When you’ve paid off a debt, that debt is paid. Right? Not when that debt is a debt to society and you’re a convicted felon. When you’re convicted of any crime with a maximum penalty of more than 364 days in jail you’ll lose your rights to vote, serve on juries, and possess firearms. And you don’t usually get them back, even after you’ve served your time and paid your fines and complied with the terms of your probation.
United States Attorney General Eric ‘J. Edgar’ Holder thinks this is unfair for many felons. He wants their voting rights to be restored automatically, so they can vote Democratic. But what about their rights to possess firearms? . . . crickets . . .
You might not have much sympathy for felons, and in many cases you shouldn’t. Felonies used to mean serious crimes like murder, rape, robbery and arson. Anyone who commits such crimes against another person, IHMO, has permanently forfeited their right to be trusted with firearms.
But the vast majority of convicted felons have never committed these crimes, or ever committed serious violence against another person. As the power and reach of the state has grown, the list of federal and state felonies has ballooned to include thousands of victimless and purely regulatory crimes.
Most drug offenses are felonies, as are many tax offenses. Shipping an unloaded, lawfully-owned firearm through the U.S. mail can be a felony. Incorrectly answering a Form 4473 can be a felony, as can the possession of a single evil ‘assault weapon’ in the hoplophobic madworld of New York State.
Many state laws allow some provision for at least some convicted felons to restore their rights. In some states like my own, this remedy is very slow (seven years at a minimum) and restricted to certain nonviolent, first-time felons.
Eric Holder thinks this is a shame. But he doesn’t think the loss of all these rights is a shame: just that bit about voting. In a speech at Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday, he called for the automatic restoration of felons’ voting rights.
“It is time to fundamentally reconsider laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision.” Holder said, and we couldn’t agree more.
Little that the Obama administration does is not motivated by electoral politics, and Holder’s speech is no exception. This ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaign for felons is motivated solely by a desire to get more ex-cons to vote Democratic, but we think Holder’s proposal doesn’t go far enough.
For nonviolent offenders, and particularly for those convicted of victimless or regulatory offenses, there is no reason to deprive them of their constitutional right to keep and bear arms once they’ve served their sentence and paid their fines.
The Obama Administration disagrees, of course. Any excuse is a good excuse to ‘disenfranchise’ Americans of their right to possess firearms. And any way to create more Democratic voters is worth trying.