One of the finest writers I know [not shown] is a convicted criminal. He served time for a road rage shooting. He did his time. He was released. His gun rights are gone. Why? All his other Constitutional rights have been restored (including his right to vote). While “common sense” may say that ex-cons should not have access to a firearm, shouldn’t a higher standard apply? Keep in mind that all kinds of non-violent crimes are classified as felonies. And before you answer, consider this [via seattletimes.nwsource.com]. . .

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff okayed former Sheriff Mark French’s [above] petition to vacate his child porn conviction from his record and regain his gun rights.

The 62-year-old French pleaded guilty in 2004 to possessing child pornography. He had retired in 2000 after a 30-year career in law enforcement.

County prosecutors opposed giving French his gun rights back, citing a recent law change, but judge Chushcoff said the law couldn’t be applied retroactively.

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34 Responses to Question of the Day: Should Convicted Criminals Get Their Gun Rights Restored?

    • Too arbitrary. When a law is arbitrary, it lends itself to corruption and ideology of those who are responsible for enforcing it at the time. No, the application of a law must be as specific and definitive as possible.

      I think second amendment rights should be restored to non-violent felons, after some period of demonstrating their responsible adherence to the law. But someone who has actually used a gun in the commission of a felony? Uh uh. Sorry, Robert. Even if your friend has learned his lesson, it’s too late. It’s a lesson he should have learned before the incident.

      Ain’t gonna happen, anyway.

  1. As unsavory as it sounds, either they paid the debt to society or didn’t.

    I personally believe they will commit more violent crimes if given access to firearms…
    but truthfully, a knife or screwdriver is easily acquired. A gun is only marginally more difficult.

    The biggest issue is employment. If they can’t find a decent paying job when they are released back into society (assuming they want one), they WILL go back to their old ways.

    First thing, stop letting them out at 1/2 or 1/3 of their sentence.

  2. I have to agree with Cornelius, that it would be a case-by-case thing.

    I think that if a person were convicted of a violent crime, then some kind of timeframe be applied where you have to keep your “nose clean” before you can get your gun rights back. Every time you get back into some kind of trouble with the law, the clock resets. Maybe some violent crimes forego ever getting gun rights back.

    If one commits a non-violent crime, such as so-called “white collar” crime, then when your other rights are restored, so are your gun rights.

    It’s not fair that we penalize people for the rest of their lives for a crime once they’ve done their time. Although, repeat offenders shouild lose their rights permanently.

  3. As far as misdemeanants are concerned, a suspension of gun rights for a brief rehabilitative period of good behavior (perhaps a year) is one thing, but no misdemeanant should permanently lose any rights, including gun rights.

    Felonies are worse crimes. However, not all felons should lose their gun rights permanently. It should depend on the nature of the conviction. A conviction for a nonviolent felony, such as felony possession of a controlled substance, should not disqualify the felon from future ownership. In such a case, a revocation of gun rights for a rehabilitative period of good behavior would be appropriate, with reinstatement upon application. A conviction for a violent felony with no weapons involved is very troubling, but a path to restoration of gun rights should be provided after a longer rehabilitative period. The commission of a violent felony with a weapon is a horse of a different color, and such felons should be harshly punished with a lifetime ban. Repeat offenders can’t be trusted, so they’re out, too.

    People who commit crimes need to suffer consequences, but punishing all crimes in the same way is just plain stupid.

  4. There was a brouhaha here in Arizona about 20 years ago over James Hamm, a convicted murder who killed someone during a drug deal gone bad, went to prison, served his time, went back to college and got his law degree (with honors)…

    … but couldn’t join the bar because he was a convicted felon. The man served his time, was a model citizen in and out of prison, scored in the 96th percentile on the LSAT and he still can’t become a lawyer.

    How much punishment is too much punishment?

    For me, it comes down to patterns of behaviour: One stupid decision doth not a career criminal make, and I agree that it should be a case-by-case thing.

    • Interesting point – you used two extremes (arguably Murder – the taking of a life with malice and forethought is the highest (with degrees depending on the victim). Which is why they have Degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc… This murder sounds like a 2nd or 3rd degree (based on my obviously limited knowledge – reading your post).

      Owning a gun – I think perhaps someone should be able after a time of responsible behavior, for home defense or sport (CCW is another issue, perhaps).

      Becoming a member of the bar – well, I think there is something to be said for having some bars set (pardon the pun) to practice law when you are yourself a convicted felon, regardless of your aptitude on LSAT’s and grades.

