Deja Taylor, the mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia, has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for using marijuana while owning a firearm. Possessing both a firearm and marijuana is illegal under U.S. law. The incident occurred in January when Taylor’s son took her handgun to school and shot Abby Zwerner, a first-grade teacher, seriously injuring her. During the investigation, authorities discovered nearly an ounce of marijuana in Taylor’s bedroom, as well as evidence of frequent drug use in her text messages and paraphernalia.
Taylor’s sentencing comes as a significant development following the January shooting, which sparked a national dialogue on gun violence and caused unrest in Newport News. Taylor, who is 26 years old, still faces a separate sentencing in December for felony child neglect. In August, she pleaded guilty to felony child neglect in a Newport News courtroom, and prosecutors are seeking a six-month sentence.
Meanwhile, Abby Zwerner is suing the school system for $40 million. Zwerner claims that multiple warnings about the boy owning a gun were ignored by school administrators. Zwerner spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and has undergone four surgeries since the shooting. The defendants in the lawsuit include the Newport News School Board, former Superintendent George Parker III, former Richneck Elementary principal Briana Foster Newton, and former Richneck assistant principal Ebony Parker.
It is worth noting that Taylor’s case is part of a larger discussion regarding marijuana’s legality in many states and the ownership of firearms by American citizens. While marijuana is legal in several states, it remains illegal at the federal level, and individuals who use controlled substances are prohibited from possessing guns. This law has been used to charge other individuals, including Hunter Biden, the son of President Biden, who faced similar federal charges of unlawful use of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm and making false statements during the purchase of a firearm.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia argued that Taylor’s drug use was not occasional or recreational but rather chronic and life-affecting, creating a dangerous combination when mixed with firearm ownership. They sought a prison sentence of 21 months. Taylor agreed to a negotiated guilty plea, admitting to using marijuana while owning a gun and making false statements about her drug use on a federal form during the gun purchase.
Taylor’s attorneys argued that the U.S. Supreme Court may eventually overturn the federal ban on gun ownership for drug users. Some lower courts have ruled against this ban, while others have upheld it. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take up the case. Currently, federal law prohibits gun ownership for individuals convicted of felonies, those committed to mental institutions, and unlawful users of controlled substances, among other disqualifications.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, nearly 8,700 individuals were convicted under the federal law last year. While the commission did not provide a detailed breakdown of how many were charged due to drug use, it did note that almost 88% of those convicted had prior felony convictions. Notably, approximately 18% of Americans admitted to using cannabis in the last year, and around 40% of them owned guns, according to Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project.
In court filings, Taylor’s attorneys requested probation and home confinement instead of incarceration. They highlighted Taylor’s status as a victim of domestic abuse, as well as her experiences with miscarriages and postpartum depression. Taylor’s attorneys argued that she needed counseling for her mental health issues, which include schizoaffective disorder.
Taylor’s attorneys also emphasized the nature of addiction as a disease and argued against incarceration as a solution. They acknowledged Taylor’s deep sadness, despondency, and remorse for the unintended consequences of the shooting. Following the incident, Taylor’s grandfather obtained full custody of her son.
The boy, when questioned by authorities, explained that he accessed the gun by climbing on a drawer to reach his mother’s purse on top of a dresser. Taylor usually stored the gun in a lock box or her purse with a trigger lock, as per a search warrant. However, investigators could not locate a trigger lock or lock box during searches of Taylor’s and her mother’s residences.
Immediately after the shooting, the child made statements to a reading specialist who restrained him, indicating that he had shot Zwerner and had obtained the gun from his mother. Prosecutors also revealed a previous incident in which Taylor fired her gun at her son’s father in December. Furthermore, it was discovered that Taylor smoked two blunts after her son shot his teacher, and she failed drug tests while awaiting sentencing for the federal charges.