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Background Checks Now Ask Gun Buyers About Marijuana, But Leave Out Gender Identity

Paul Weaver/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is treading into the intersection of guns, gender and marijuana.

From Texas Standard:

For roughly six million law-abiding gun owners in Texas, part of the routine of legally purchasing a firearm from a gun shop involves completing a federal background check. It's a pretty straightforward affair – or at least has been, until now.

As society has changed, along with the law itself, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) decided to change the background check forms. The language is creating some interesting issues, if not conflicts of conscience, for some would-be firearms purchasers and gun stores.


The Houston Chronicle’s Dane Schiller says one part of the form in question has to do with marijuana use.

“Interestingly, they ask, ‘Are you an unlawful user of marijuana?’ – then they immediately have a note that says, ‘Reminder, use or possession of marijuana remains illegal under federal law,’” Schiller says. “And if you admit to being a marijuana user, you’re denied permission to buy a gun.”

Schiller says the practical impact of including this question is probably that more people won’t admit to using marijuana – despite the fact that lying on a federal form is a federal offense.

“I have to think some people are just going to lie and say, ‘Hey, marijuana user, that’s a very non-specific term, so I’m going to fudge it here. I’m going to get my firearm,’” Schiller says.

Further down the road, he thinks the bureau will just remove the question altogether.

“There may be some other drugs they’ll be concerned about, but marijuana – they’re just going to delete that from the form,” Schiller says.

That’s not the only issue with the background check form. The bureau asks for a person’s sex rather than their gender identity. Agents justify this by saying they need to match a person to their legal records – but Schiller says there’s conflict from the gun buyer's side of the situation.

“If you flip it around, they might be a little embarrassed when they go into the store,” Schiller says. “They might be a little offended when they have to say, well, actually, this is the situation. They might see that as an invasion, and some would say they shouldn’t have to do that to exercise their right to have a gun.”

Schiller says the form changes are some acknowledgment of changing times – but he doesn’t know what’s in store for the form’s future.

“I think what the ATF is saying is, ‘We’ve got a lot of firearms dealers and a lot of gun buyers and potential gun buyers that are confused,’” Schiller says. “I don’t know where this is headed because right now it’s cut and dry – you smoke pot, you can’t have a gun.”

Post by Sunny Sone.

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