      Owning a gun is a constitutionally guaranteed right, working as a lawyer is not. Once someone has restored their rights, OK on the gun – but employment in a chosen profession is not. He would also not be able to work for the Federal Govt. in a security clearance-required position, probably not be able to be a peace officer, nor a whole host of other public trust-type positions.

  5. Short answer: yes.

    When you can get a felony conviction for silly things like accidentally running over a rodent with your farm tractor, buying an orchid and forgetting – or perhaps the seller forgot – to fill out some nitpicky federal form, or taking seriously your stockbroker’s advice to sell a particular stock (Martha Stewart, anyone?), then certainly non-violent people ought to have all their civil liberties restored, even on a case-by-case basis. (As should people who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, for that matter…many of which “convictions” don’t involve actual violence.)

    And isn’t it funny how so many liberals who want to extend the voting franchise to even violent felons are appalled at the notion of allowing non-violent felons to regain the right to own firearms?

    It’s also time to do some serious pruning of the legal code, both at the state and federal level, and take a lot of these non-violent “felonies” off the books.

  6. Given a) the abysmal state of our penal system, b) the high rate of recidivism, and c) that this individual went to prison for misusing a firearm, I would definitely take away his gun rights.

    Similarly, I would not hire a pedophile, freshly out of prison, to work in an elementary school.

    The fact that he is a “fine writer” is entirely irrelevant. The world abounds with extremely intelligent, creative, high-functioning, psycho/socio-paths who are barely able to co-exist and function in civilized society.

    I’ll take it one (possibly unpopular) step further and say that advocating gun rights for ex-felons is a) not something politically worth it for gun-rights advocates, and b) exactly the red meat that the anti-gun-rights groups love – particularly if/when said person has a “relapse.”

  7. Their 2nd amendment rights should also be restored. If they are still considered a threat or danger to society, they should not be released from prison.

  8. In this specific case, I agree with the judge in that retroactive enforcement is problematic. I hope the defendant’s position as a retired member of the law enforcement nomenklaturacommunity didn’t influence the judge. And the judge applies the same standard to non-government little people…

    Generally, I’d be supportive of restoration of all rights to convicted felons after an extended period (5 years) of zero criminal behavior. Those who are wild in their teens and early 20’s are often responsible citizens at age 40.

    That said, I live in the State of New York, a “May Issue” state at the county level. Given the current abuses when it comes to handgun permits, I have little faith NY would administer a policy of gun rights restoration in a transparent, objective manner. The “connected” would quickly get their gun rights restored and the proles would be subject to delay after delay.

  9. Restoring the right to bear arms for someone who was convicted of a violent felony for a road rage shooting? Are you… Insane?

    I know a person who was convicted of a non-violent felony when he was a much younger man. He’s a very different person, has a wife, kids, etc. Never harmed a hair on anyone’s head, never committed another crime since. Can’t invite him to the range. Ever. That’s someone that should be considered for getting their gun rights back.

    It should definitely be a case-by-case basis.

  10. I tend to agree with Mike, if they are safe enough to let out of prison then presumably they are safe enough to have their rights restored. Don’t we use the argument that criminals will get guns anyhow and that taking away gun rights only penalizes lawful citizens? How is this any different? Couldn’t a ex-con bent on committing a crime with a gun get one anyhow? Who are you protecting by taking away the rights of an ex-con that you’ve already decided was safe enough to release?

    • I agree. If they wanted to go back to crime the government telling them they have no gun rights isn’t going to stop them from getting a gun and committing a crime with it. Hell, whatever they did to become a felon in the first place was against the law and it didn’t stop them. If someone is dangerous keep them locked up.

  11. That depends. As Jeff correctly stated, our penal (and other law-related) systems are far from being brilliant and unbiased. Plus, I’m not lawyer, but isn’t “serving time” meaning “redeeming” past crimes? If so, then why there is no restoration of rights, especially for non-recidivists, committed non-violent crimes? And about violence–an ordinary passer-by became witness of rape and interferes. Girl uses hassle and ran away. Rapists claim they were “poor bystanders, when that aggressor charged at them and beats them without provoking”. Let’s say judge believes them and incarcerate passer-by. When he will be released, should his rights be restored or not?

  12. Short answer: Yes.

    Long answer: Yes. First a little legal reform to make repeat visits to prison a not nice thing would be great. Then when they’re let out of prison, they’ve paid their dues, ALL rights restored. Even violent felons, but woe to the former violent felon that crosses the line.

    You can commit a non-violent felony in a number of hilariously stupid, unexpected ways, so as someone previously stated, those should probably be pruned out of the legal system first.

