ATF: Gun Ownership is a Privilege, Not a Right

 

The ATF’s website has an FAQ section. First up: “I want information on relief of federal firearm disability? (I am a felon but want to own a firearm, how do I get my privilege restored?)” According to dictionary.com, a “privilege” is “a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most: the privileges of the very rich.” It behooves the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to remember that all Americans have the RIGHT to bear arms. And once again, I state my firmly held conviction that ANY American who has paid his or her debt to society should have their gun rights restored. Automatically. Especially in light of the fact that . . .

Hundreds of thousands of Americans [have been] charged and convicted in recent decades under federal criminal laws—as opposed to state or local laws—as the federal justice system has dramatically expanded its authority and reach.

As federal criminal statutes have ballooned, it has become increasingly easy for Americans to end up on the wrong side of the law. Many of the new federal laws also set a lower bar for conviction than in the past: Prosecutors don’t necessarily need to show that the defendant had criminal intent.

The above’s an extract from an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The story revealed that there are now so many federal criminal statutes that . . .

Counting them is impossible. The Justice Department spent two years trying in the 1980s, but produced only an estimate: 3,000 federal criminal offenses.

The American Bar Association tried in the late 1990s, but concluded only that the number was likely much higher than 3,000. The ABA’s report said “the amount of individual citizen behavior now potentially subject to federal criminal control has increased in astonishing proportions in the last few decades.”

A Justice spokeswoman said there was no quantifiable number. Criminal statutes are sprinkled throughout some 27,000 pages of the federal code.

I’m not trying to weasel here. For sure there are hundreds of non-violent federal crimes for which any sensible person would not deprive a felon of his or her gun rights. I am equally adamant that we, as a society, should err on the side of caution and restore the gun rights of anyone who has done their time.

If we believe an individual is not safe enough to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, we should not release them back into society. If we release them, they should have their Constitutional rights restored. Would we permanently deprive a felon of their right to free speech?

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

34 Responses to ATF: Gun Ownership is a Privilege, Not a Right

  1. avatarPT says:

    The ATF just needs to burn in hell. We’ve found out what they think of us over the past 25 years.

  2. avatarJoe Grine says:

    After Heller, whether you describe gun possession / ownership as a “qualified right” or a “privledge” seems to me to mere symantics. Its obvious that it is not an absolute right, since you can obviously lose the “right” by committing a felony, etc. the fact that the government can establish a permittiong system suggests that it is – to some degree, in the nature of as privledge. The analogy to driver’s licenses is admittedly somewhat off the mark, since a licence allows you to drive a vehicle on government owned / operated roads – which is a duifferent factual situation. The analogy to free speech does not hold either, because unlike voting rights or gun ownership, there is really nothing a person can affirmatively do to lose the right of free speech. Obviously, certain topics of speech may be considered non-protected (certain types of hate speech or speech that incites imminent violence , for example), but again, that is a slightly different issue.

    • avatarRalph says:

      One’s freedom can be taken away for life or a period of years for criminal behavior. In states that have a death penalty, a human life can be taken away for criminal behavior. The Federal government still has the death penalty for capital crimes and for treason, even if nobody dies as a result of the treasonous activity. That doesn’t make freedom or life a privilege.

      The Second Amendment states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” It doesn’t talk about “the privilege of the people.”

      Rights are vested, but can be lost or suspended. That doesn’t make them conditional rights. There is no such thing. The question Robert raises is, how long does one have to wait until full rights are restored. My answer is, it depends.

      • avatarJoe Grine says:

        Yeah, generally agreed, but whether you want to label the nature of the 2AD “right” as a “conditional right” or a “qualified right” or a limited right;” again you are getting into mere semantics. Heller states that the right “is not unlimited.” Untangling the double negative, the Court in effect is stating that the right is limited. If the 2AD really set forth an unlimited “right” to bear (i.e. carry) arms, then why do you have to get a “permit” to do so? And is a CC permit really all that much different than a driver’s license in practical terms?

        In this regard, the right created by the Second Amendment is somewhat different than -say – the First Amendment right to free speech or free exercise of religion. Generally speaking, you don’t have to get a “speech permit” or a “religion permit.” Also, First Amendment law speaks of the evils of what prior restraints, a concept noticeably absent from Second Amendment case law. And while there are certain established limits on speech (e.g., commercial speech, certain types of subversive political speech, etc), these limits are much more narrow and targeted than the broad regulatory scheme put in place for firearms.

        Of course, deep down we all know that the Second Amendment creates a “limited” “qualified” or “conditional” right. Otherwise, I would be getting me one of those new M-240Gs mentioned a TTAG article from earlier today.

