and drug treatment facilities. Circuit courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of §922(g)(3). Incorporation of the CSA into firearm prohibitions poses difficult policy trade-offs. On the one hand, longstanding problems with the CSA, including the trending conflict between federal and state marijuana laws, spill over into prosecutions for weapons violations and denials of prospective firearm purchases. Moreover, other substance abuse categories with higher correlations to gun violence, such as alcoholism, are entirely missing from the regulatory framework. On the other hand, the CSA has ended up playing a vital role in the firearm regulatory regime, and in gun violence prevention. This paper will explore the interplay between the CSA and gun control from both an ex ante perspective (background checks for gun purchases) and an ex post perspective (arrests and convictions for users-in-possession of firearms). It also proposes legislative and administrative refinements that could resolve some of the problems with the existing regime.

Keywords: Controlled Substances Act, guns, firearms, Second Amendment, drugs, addiction, federal, criminal, Gun Control Act

JEL Classification: K14, K42, K20, K23

Suggested Citation

Stevenson, Drury D., The Complex Interplay Between the Controlled Substances Act and the Gun Control Act (February 9, 2020). 18 Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 211 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Drury D. Stevenson (Contact Author)

South Texas College of Law Houston ( email )

1303 San Jacinto Street
Houston, TX 77002
United States
832-465-6688 (Phone)


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