Reports of Hunter Biden’s reckless handling of his firearm have led gun-rights activists to question why federal authorities aren't considering prosecution of the president's son.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, says there is significant evidence showing Hunter Biden was using drugs in October 2018 when he purchased his hand gun, which was ultimately recovered by Delaware state police after being tossed in a dumpster by his then-girlfriend. Forms that have emerged since the initial report last week show Biden denied on his federal background check that he was a drug user, indicating to Gottlieb that Biden made a false statement to the government.
"Hunter Biden lied on the Federal Form 4473 about his habitual drug use when he bought a handgun," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "That is a felony."
Gottlieb points to a 2019 text obtained by the New York Post in which Biden says his then-girlfriend Hallie Biden, who is also his older brother's widow, dumped the gun because she was concerned about his substance abuse. Gottlieb also points to Biden's ex-wife's 2017 court filing requesting to freeze his assets due to his spending on drugs, and a 2019 New Yorker profile in which Biden admitted to using hard drugs on and off for decades.
The new controversy is the latest in a long line for the president's troubled son. President Joe Biden could soon have to decide whether to direct the Department of Justice to investigate or prosecute his son. If Hunter Biden is proven to have lied on his background check and is not prosecuted, it could hinder the president's efforts to pass new gun-control laws.
Calls for federal authorities to look into Hunter Biden's gun ownership have also come from the National Rifle Association, which wrote that details of Hunter Biden's drug addiction and gun purchase could be "a matter for federal prosecutors to investigate." The group did not allege "Hunter engaged in any criminal conduct" because the drug-use category of prohibited persons "is somewhat nebulous, and a person can remove themselves from that category at any time by ceasing to use drugs."
"Theoretically, Hunter could have been in a period of sobriety during the timeframe he purchased and possessed the revolver," the NRA said in the post. The group, however, said it would continue to monitor the situation and hoped Attorney General Merrick Garland would look into it as well.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Dru Stevenson, a South Texas College of Law professor who has written on the drug-use prohibition in federal gun law, said the prohibition is fairly narrow and rarely used in stand-alone prosecutions. He said the background check system relies mainly on arrest records and convictions when determining if somebody is a habitual drug user. Stevenson said it would be unlikely for public comments on drug addiction or accusations from an ex-wife to suffice as proof Biden was a drug user and prohibited from buying guns in 2018.
"Both the courts and the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] have taken the position that it has to be both contemporaneous and ongoing drug use at the time," Stevenson told the Free Beacon. "So, it's not, 'Have you ever had an addiction problem?' and they're definitely not working with the mental health idea that once you're an addict, you're always an addict or something like that."
He said the charge is rarely used outside of prosecutions in addition to or in place of other drug charges.
"In terms of this statute, we have about 200 convictions nationwide a year where it's the standalone charge," Stevenson said.
Gottlieb said the rarity of prosecutions for unlawful drug users who buy guns is "one of the problems" with enforcing gun laws already on the books. "The president needs to start with the prosecution of his lying son before he starts persecuting legal gun owners who would never leave a firearm in a trash dumpster to be found by a stranger like his son did," Gottlieb said.
According to Stevenson, courts usually require either a drug conviction within the past year or multiple arrests and failed drug tests within the past five years. He said reports that Biden tested positive for cocaine before being discharged from the Navy more than five years before he bought his gun would not automatically trip up a gun background check. The same is true for his most recent rehab trip in 2016 and an incident where police reportedly found a crack pipe in his rental car that same year.
But Stevenson said Biden's documented drug addiction could be considered by prosecutors in relation to his 2018 gun purchase if evidence came out that he was continuing to use drugs at that time.
"Let's say that the woman he was dating at the time turns on him and tells the press, 'I was finding him passed out inebriated every day from his drug addiction at that time and that's why I got rid of the gun,'" Stevenson said. "Then, yeah, he would have been a prohibited person. And, yeah, he lied on his background check."