        I’m not necessarily saying that the Second Amendment sets forth a mere a “privilege,” because we gun owners all tend to get queasy when we hear that word. But I’ve read the case law over and over again, when it comes down to it, it’s not too far off of that – as a practical matter. Again, I think it may just be mere semantics as to what term you want to assign to it.

  3. avatarGreg in Allston says:

    “The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” Ayn Rand

    “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” United States Constitution 14th Amendment.

    “A person who can’t be trusted with a gun can’t be trusted without a custodian.” David Codrea

    “If we believe an individual is not safe enough to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, we should not release them back into society. If we release them, they should have their Constitutional rights restored. Would we permanently deprive a felon of their right to free speech?” Robert Farago

    All of the above are absolutely correct.

  4. avatarDerek says:

    “Would we permanently deprive a felon of their right to free speech?”

    Or right to vote? Or right to a speedy trial? Or right to privacy?
    100% absolutely agree on every point in this post, and Greg stole the Ayn Rand quote right outta my mouth.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      It should not be a big newsflash to point out that the states do deprive felons of the right to vote. Most states now have reinstatement provisions written into their laws, but felon disenfranchisement was upheld by the U.S. Supreme court. See Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974). But see Hunter v. Underwood 471 U.S. 222, 232 (1985) (discussing possible equal protection violations associated with felon disenfranchisement laws).

  5. avatarWill Litten says:

    We are releasing about 50,000 prisoners here in California due to a court decision, they haven’t served their time. I will pass on allowing all ex-cons the right to own firearms automatically. All people convicted of a violent crime are shit out of luck.

  6. avatarRudy says:

    Hey, Yankees, can anybody give me direction to proper curses dictionary? I’m afraid my vocabulary isn’t that big for such occasions.

  7. avatarDobby says:

    “Would we permanently deprive a felon of their right to free speech?”

    Well if they were convicted of treason, then sure, they’d be shot.

    Permanently deprived of the right to free speech.

    If they’re convicted of a violent crime then no guns. Ever. Also no knives, tasers, explosives. Anything you can come up with that’s specifically designed to “fuck shit up”.

    I swear.. For a bunch of rednecks, you Yanks are definitely more on the side of “hippy faggot”, as they say. You know the type, guns are bad, defense forces are bad, explosives are bad, how dare you study physics you heathen, etc. If you like the idea of a government like that, come down to Aus. Punish the ones who committed the crime, not everyone. Should be your catchphrase, not “Never punish anyone. Ever. Unless they drive a car into someone who assaulted them with a gun, then throw them in jail, the VIOLENT BASTARDS!!!”

  8. avatarMagoo says:

    RF says: “If we believe an individual is not safe enough to exercise their right to keep and bear arms, we should not release them back into society. If we release them, they should have their Constitutional rights restored.”

    Losing the right to vote, own firearms, etc. are punishments. In general, I am in favor or punishing criminals.

    Here is your red herring, RF: the notion that once a person has completed his prison sentence, he has fully “paid his debt” to society. No, you merely slipped that assumption in there. Completing a prison sentence does not absolve the felon of a host of other penalties and punishments, including fines, restitution, and parole restrictions. A felon may temporarily or permanently lose the right to trade in securities, practice law or medicine, associate with known criminals, interact with minor children, etc etc. You got a problem with that? Not me.

    In my personal view, it is entirely reasonable that any felon convicted of a violent crime shall permanently lose the right to own firearms. If this penalty is too harsh or cruel, may I suggest not robbing or beating people.

    • avatarGreg in Allston says:

      “A felon may temporarily or permanently lose the right to trade in securities, practice law or medicine, associate with known criminals, interact with minor children, etc etc. You got a problem with that?”. Correct. Once a criminal has fully paid their debt to society, as determined by that society, they should have their rights fully restored.

    • avatarRebecca says:

      Losing the right to vote, own firearms, etc. are punishments. In general, I am in favor or punishing criminals.

      Forever? Beyond the limits of their imprisonment? Really?? I’m all for punishing a criminal for their crime(s). Once they’ve done their time, though, it is my belief that ALL rights that had been removed at sentencing should be restored. There should be a time limit for the punishment, in other words. When you punish your kids for breaking a vase, you don’t forever revoke their right to be in that room. If you did, eventually they’d be living in a tent out in the back yard.

      We have too many laws right now. The outcome is that America has more “criminals” per capita than ANY other country. More than many put together. It’s turning us into a police state, IMNSHO, and I HATE it.

