Per 18 U.S. Code § 922 (D)(3) and (G)(3) it is illegal to sell or buy a firearm to/as someone who is "an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." This includes cannabis, even though it is legal in a number of states, due to the fact that it remains federally illegal. I have been told this offense was considered a "violent" crime, but was unable to find a source for that, or any details about what federal crimes are considered "violent." A number of states classify crimes that most people wouldn't consider violent as violent, and it seems like there is far more of a rationale for illegally possessing a firearm being considered a "violent" crime than some offenses that are considered violent. Is possessing a firearm in a manner that violates federal law, particularly if one is violating federal law by using drugs while possessing firearms, considered a violent crime?

Bonus points if you can direct me to a list of federal crimes that details their classifications as violent or non-violent.

Bonus question: What is the definition of "unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance?" Particularly considering timeline. If someone used a controlled substance 30 days ago, are they an "unlawful user" still? What about 90? The only answer I could find to this is a BJS report which states: "Those using an illicit drug in the past 30 days -- persons that the NIDA defines as current drug users..."

  • What do you see as the difference between a “violent crime" and a "crime of violence"? Do you have in mind differences in definitions which are more concrete than grammatical syntax? Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 19:14
  • @BlueDogRanch I don't know if violent crime is federally defined. I was looking for a federal definition. (If it isn't defined, then I'd say they're interchangeable in common parlance?)
    – James G.
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


By federal standards, "crime of violence" is defined as 18 USC 16 as

(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or prop­erty of another, or

(b) any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.

This definition was created via the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, and is referred to in 18 USC 25 (use of minors in crimes of violence)

The Immigration and Nationality Act also refers to "crime of violence" in 8 USC 1101(a)(43)(F) as defined in 18 USC 16. However,, (16b) was held to be unconstitutionally vague, as incorporated into the INA, in Sessions v. Dimaya. Gorsuch in his concurrence states what the problem is: the law

requires a judge to determine that the ordinary case of the alien's crime of conviction involves a substantial risk that physical force may be used. But what does that mean? Just take the crime at issue in this case, California burglary, which applies to everyone from armed home intruders to door-to-door salesmen peddling shady products. How, on that vast spectrum, is anyone supposed to locate the ordinary case and say whether it includes a substantial risk of physical force? The truth is, no one knows. The law's silence leaves judges to their intuitions and the people to their fate. In my judgment, the Constitution demands more

Not every federal statute uses the expression "crime of violence", for example in the firearms statute that you cite, the law refers to misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, which is different, and defined at 18 USC 921(a)(33) as

(i) is a misdemeanor under Federal, State, or Tribal 3 law; and

(ii) has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

34 USC 10410(6) defines "part 1 violent crimes" as

murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault as reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for purposes of the Uniform Crime Reports.

In other words, the answer has to be tailored to an exact phrase as invoked in a specific statute. As defined in Title 18, "crime of violence" cannot reasonably be interpreted as referring to illegal possession of a firearm. (Questions about "drug user" are an equally large and unclear category, and should be considered separately).


Any answer would depend on context. In the US, most of what would generally be considered violent crime is prosecuted under state laws, not federal laws. As you correctly point out, state laws may differ as to what is considered violent. However the FBI collects national statistics with a uniform definition which may help answer your question:

In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the UCR Program as those offenses that involve force or threat of force.

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