  13. In nonviolent cases, but then again I’m probably the only one advocating the death penalty for white collar crimes.

    • Here here. Couldn’t agree more. I’d say that the death penalty should only be applied to white collar crime. The reason is relatively simple. Capital punishment has no ability to deter violent crime. It places an undue financial burden on the justice system to prosecute death penalty cases, and inevitably, innocent persons have been and will be executed for crimes they did not commit. How many executions of guilty individuals would make the killing of just one innocent person acceptable? 1:100? 1:1,000? 1:100,00? No amount of “just” executions permit the execution of a single innocent.. While I hope to see violent criminals killed in the act by armed citizens, as a matter of policy, the death penalty is unjust and impractical and should be eliminated.

      However, individuals like Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff, Duke Cunningham, or pharmaceutical execs who conceal data and knowingly release drugs that could lead to excess fatalities (Vioxx) wreak enormous systemic damage to society with wide ranging and often devastating consequences for governments and individuals.
      These individuals generally have advantaged upbringings, live priveleged lives, have substantial personal power, and receive enormous benefit from their crimes. Criminals convicted of capital offenses are generally desperate, deranged, and have very little to lose hence the failure of execution as a deterrent. White collar criminals have a great deal to lose and generally have a sense of impunity about their actions. The low risk of 20 years in a minimum security prison with a potential payoff in the hundreds of millions to billions of dollars is not such a unreasonable bet. The regular and visible implementation of the death penalty for these crimes could be extraordinarily effective in deterring white-collar crime and lead to large-scale societal benefits.

  14. If this is the writer I am thinking of, he claimed that the other driver threatened him, but he is also a pretty aggressive guy. Do you know what actually happened?

  15. As others have said, there are way too many felonies on the books that shouldn’t be classified as such.

    Non-violent offenders should be eligible for a restoration hearing. Violent offenders, never.

  16. If someone has paid their debt to society, that debt should be considered paid in full. We can go round and round endlessly on all the what ifs and the contingencies and the minutia until the cows come home, but the bottom line is that a citizen is a citizen in full until and unless their fellow citizens deem otherwise, in a court of law and after all of the evidence has been weighed.

    If you can’t trust someone with a gun, you can’t trust them without a custodian. If a convicted felon has served their time and paid their debt, they should enjoy all of the privileges and immunities of said citizenship upon their release. We all know that our society has a very poor track record on rehabilitating those that we incarcerate. The reasons that so many of our fellow countrymen are behind bars is more a testimony of our societal shortcomings than it is of our judicial system. Poverty, apartheid, lack of education, the Great Society, lack of meaningful employment, and a thousand other points of light make for a situation that is not going to benefit our country in the long run.

    Give those convicted of felonies a second and third chance. After that, throw away the key. Liberty is messy. Innocents will be hurt and killed. Everything has a price. Failure to adhere to our core principles has an even higher price that I don’t think that we as a nation can well afford.

  17. Convicted felons not being able to own firearms is around 987th on my list of potential injustices in the world. It’s so unfair! Really? Compared to what? Pediatric cancer?

    Once the hot dogs per package vs. hot dog buns per package problem has been addressed, we could take up this issue very next thing.

    I dunno…. recently there have been group hug sessions at TTAG for Jared Loughner, and now this. I can remember when gun enthusiasts used to identify with the good guys. Today, gun owners want to identify with the bad guys. This must be one of those gun owner 2.0 things.

  18. Just a quick question: many folk here talk of the nearly sacred text of the 2nd Amendment, I think the line is usually something like “God given right,” so how can a legislature deprive a felon of his or her ability to “to keep and bear arms” since this right “shall not be infringed.” As I see it, any restriction is an infringement, so how can it be argued that convicted felons have given up their rights? Some legislative body declared that felons may no longer keep and bear arms. If we are literalists, then they should keep their guns.

  19. This is sort of like medieval monks sitting around and debating about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I.e. it’s wholly philosophical with no chance of ever changing. Because a change in the law would require Congress to act, and I’d guess that the “families-of-convicted-felons-who-want-to-own-guns” demographic is not one that any sane politician would want to court.

  20. This comes up here in the frozen north quite a bit. Some folks up here get a felony conviction when they’re younger and later get their lives straight. Then they find that they can’t easily provide for their families unless they can get a moose.

    There are some provisions. Some have others hunt for them by proxy and then provide the labor necessary to butcher the moose. Others use black powder single shot rifles – which they are evidently allowed.

    I’ve thought less about defense. I don’t have much to add except that this does affect folks who hunt to eat.

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