Should Drug Addiction Prevent Someone from Buying a Gun?

Guns and drugs don’t mix.

Guns and addiction to alcohol or drugs—that could be a very bad mix. And most states agree. There are laws on the books of many states that prohibit carrying a gun while under the influence of alcohol or by a person who is addicted to alcohol. Some states extend that prohibition to carrying a gun while impaired by drugs.

Here’s some examples on either side.

  • In Kansas, a 2015 law makes it very clear that using or carrying a gun while drunk or impaired by drugs is illegal. The law sets the standard for being drunk at the legal limit for driving, .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
  • In Alabama, a person addicted to drugs or a “habitual drunkard” may not possess a firearm.
  • Idaho disqualifies anyone from gun possession of they are “an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”
  • California does not permit a person addicted to drugs to possess a firearm.
  • Florida does not allow a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol to own or use a firearm.

On the other hand, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia recently enacted laws that permit a person to carry a gun in a bar. Eighteen other states permit a firearm to be carried in a restaurant that also sells alcohol. However, a Tennesseean who walks into a bar while carrying a gun is prohibited from drinking alcohol while in the bar.

And Michigan has no laws pertaining to addiction to drugs or alcohol and gun ownership.

So How Many People Would be Disqualified?

It’s difficult to come up with an exact number because state laws vary so much. So let’s just take a look at national numbers. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 15 million people meet the criteria for addiction to alcohol. More than seven million meet the criteria for addiction to drugs. Because of some overlap involving people addicted to substances in both categories, the total number of the addicted in the U.S. is estimated at 20.1 million people.

Of course, these surveys are dependent on the honesty of the person answering the question a phone surveyor asks: “In the last thirty days, have you used marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or other illicit drugs?” What are the chances that 100% of those surveyed are honest? It’s very possible the numbers are actually even higher.

How Should Gun Use be Controlled, Then?

We might each want to work out our own answers to questions like these.

A caring father and his son.
  • Should a drug/alcohol test be part of an application to purchase a firearm?
  • Should a drug/alcohol test be required for a person to receive a concealed weapon permit?
  • What if the person is involved in an incident that involves shooting? Should he (or she) be drug-tested or tested for alcohol consumption?

For your own safety and the safety of your family and community, you might want to think about your answers to these questions and bring up your opinions to your local and national legislators.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.