      • avatarGreg in Allston says:

        You know, Rebecca, that having one’s kids live in a tent in the backyard thing might not be such a bad idea ;>) I know for some of the kids that I run across, that would be letting them off easy.

    • avatarankle says:

      The problem is that there are so many other ways to become a felon. Violent felon loses gun rights? Sure. Stock trader that screwed up? Not so much.

    • avatarRaph84 says:

      Magoo,

      You are wrong about parole. Prisoners only go on parole if they are released prior to their maximum sentence.

    • avatarMike the Limey says:

      How about giving those convicted of violent crimes an automatic life sentence?
      That way they could be released on parole, rather than having served their time & thus would be ineligible to have their full rights restored.
      It’s a damn’ poor system that disarms someone for life when their only crime was non violent & possibly committed when they were many years younger.
      Another issue is those suffering from mental illness: Many can function well in society so long as they take whatever medication is needed but I for one wouldn’t want some them to have access to firearms, or even a pointy stick.

  9. avatarirock350 says:

    I am totally in favor of felons loosing the right to own firearms, vote, and hold equal standing to those of us who decided to not break the law especially those criminals who have been convicted of a violent crime. The phrase “paid their debt” assumes that one can fully repay society or the individual for a crime committed. I don’t believe that sitting time out in jail, attending therapy sessions or complying with their probation is enough to repay society for rape, theft, violent crime, ect. If you make the decision to break the law in such a grievous manner that a judge or jury decides that it is better for the good of the whole to remove you the community for a period deemed befitting your crime, I think that when you re-enter society your freedoms should be restricted as direct payment to that society. Removing you from the population didn’t repay the society you offended, it simply punished you. Repayment requires action, removal from society is by itself inaction. The question I am asking is what have these folks done to repay society for breaking its trust. Until they repay society, their rights should not be returned to them.

  10. avatarNicholas Dixon says:

    In theory I think I’d agree, in practice probably not.

    To me, society should focus on rehabilitating criminals(which is sometimes impossible). Our current justice system does NOT do that. For now, imprisonment seems to make most criminals worse, so restoring rights would seem to be a bad idea. We need prison reform essentially, and a drastic change in the laws.

    But I’m also in favor of abolishing sex offender registries(again in theory). If what they did is so bad that society wants to know where they are at all times because they are expected to do it again maybe they should just be in jail. Also, no more death penalty. That or just stop convicting innocent people.

  11. avatarAndy says:

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    Last four words not clear enough?

    • avatarirock350 says:

      Infringed is the sticky widget, you see it means that a right shall not be intruded on. The Second Amendment is limited by the First Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” , and the Ninth Amendment which states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”You see if someone can prove that firearms prohibit the freedom of speech or most importantly the right of the people to peacefully assemble, then that law is deemed to be infringing that person’s right. Now firearms in a courtroom can limit the witness’s obligation to truthfully testify and in that instance the Second Amendment must be restricted because it has been proven to restrict both the due process of law ie. the Fifth Amendment, and the right to peacefully assemble ie the First Amendment and possibly the Sixth Amendment and the Ninth.
      Because we have all of these amendments that work in harmony to protect the general population it can be tricky to distinguish what areas and actions are covered by our rights.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      Andy: your “last four words not clear enough?” comment makes for good chest-thumping rhetoric, but is somewhat divorced from reality when it comes to the issue raised by this post (i.e. the ATF referring to the 2AD “right” as a privledge.

  12. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Since Congress is unlikely to change the laws (the convicted-felons-who-want-to-own-guns demographic beinga very small one) this will be up to the courts to decide. Eventually we’ll probably get some kind of split-the-baby decision whereby a person can get his 2a rights restored after a certain period of time, depending on a number of factors including whether or not the crime for which he was convicted was a violent one and/or involved firearms.

  13. I agree completely Robert. I think David Codrea summed it up best when he said “Anyone who can’t be trusted with a firearm, can’t be trusted without a custodian”.

  14. avatarGhostwriter IMHO says:

    The word Conscience may be defined in part, as a quality of humans serving in some circumstances as a restraint upon certain actions and in other circumstances as a calling to act.
    The word Morality may be defined in part, as a simple code of individual thought and conduct.
    The word Rights may be defined in part as, a natural status of each person.

    The Moral code of conduct simply requires a person to conduct oneself in a manner as to avoid intentionally violating the ‘rights’ of another person or persons.

    Application of the quality of Conscience, establishing of Moral codes of individual conduct and recognition of Rights of the individual are the basis from which certain principles, standards and values have been established.
    The aforementioned is of course, all specific to philosophy.

