Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Stop Piling Charges on Mom of 6-Year-Old Shooter

Stop Piling Charges on Mom of 6-Year-Old Shooter

Plus: Michigan Supreme Court takes up case on warrantless drone spying, Obamacare legal battles continue, and more…


Virginia shooter’s mom charged with being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm. It’s inevitable that people want to legally blame Deja Taylor for the actions of her 6-year-old son, who brought a gun to school back in January and shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner. Perhaps Taylor does deserve legal culpability, though that certainly depends on the circumstances by which her son got his hands on the gun. In any event, state charges for child neglect and failing to properly secure a handgun should be sufficient to sort that out.

But law enforcement isn’t stopping there. Because those running our criminal justice system can’t seem to resist ruining lives to the maximum extent possible, Taylor also faces a federal felony gun charge.

Taylor legally purchased the gun that her son later used to shoot his teacher. But federal prosecutors say that Taylor is a marijuana user, and thus the purchase violated a federal prohibition on illegal drug users buying or owning firearms.

Keep in mind that recreational marijuana is legal in Virginia, where Taylor lives. But because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, prosecutors are still able to go after Taylor for violating the prohibition against illegal drug users owning guns.

The federal charges against Taylor highlight several related injustices. First and foremost, they showcase one of the ways in which continued federal criminalization of marijuana can still be used to target people in states where marijuana is legal.

The charges are also a reminder of how ridiculous federal gun control laws can be. Under the law in question, no one needs to prove that a gun was used in a drug-related crime, nor that drug use somehow contributed to a gun owner doing something reckless or violent. The mere fact that one has used marijuana (or any other criminalized drug) in the past 12 months renders one’s Second Amendment rights invalid, according to this statute. Consume marijuana even once during this period and your legally purchased and maintained gun suddenly becomes illegal.

Of course, plenty of gun owners also use marijuana and the vast majority will not face criminal charges. Enforcing this rule in a widespread way would be prohibitively difficult and invasive. But if one happens to get caught with marijuana and one owns a gun, it’s a different story.

The rule doesn’t stop drug users from owning guns so much as it adds an extra level of punishment to a prosecutor’s arsenal when they do bust someone for drugs. In this way, the law lends itself to being used in a discriminatory manner and as a bargaining chip to coerce people into pleading guilty to drug crimes.

It’s unclear how the feds came to suspect Taylor of using marijuana. But if she did, it means she lied on the federal background check required of gun users, which asks “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?” Taylor is now accused of saying no to that question “when in fact, as she knew then, she was an unlawful user of marijuana,” per charging documents.

Taylor stands accused in federal court of being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm and making a false statement during a firearm purchase.

“The maximum sentence for the two federal charges is 25 years combined,” notes The Virginian-Pilot. “Taylor is expected to plead guilty to both charges by way of a plea agreement in the coming weeks.”

“The federal law that says marijuana users can’t simultaneously possess a firearm has come under increased scrutiny by federal judges in recent years as more states have moved toward weed legalization,” notes the paper:

In February, a federal judge in Oklahoma ruled the prohibition to be an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. That judge cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from last year that said restrictions on gun rights can’t go beyond those that were in place at the time of the nation’s founding.

But in the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina, the restriction is still in place.

The drugs/gun law in this case also factors into potential charges against President Joe Biden’s son Hunter. If he is charged, Hunter Biden will reportedly challenge the law as unconstitutional.


Michigan’s Supreme Court will hear a case concerning whether police can use drones to warrantlessly spy on citizens. Last year, a state appeals court said it was OK for a town to use drone surveillance without obtaining a warrant. Reason‘s Joe Lancaster writes:
Todd and Heather Maxon live on a five-acre property in rural Long Lake Township on the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Todd likes to work on cars, so they keep vehicles on the property but hidden from the road. In 2007, the township sued the Maxons for storing “junk” on their property, a zoning violation. The couple fought back and won: The township agreed to drop the case and reimburse attorney fees, and in exchange the Maxons would not expand their collection.

According to the township, neighbors complained that the Maxons were still acquiring cars. But the cars weren’t visible from the road, making enforcement difficult. So the township hired a company to fly drones over the property and take pictures, which it did multiple times in the period from 2010 to 2018. The pictures allegedly showed that the number of vehicles had indeed expanded, so the township sued the Maxons for violating the previous agreement.

The Maxons moved to suppress the drone evidence as a Fourth Amendment violation, since the township never got a warrant. The trial court ruled against them, so they appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which agreed with the Maxons. But on appeal from the township, the state Supreme Court remanded the decision back to the appeals court to determine “whether the exclusionary rule applies to this dispute.” (The exclusionary rule prevents evidence from being used at trial if the government violated the Constitution to collect it.)

On its second bite at the apple, the township was successful: In a decision written by Chief Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, the appeals court determined that the “exclusionary rule does not apply in this civil matter.” The inclusion of the word civil is important, because the decision hinged on the fact that this was not a criminal case. “The exclusionary rule is an essential tool for enforcing the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and discouraging law enforcement officers from trampling on constitutional rights,” Gleicher wrote. But since the township intended “not to penalize the Maxons, but to abate a nuisance,” she concluded, the exclusionary rule “serves no valuable function” in this case.

Now the state Supreme Court will weigh in once again.


Obamacare legal battles continue, with “free” preventative services under scrutiny. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will hear arguments today concerning the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate that health insurance plans must cover certain preventative services with no upfront cost to customers. The ACA says insurers must provide this “free” coverage for whatever services the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force deems appropriate.

Last September, a federal judge in Texas struck down the preventive care mandates issued by the task force and, in March, issued a nationwide injunction. In May, the 5th Circuit temporarily froze that ruling.

The appeals court must now decide whether to lift that freeze. If it does, “there would no longer be federal legal obligation for them to cover those services without cost-sharing,” as Andrew Twinamatsiko of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute told Axios.

Either way, the ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


• The Food and Drug Administration has revoked emergency authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the request of the company.

• Former Vice President Mike Pence has filed paperwork declaring he intends to run for president on the Republican ticket.

• “A state school board in Oklahoma voted Monday to approve what would be the first publicly funded religious school in the nation, despite a warning from the state’s attorney general that the decision was unconstitutional,” reports Yahoo News.

• “Hookup culture” is a myth, writes Cathy Reisenwitz.

• The death of self-driving cars is greatly exaggerated, suggests Timothy B. Lee.

• Texas is the latest state to ban gender transition treatments such as puberty blockers and synthetic hormones for minors.

• Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, won’t approve a bill that makes it illegal for police to use deception and coercion in interrogations of minors and adults under 22 years old.

• Grammarly is supposed to flag things like grammar and spelling mistakes. But it’s also started flagging sentences for not being sufficiently progressive.

• Dan Drezner on the trouble with efforts to revamp CNN.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a senior editor at Reason, where she writes regularly on the intersections of sex, speech, tech, crime, politics, panic, and civil liberties. She is also co-founder of the libertarian feminist group Feminists for Liberty.

Since starting at Reason in 2014, Brown has won multiple awards for her writing on the U.S. government’s war on sex. Brown’s writing has also appeared in The New York TimesLos Angeles TimesThe Daily BeastBuzzfeedPlayboyFox NewsPoliticoThe Week, and numerous other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @ENBrown.


Reason is the magazine of “free minds and free markets,” offering a refreshing alternative to the left-wing and right-wing echo chambers for independent-minded readers who love liberty.

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