Friday, October 28, 2011

Are Felonies Lifetime Firearms Disqualifiers?

Volokh Conspiracy reports on a recent North Carolina state court decision that decided that a man who was convicted of several non-violent felonies back in the 1970s, and is thus disqualified under state law from possessing a firearm, violates the Second Amendment.  At least in part, the issue is that the defendant has behaved himself for thirty years, and because the crimes were not violent.

There is a strong public policy argument that non-violent crimes committed long ago should not be firearms disqualifiers.  People do grow up, mature, and learn to behave.  There is probably even a case that some violent felonies, if long ago, and with evidence that the ex-felon has really changed his ways, should lead to restoration of firearms rights.  I am just a bit uncomfortable with finding a constitutional right under the Second Amendment for ex-felons to possess firearms, because non-violent felonies back in 1789 were capital crimes, and execution tended to interfere rather substantially with the right to keep and bear arms.  It is a bit of a stretch to me that argue that someone who could be executed for a crime in 1789 still enjoys the right to keep and bear arms.


  1. Recently the Vermont delegation (I forget whether it was the Reps or the Senators) were introducing a bill to make it a felony to label syrup as "Maple Syrup" if it really wasn't made from maple sap. What nonsense. I could see maybe a civil/financial penalty for excess baloney, but a felony?! With this perspective, I am very sympathetic to not making felonies a lifetime ban.

    The real solution, of course, is to tighten up on what really constitutes a felony.

    And fire the Vermont delegation.

  2. I don't recall exactly what was going on in that case, but it's not as bad as you make it sound. The problem was that North Carolina's laws said that an ex-felon could have their second amendment rights restored, but that the State had made it impossible to do so - failed to set up the appropriate procedure, or something. The Court ruled that if you're going to say it's possible for an ex-felon to have some rights restored, you have to make it possible.

    So at least under this decision, it would remain constitutional for a state to have a no-exceptions lifetime removal of firearms rights for some class of crimes. I haven't read the decision, and don't remember if Volokh said anything about the court hinting that such an overall ban would be struck down.

  3. Overall, I'm disturbed by how "felon-happy" our legislatures have become. We *really* need to go back to the standard of "if the crime is so horrendous that execution is appropriate for it, then it's a felony"--even if we don't actually execute someone for that crime. Whenever someone proposes that a crime should be a felony, at a minimum, we should ask "would such a person who committed this *really* be worthy of death?"

    As for myself, I'm inclined to think that if someone is safe enough to be trusted with freedom, that person ought to be considered safe enough to be trusted with a gun. There are *far* too many objects that a person can obtain, that are just as dangerous as a gun--or more so, if you intend to initiate harm--that to deny to anyone who is free, would be too much of a burden!