    ( ‘Rights’ are always specific to an individual person. Government has ‘powers’, people have ‘Rights’. Inanimate objects–firearms, guns, weapons, ‘arms’ & etc.– cannot have ‘rights’. Non-entities–government, States, corporations & etc.–cannot have ‘rights’.)

    As extended into a system of government embodied as that of the American Constitutional Republic form, the primary purpose for the institution of government is to secure ‘rights’.
    Written Constitutions ( State and the U.S. Constitution ) provide general guidelines for the operation of government. Persons in government are granted only limited and specified powers by consent of the governed and further limitations on powers granted to those in government are expressed in declaratory and restrictive clauses as ’rights’.

    Under written ‘law’, any person act or thing may be declared ‘illegal’ or ‘unlawful’ and penalties established for violations.
    In the enactment of any written law on the part of those in government, the first question is whether or not the law is specific to the philosophy of Conscience, Morality and recognition of ’rights’ of the individual.
    The second question is that of ’authority’.
    The third is whether or not the law serves the purpose intended.

    All that said….

  15. avatarMikeP says:

    OK. You can’t have it both ways. You can declare felons to be non-citizens and there fore not subject to 2A or if they have paid their debt to society and they are eligible for the benefits of all other citizens. I don’t like that but I can’t find any reference in the constitution about only giving rights to those people I agree with.

  16. avatarphill says:

    all these posts and i still didnt get a yes or no,just personel opinions. CAN A PERSON WHO HAS A NON-VIOLENT FELONY CHARGE 10 YEARS AGO, AND WHO SERVED THEIR PROBATION IN FULL, GET THEIR RIGHT TO OWN FIREARMS BACK? i live in w.v. i will prob. have to call the ATF , just want to get an idea if i have a chance.

  17. avatarjeff says:

    Where does it say “GUNS” it that there amendment? That’s right, IT DOESN’T. I assume you are all “Constitutional Originalists” like your hero AintIaton Scalia, so at best I would think that the founders meant muskets and swords when they said “ARMS”. Do you really think they intended for us to have armor piercing bullets or AK-47′s. The overwhelming majority of murders per year are committed by legal, registered guns. I don’t want to be at the whim of a legal gun owner’s psychotic break. If that means that you can’t carry guns into a bar then I don’t really give a shit. I don’t trust you to be a responsible gun owners in public. If you want to have guns in your home to protect it, your property, and your family, then I’m all for that. THAT was the Founder’s intent . The minute you take it out of your house and into a shared public space, then it becomes my business and my rights that are being infringed upon. What rights you ask? The right to go out and have fun at a bar or a state park and not be worried that some wannabe rent a cop is going to think I look suspicious and shoot me.

  18. avatarDavid B says:

    We should study the Swiss,
    Power to tax, bestow citizenship, write criminal and civil law, regulate, lies mainly with the cantons (states) and communes (towns), not

    their federal govt. citizen soldiers still keep their fully automatic service weapons in their homes. most of the tax dollars are collected and spent by the cantons.

    each canton governs their own. however they did screw up recently by giving their federal govt new powers (like gun control). Our forefathers studied the swiss,

    called the swiss the land of the most armed and most free.
    The swiss have retained their freedom and liberty for 700 years, and their last war was with napolian.

    Even Hitler did not dare to invade switzerland. a 700 year old cauntry which has had peace through 2 world wars is unheard of in history. the swiss retained peace,

    freedom, and liberty because their local govts had all the power, money, authority, and guns — and they kept their federal govt weak.

    Most people still don’t get it.
    The real problem lies with consentration of power, and centralized authority. as our forefathers said “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” WW1

    was started by kings, czars, and monarchies. after ww1 many of these monarchies were replaced with Elected officials “elected centralized authorities”. The Nazi

    party was Elected. Russian revolution had the support of many of the rank and file. Elected Buracrats will take away liberty just as fast and will commit just as

    much genocide as any king. WW2 proof positive. Another proof positive. look at a 1980s world map: cauntries with the word democratic in their title AREN’T . A

