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Denying 2A Rights for Habitual Drunkards

New Jersey law can prevent someone from keeping and bearing arms because of being a “habitual drunkard.” The Hunterdon County Democrat explains how this works in at least one case. Is such a restriction constitutional? I think the way this has been handled by New Jersey should be.

No one should lose or be denied a right in a case where it’s an arbitrary prior restraint applied by the police, or a mere administrative determination. But conceptually it’s difficult to see how this is much different than prohibitions against people who have been involuntarily adjudicated mentally defective. Provided the right cannot be removed except after due process through a court proceeding, and provided the prohibition lasts only as long as the condition, it’s hard to see under what grounds it differs from the prohibitions against the mentally ill.

9 Responses to “Denying 2A Rights for Habitual Drunkards”

  1. Kevin S says:

    Being a habitual drunkard can also be grounds for denial of your citizenship application. Still not quite sure how they quantify that.

  2. Sebastian says:

    That’s the real trick, I think, is how to quantify it. If the police denied him a pistol permit in New Jersey because his neighbor said (yes, they interview your neighbors in New Jersey) they saw beer and liquor bottles in the trash a lot, I would suggest that’s very unconstitutional. If someone testifies in an adversarial court proceeding, particularly someone in a position to know, like a wife, that someone is drunk all the time and threatens violence, that’s a bit different. To me the key is whether the prohibition is temporary. If you can get clean and sober, you should be able to petition to have your rights restored.

  3. Ken says:

    This is obviously unconstitutional; it violates the right to life (through self-defense), liberty (to keep and bear arms), and property (guns) without due process of law.

    I can see where this is headed: anyone with ANY citation related to alcohol will be banned for life. Drinking a beer at a concert, get in an argument with a troublemaker, and a cop breaks it up? Banned for life. Drinking underage and get caught? Banned for life. Walk home to avoid DUI, and a cop sees you stumbling? Banned for life. At a party and someone else does something to get the cops called? Banned for life. Accepting a ride while intoxicated with a sober person who gets into an accident? Banned for life.

    How many people WEREN’T habitual drunkards at the age of 18?

  4. Jake says:

    Sebastian, I can almost, but not quite, agree with you in this case.

    The judge’s ruling was based on a single arrest and the testimony (with “some” inconsistencies) of inherently biased witnesses (the wife, currently divorcing him, and her relatives).

    For the revocation of a Constitutional Right, I would rather require at least a showing of a “consistent pattern” of arrests (if not convictions) and (possibly or) the testimony of at least 2 or 3 witnesses, at least one of which must be unbiased and all of whom must corroborate one another’s testimony.

    Done the way it was, all that is needed to lose your gun rights is a single alcohol related arrest and a couple of people who are mad at you.

    There also, of course, needs to be a well-defined process for restoring those rights.

  5. Sebastian says:

    For revocation of RKBA, I think nothing less than a felony conviction after a jury trial should do. Generally speaking, when it comes to rights, less is required to temporarily remove a right. Even a misdemeanor typically provides for a year in jail, and most trivial offenses can get you in the slammer for 90 days or less.

  6. Skullz says:

    “For revocation of RKBA, I think nothing less than a felony conviction..”

    Really? I’m sure it’s no surprise to you, but I think once a sentence is served, its served. If you’ve done your time, and been released, either all your rights are restored, or you should still be in prison.

    The only compromise I might make is that if a felon is going to have his 2A right permanently removed, then we should remove ALL rights permanently.

    Another blogger said “If you can’t be trusted with a gun, you can’t be trusted without a custodian”. I think that’s the position we should all have.

  7. Jake says:

    it’s hard to see under what grounds it differs from the prohibitions against the mentally ill.

    This is the perspective from which I was writing, equating “habitual drunkenness” with an adjudication of being “mentally defective”. The burden of proof needs to be far higher than we see in this case when there is a legal penalty attached, and especially when there is a loss (even temporary) of Constitutional Rights at stake.

    Realistically, I agree with Skullz – “If you can’t be trusted with a gun, you can’t be trusted without a custodian.”

    There are many other things that are far more deadly than a gun that are completely or almost completely unrestricted (cars, diesel & fertilizer, kitchen cleaners, etc.). If you can’t be trusted with a gun then you also can’t be trusted with so many other things that it’s impossible to keep you away from them without locking you up – too many of them are so necessary for daily life that there’s no way to restrict them.

  8. Jim W says:

    There would need to be at least an evidentiary hearing or a trial before you could deny someone the right to arms. If the neighbors say you’re a drunkard, let them prove it in court beyond a reasonable doubt.

    You can’t take someone’s driving privileges away without a hearing, you sure as hell shouldn’t be able to take away their gun rights.

  9. I couldn’t disagree more, especially in this particular case. Is it ever reasonable to be deprived–temporarily or otherwise–of a fundamental civil right because two private citizens with a clear conflict of interests say you engage in a lawful behavior more often than they think is appropriate?

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