Hunter Biden’s Indictment Has Put Gun Rights Groups in an Awkward Bind

Gun Rights

When news broke last week that Hunter Biden had been indicted by federal prosecutors for lying about his drug use while possessing a gun, Gun Owners of America, a hard-line gun rights lobby, responded with glee.

“Good!” the organization tweeted, with the clapping emoji. “If his father wants to work with us to repeal unconstitutional gun control, our lobbyists will be at the White House in an hour. Until then, Hunter shouldn’t get any sweetheart deal!”

It was the most exuberant reaction of any gun rights organization to the Hunter news—a sign that most conservative opponents of gun regulations were struggling to square a political victory for those who dislike President Biden with the consequences of a law they oppose. But these groups appeared to find common ground in a single message: If there have to be bad laws, at least Hunter can be taken down by them too.

It’s not exactly a rallying cry, so many groups opted to stay silent on the topic. The National Rifle Association, in statements to the press, simply said, “Laws should be applied equally against all criminals.” An official for Gun Owners of America, in a more measured statement published just under half an hour after the group’s initial reaction tweet, took a similar tack. “GOA opposes all gun control, but so long as this President continues to use every tool at his disposal to harass and criminalize guns, gun owners, and gun dealers, his son should be receiving the same treatment and scrutiny as all of us,” the spokesman said in the statement.

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The three charges Biden’s son is facing stem from a two-week period in 2018 when he obtained and then owned a handgun while he was using drugs. Two of the charges relate to his lie about his drug use in the application for the gun; the third, and more serious, charge relates to his possession of the gun while under the influence.

But according to the New York Times, actual prosecutions of individuals who have lied on their applications for guns are extremely rare. Prosecutions on the third charge are less rare but are typically bundled with other criminal charges and are not pursued on their own. Hunter Biden never used the weapon, had no criminal record, and committed no violent act. A substantial percentage of those accused of lying on a federal firearms application “negotiate deals that include probation and enrollment in programs that include counseling, monitoring, and regular drug testing,” the Times report stated. It is unlikely that Hunter would have been subject to this level of scrutiny were it not for his public profile.

In the world of conservative punditry, the charges appeared to be something of a coup—a deserved smackdown. But because the right perceives that preferential treatment for the younger Biden is around every corner, some are already speculating about how the president will let Hunter off the hook. “When will Joe pardon Hunter?” the editor of one gun publication wondered aloud.

Very few conservative gun groups defended Hunter, or adhered to their previously stated position that the law he was indicted under shouldn’t exist. The Firearms Policy Coalition re-shared a tweet from August, offering, “If Hunter is looking for gun lawyers to challenge the federal law he’s charged with violating … we know some people.”

Indeed, Hunter’s own lawyers are pushing the court to adhere to an earlier plea agreement that fell through, citing a challenge to the federal firearms background check system that is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. If that lawsuit succeeds, it could undermine the legal foundation of Hunter’s prosecution, the New York Times reported. That’s not what gun groups are pushing for, though.

The Second Amendment Foundation, which opposes restrictions on gun ownership, responded to Hunter’s indictment by quoting an article from a conservative publication: “The law spells it out pretty clearly that a person like Hunter Biden shouldn’t be owning a gun. And if you’re not going to enforce it against Hunter Biden, I don’t know how you’re going to enforce it against anybody.”

These tepid responses show just how much partisan politics plays into stated policy goals. The ambivalence from gun rights groups may not be surprising, given the political awkwardness of the situation, but it is notable given the opportunity to promote a new ally for the cause. On Friday, Hunter Biden’s attorney made the argument that would, under other circumstances, have been articulated by the gun rights groups themselves: The statute his client was charged under, the attorney said, was “likely unconstitutional.”

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