Did you know that some misdemeanors negate your right to own guns?
Today, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) threw in their support for a very important upcoming Third Circuit court case, which will hopefully answer one of the most controversial questions at the heart of the Second Amendment debate. The FPC is filing of a critical brief with the court, in the case of Bryan Range v. Att’y General of the U.S. Bryan Range is a case study in just how careful we need to be when we define what a “criminal” is, and how severe his crime must be before we remove his right to keep and bear arms. Although most of us are aware that felons lose their 2A rights, many of us don’t know that there are some misdemeanors that will, too.
Meet Bryan Range.
Range isn’t a felon. Decades ago, he made a false statement on a government form in order to obtain food stamps assistance. That’s just a misdemeanor, and it’s clearly not violent. Now, nobody likes to hear about food-stamp fraud. But under that conviction for his non-violent crime, he not only served no time in jail, but he made restitution for the crime. Range has been a peaceable citizen since, has been gainfully employed, and a family man. It doesn’t matter; because of the conviction twenty-six years ago, he is unconstitutionally banned forever from possessing and protecting himself and his family with firearms, a fundamental right protected by the Second Amendment.
“There is no tradition in American history of banning peaceable citizens from owning firearms,” FPC’s brief argues. “The historical justification Heller relied on to declare felon bans ‘presumptively lawful’ must have been the tradition of disarming dangerous persons.” The brief notes that in English tradition, “dangerous persons” were most often “disaffected persons disloyal to the current government, who might want to overthrow it—or political opponents defined as such.” American history, from the early colonial days through the mid-twentieth century, followed the same tradition. Peaceable persons like Mr. Range, by contrast, were never prohibited from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.
Ever fudge your weight by a few pounds on your driver’s license?
It’s true that our national laws against fibbing on government forms are necessary. It’s also true that the lying Range did was in order to commit fraud, not pretend he was an inch taller than he really is. That said, the law is the law…and it’s one that many of us have broken without much thought.
“Lying on a government form to acquire more food stamps for your family is not the type of crime that justifies the permanent elimination of the human right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” explained FPC attorney Matthew Larosiere, who co-authored the brief. “The right to keep and bear arms is not a privilege reserved to America’s ruling class, and the government cannot support its ban as applied to Mr. Range under a proper constitutional analysis.”
“Mr. Range is completely and forever prohibited from possessing firearms based on a 26-year-old nonviolent misdemeanor conviction,” said FPC’s Joseph Greenlee. “The founders never intended for someone like him to be deprived of the right to own a firearm for any period of time, let alone for life. We believe that the Court should hold the government’s prohibition unconstitutional and restore his Second Amendment rights.”
FPC’s brief cites Greenlee’s authoritative scholarship on the issue, a law review article published by the Wyoming Law Review in 2020 entitled “The Historical Justification for Prohibiting Dangerous Persons from Possessing Arms,” available online here.
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