Ron Kelly, a 59-year-old retired U.S Army soldier, made the front page of the Houston Chronicle Wednesday after he was denied permission to purchase a .22 caliber rifle at a Wal-Mart in Tomball, Texas. The veteran failed the FBI’s background check because he was charged with marijuana possession — in 1971.
Under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a person can be prevented from buying a gun if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor for which they could serve two or more years in prison. While in high school, Kelly was busted with a small amount of marijuana and spent one night behind bars before he was sentenced to a year of probation. Such a record, under the federal law, prohibits him from exercising his Second Amendment rights.
Kelly, a native of Durham, North Carolina, enlisted as an infantryman two years after the incident that is currently keeping him from keeping a gun in his own home. “I went on to serve 20 years,” said Kelly. He finds it “amazing” that after firing two decades worth of government ammunition, “they won’t let me buy a gun for a misdemeanor 42 years ago.”
I too find this ridiculous, and I couldn’t care less about a conviction for marijuana 42 years ago. But let’s pause a moment and ask why it’s important to the story that he is retired from the U.S. Army? It shouldn’t have anything to do with experience handling firearms. That can be learned. Does it have to do with the idea that members of the armed forces have served their country?
I have a son who is a former Marine. I am sympathetic to that idea, and while America owes him everything they promised on a contractual basis, we don’t owe him a mansion on Emerald Isle with free food for the rest of his life. Besides, appreciation for service shouldn’t be conflated with legal approval for owning weapons.
When retiring California police officers wanted to keep their “assault weapons” after leaving work, I opposed this exemption from the new California law. If Californians want to be communists, then “special people” shouldn’t be exempted from their onerous laws and regulations. Similarly, if it’s okay for someone who was charged with having marijuana 42 years ago to own a weapon, it shouldn’t matter whether he is a former Soldier or not. What’s good for one is good for all.