    REPUBLIC WILL LAST A YEARS. Democracies only last a couple generations before turning into an Oligarchy(ruled by a few) the only difference between communism anf

    facism is who controls the oligarchy. In Communism, the oligarchy is controlled by politicrats anr the path to power is through politics. In facism, the oligarchy is

    controlled by corporate types and the path to power is through corporations. both control the elections through political parties, ballot access, and control of the

    police, courts and the media.
    The United States has not been a republic for atleast 2 generations. the U.S. has 2 oligarchies one communist leaning, the other Fascist leaning. But aside from a

    few political issues, they are a lot more alike than different. Free Market has not been given a chance for some time. Try to sell vitamins without the govt knocking

    down your door with MP5 Submachine guns. one big turn was the 17th amendment. (I’LL lose this one in a 30 second soundbite) Originally the senate was appointed by

    the individual state govts according to state law, instead of elected directly, the 17th amendment in 1913 was the beginning of the end of states rights. proof:

    prohibition was passed with a constitutional amendment because the feds in the 1920s, believed they did not have the authority to just pass a federal law. States

    rights and the republic ended with a 75% approval rating. another turning point was “the great society” with lyndon johnson, around 1970, when all these federal

    agencies FDA, EPA, Dept of education, NHISTA, ATF was given the authority to MAKE LAW insted of just Enforcing the law. Now the feds tax and waste so much of our

    money that their is nothing left for the states and towns. Im sure our forefathers envisioned the exact opposite,with the Towns having most of the money, states

    having some, and the feds having very little (like the swiss) 200 years ago, we did have services. people got together for police, fire, medical, housing, education,

    but these services were provided by the towns. Towns varied widely in their makeup. some were highly individualistic, others shared extensively whether secular or by

    the town church. if you go to Massachusetts, tour sturbridge village and check out the 200 year old houses that are still standing and being used. proof that small

    groups of people are able to build, educate, medicate, and keep the peace without a centralized federal govt.

  19. avatarDavid B says:

    sorry I messed up the format, let me tr yagain

    We should study the Swiss,
    Power to tax, bestow citizenship, write criminal and civil law, regulate, lies mainly with the cantons (states) and communes (towns), not their federal govt. citizen soldiers still keep their fully automatic service weapons in their homes. most of the tax dollars are collected and spent by the cantons. each canton governs their own. however they did screw up recently by giving their federal govt new powers (like gun control). Our forefathers studied the swiss, called the swiss the land of the most armed and most free.
    The swiss have retained their freedom and liberty for 700 years, and their last war was with napolian. Even Hitler did not dare to invade switzerland. a 700 year old cauntry which has had peace through 2 world wars is unheard of in history. the swiss retained peace, freedom, and liberty because their local govts had all the power, money, authority, and guns — and they kept their federal govt weak.

    Most people still don’t get it.
    The real problem lies with consentration of power, and centralized authority. as our forefathers said “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” WW1 was started by kings, czars, and monarchies. after ww1 many of these monarchies were replaced with Elected officials “elected centralized authorities”. The Nazi party was Elected. Russian revolution had the support of many of the rank and file. Elected Buracrats will take away liberty just as fast and will commit just as much genocide as any king. WW2 proof positive. Another proof positive. look at a 1980s world map: cauntries with the word democratic in their title AREN’T . A REPUBLIC WILL LAST A THOUSAND YEARS. Democracies only last a couple generations before turning into an Oligarchy(ruled by a few) the only difference between communism anf facism is who controls the oligarchy. In Communism, the oligarchy is controlled by politicrats anr the path to power is through politics. In facism, the oligarchy is controlled by corporate types and the path to power is through corporations. both control the elections through political parties, ballot access, and control of the police, courts and the media.
    The United States has not been a republic for atleast 2 generations. the U.S. has 2 oligarchies one communist leaning, the other Fascist leaning. But aside from a few political issues, they are a lot more alike than different. Free Market has not been given a chance for some time. Try to sell vitamins without the govt knocking down your door with MP5 Submachine guns. one big turn was the 17th amendment. (I’LL lose this one in a 30 second soundbite) Originally the senate was appointed by the individual state govts according to state law, instead of elected directly, the 17th amendment in 1913 was the beginning of the end of states rights. proof: prohibition was passed with a constitutional amendment because the feds in the 1920s, believed they did not have the authority to just pass a federal law. States rights and the republic ended with a 75% approval rating. another turning point was “the great society” with lyndon johnson, around 1970, when all these federal agencies FDA, EPA, Dept of education, NHISTA, ATF was given the authority to MAKE LAW insted of just Enforcing the law. Now the feds tax and waste so much of our money that their is nothing left for the states and towns. Im sure our forefathers envisioned the exact opposite,with the Towns having most of the money, states having some, and the feds having very little (like the swiss) 200 years ago, we did have services. people got together for police, fire, medical, housing, education, but these services were provided by the towns. Towns varied widely in their makeup. some were highly individualistic, others shared extensively whether secular or by the town church. if you go to Massachusetts, tour sturbridge village and check out the 200 year old houses that are still standing and being used. proof that small groups of people are able to build, educate, medicate, and keep the peace without a centralized federal govt.

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