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Should Non-Violent Felons Lose Second Amendment Rights?

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Don’t knock it; some guys pay extra for that.

Here’s a thorny question about rights, responsibilities, and rehabilitation.

We recently learned that the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) has joined in an amicus brief on a very interesting case making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. At its heart, one of the thorniest questions in gun rights: Should non-violent felons lose their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms forever? As it stands, Federal law states that all felons are forbidden from possessing firearms unless they can prove to a judge that they deserve to have their rights restored. The problem with that is that the system we have in place for that judicial review is unfunded. That means that although on paper America has a review system, in practice it is essentially impossible for a felon to have his gun rights returned.

The facts of this case

This case revolves around an Arizona man named Israel Torres, who was convicted of two separate aggravated DUI charges, one in 2004, and another in 2010. These crimes are punishable by more than one year in prison, which disqualifies Torres from owning guns. Torres and the SAF, together with the Firearms Policy Coalition, California Gun Rights Foundation, and the Madison society, are arguing that Torres’ offenses were non-violent.

In their amicus argument, SAF and its partners note, “There is no tradition of disarming peaceable citizens. Nor is there any tradition of limiting the Second Amendment to ‘virtuous’ citizens. Historically, nonviolent criminals who demonstrated no violent propensity were not prohibited from keeping arms. Indeed, some laws expressly allowed them to keep arms.”

We also hanged horse thieves

Here’s where things get thorny for many gun-rights supporters. There’s non-violent, and there’s “non-violent.” Driving under the influence isn’t a specifically violent act. However, any reasonable person knows that doing so could result in death and grievous bodily injury. It’s also rather concerning that Torres didn’t seem to have learned his lesson after the first conviction, and chose to drink and drive again.

Let’s move on to an “easier” question: Felonies that consist of crimes against property. The modern thought is that crimes against property are not as serious as crimes against persons. But that wasn’t always the case; all the way through the end of the 19th century, we regularly hanged people for theft. And that’s because stealing a man’s horse was basically stealing his ability to feed his family…tantamount to starving him to death. When the margins of existence are thin, a crime against property can ruin the victim’s life.

Remember the bell tolls also for you

But there’s one more very important factor to remember, and that is that you probably committed a felony or three today. Not to get too libertarian on our Guns & Gadgets Daily readers here, but America does have a confusing and often contradictory system of criminal laws that change from state to state. Then we have questions like medical and recreational marijuana, possession of which is fine in some states and a felony in others, but according to BATFE’s Form 4473 would disqualify the user from purchasing a gun.

Of course, most reasonable Americans would prefer that violent felons never be allowed to own a gun again, even after they have served their sentences. However, it’s important to leave an avenue of judicial recourse.

“For many years,” noted SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “it was common for non-violent felons to enjoy Second Amendment rights after they had finished their sentences. And more recently there was a rights-restoration program involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that remains the law, but has been deliberately unfunded in order to prevent people convicted of non-violent crimes to ever be allowed to possess firearms again. We believe that is wrong, and this is why we’ve joined in the is amicus brief.”

What do you think, readers? Sound off in the comments!

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