The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday reversed the conviction of a Louisiana man who was charged with “using” a gun during a drug deal after an agent handed the man the gun in a swap for drugs during an undercover sting operation, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The court said the federal gun law is designed to prevent criminals from “using” their own guns during crimes. When federal agents introduce unloaded firearms into an undercover investigation, the suspect should not be held criminally liable for the presence of the gun at the scene of a crime, the court ruled unanimously.
The court’s primary authority for its decision was the English language. Writing for the court, Justice David Souter says the government’s defense of its reading of the law “would trump ordinary English.” “The government may say that a person ‘uses’ a firearm simply by receiving it in a barter transaction, but no one else would,” Justice Souter said. “A boy who trades an apple to get a granola bar is sensibly said to use the apple, but one would never guess which way this commerce actually flowed from hearing that the boy used the granola.” Law-enforcement officials have increasingly used the federal gun law as a means to boost potential prison sentences for drug dealers. The statute can add a mandatory five more years or more onto a drug-dealing conviction.