Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Musings Of A Firearms Instructor - Part IV

It’s So Easy To Lose Your Firearm Rights

As a firearms instructor, I field a lot of questions about guns, gun rights, and concealed pistol license (CPL) eligibility. As a consequence of talking to many people about their individual situations, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that it is just too easy to lose your firearm ownership rights.

I am a die-hard and hard core 2A supporter. As a "purist," I personally don't think that anyone not currently imprisoned should be barred from owning a gun. Why? Because the Constitution says "that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

You may be shaking your head in disbelief as my stated position implies that people with felony convictions should be able to own a gun. That's exactly what I meant. First and foremost, understand that no law against a felon having a gun is ever going to prevent an incorrigible criminal from committing a crime with a gun. By definition, a criminal is someone that breaks the law.

Law abiding citizens on the other hand obey the law. In fact, it is the law abiding citizen's fervent support of the law in general that blinds him to the fact that a significant segment of our society has no qualms about committing crimes. It is this blind eye to reality that also causes him to also associate guns with bad behavior and thus "go unarmed in paradise" without being absolutely sure of where he is located.

To add insult to injury, the courts have consistently ruled that no individual person is guaranteed protection from the police. The job of the police is to investigate crimes and support the general peace. If you become a crime victim, you can't sue the police; they have immunity. Maybe, just maybe, if felons were legally armed, more people would take on a greater role in their personal safety by owning and carrying a gun.

When a felon is released from prison and has met all specified conditions (i.e. parole, fines, restitution, etc.), he has paid his debt to society and in my humble opinion should have all of his rights restored: voting rights, right to sit on a jury, right to run for elected, and right to own a gun.

Many states differ as to how they handle rights restoration for the recently released. Invariably, firearm ownership rights, despite what the Constitution says, are the most difficult to restore. Most people know that under US federal law, a convicted felon can't have a gun. (There are some exceptions that I am not going to cover in this post today.) But did you know that a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence (DV) also extinguishes firearm rights? Probably not.

How do I know? I know because I have talked to many people with DV convictions who are shocked to discover that not only can they not get a CPL but they also can not own a gun. I can understand their amazement that a misdemeanor has the same power as a felony with respect to firearm rights.

Please don't confuse my issue with a misdemeanor DV conviction extinguishing firearms rights like a felony does with sympathizing with a person who beats his wife. Spousal abuse is intolerable and the perpetrator should be punished. However, punishment should be just that - a penalty - not a lifetime ban on gun ownership.

In a significant number of these cases, an argument between family members breaks out and a call is made for the police to show up and to quell the disturbance. Many states require an arrest on a DV call. So, a person goes to jail and is charged with DV even if family members don't want to pursue the matter in the courts.

The defendant is then poorly served by his court appointed attorney to plead guilty to a DV misdemeanor in exchange for no jail time and maybe a few hours of community service. His counsel did not tell him that doing so will take also take away his firearm rights forever. Many years later, the economy is in the toilet, violent crime rates are rising, law enforement budgets are being cut, and more prisoners are being released early. Now is the time to have a gun but he can't legally own one.

Having a criminal charge on one's record is a tough challenge. It is our time's equivalent of a scarlet letter, as jobs are tougher to get and opportunities are in short supply. Personally, I know a lot of people with records. "These" people are not criminals - they just have a charge on their record.

They work, raise families, and pay taxes just like people without records. It's a raw deal that a mistake made long ago takes away a right for a lifetime. If the mistake was "that big of a deal" they should be still in jail - not on the outside trying to defend their familes from the real criminals without a gun.

In some cases, the police set up multiple stings with a person committing a crime to set up multiple felony counts at the arraignment. It's almost as if the real goal is to permanently strip away his ability to ever own a gun at any time in his lifetime - however many decades that might be. In my humble opinion, if the police catch a criminal in the act, arrest and charge him then - at that time. Let the one felony conviction serve as a reminder as to what is at stake. Give him an opportunity to make a choice to do right.

For some, there are remedies such as expungement, gubernatorial pardon, and presidential pardons that can provide relief. For others, they have to make do without a right. That's criminal.

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