Terrance Heath

Firearms for Felons?

Filed By Terrance Heath | July 21, 2008 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gun control, gun laws, guns, Washington D.C.

My previous posts on the Supreme Court overturning the D.C. gun ban stirred up more debate than I expected, second amendment rights being pretty far outside the realm of issues I usually cover.

So, why not continue? Especially since some people have come forward and answered the question I asked at the end of the last post.

I don't pretend to know, and the suggestions above are nearly ridiculous (but in one case, very real) extremes. So, I'll ask the same question I asked before that I don't remember being answered: to gun rights advocates, what would you consider to be "reasonable" gun laws?

Well. When I saw this story, I wanted to add it to the mix. After all, states are already dealing with the question of whether felons should have the right to vote. It may not be the intention of the court, or the intention of the people who filed the suit to overturn D.C.'s gun law, but now felons are suing for the right to own firearms.

Twice convicted of felonies, James Francis Barton Jr. faces charges of violating a federal law barring felons from owning guns after police found seven pistols, three shotguns and five rifles at his home south of Pittsburgh.

As a defense, Barton and several other defendants in federal gun cases argue that last month's Supreme Court ruling allows them to keep loaded handguns at home for self-defense.

"Felons, such as Barton, have the need and the right to protect themselves and their families by keeping firearms in their home," says David Chontos, Barton's court-appointed lawyer.

Chontos and other criminal defense lawyers say the high court's decision means federal laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of people convicted of felonies and crimes of domestic violence are unconstitutional as long as the weapons are needed for self-defense.

Now, I'm not sure how right Mr. Chrontos is about this. And I'm reluctant to wade into the legal issues here, because I'll quickly find myself out of my depth. But this Wall Street Journal column--by an author who seems to be in favor of the ruling -- quotes Justice Scalia as saying the ruling shouldn't "cast doubt" on state laws regarding felons and firearms.

One key unresolved question in D.C. v. Heller is whether it limits the states as well as the federal government. The Bill of Rights originally restrained only Congress, but under the "incorporation" doctrine, the Supreme Court has held that the 14th Amendment protects most constitutional rights against state encroachment. Because the capital is a federal district, its local government is a creation of the U.S. Congress. Heller gave no reason to think incorporation doesn't apply, but further litigation will be necessary to settle the question.

Nor does Heller settle which restrictions are constitutional and which are not. Justice Scalia wrote that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt" on laws against possession of firearms by felons or the mentally ill or in "sensitive places" like schools or government buildings, or laws regulating commerce in firearms. That's fine with Mr. Gura, but many laws currently on the books fall somewhere between these uncontroversial provisions and D.C.'s onerous restrictions.

And so, the author is right. Further litigation will be necessary.

So, my question is, who's right? Scalia or Chontos? And if it's somewhere in the middle? What's reasonable?


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It seems pretty obvious that the defendant in is simply grasping at straws to avoid facing the signifigant penalty the federal Armed Career Criminal statute carries.

It is well settled that those who have been convicted of felonies can forfeit some of their constitutional rights. The right to vote (which is actually trending away from restrictions) if one. People on probation in many cases waive their 4th Amendment rights to object to the search of their home, and of course, the restrictions on firearm possession. Borh liberal and conservative justices seem to agree on this point.

I don't think the Supreme Court even has 4 votes to grant this fool cert, let alone the 5 needed for him to prevail.

In my opinion, it seems impossible to reply with a blanket yes or no.

Therefore, it really depends in my mind what type of "felony" the person in question committed.

Seeing that simply transporting marijuana over state lines regardless of intended use can end up with the person being convicted of felony drug trafficking.

For this particular instance, why should said felon be barred from voting or firearms, would be overkill in my opinion.

However, for the murders, rapists, child molesters, and other violent criminals; yes it would be prudent in my estimation to bar them from firearm ownership along with every other inherent right since they already violated their victim's inherent rights.

Then again we could solve this problem simply by leaving murders, rapists, and child molesters behind bars for life, in lieu of locking up the dope smokers, tax cheats, and madams.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 22, 2008 7:21 AM

Why of course all felons should be armed Terrance. They are restricted from working in the trade of their choice by being unarmed! That is a violation of their freedom to rob grocery stores...

Seriously, in a country where a person spills coffee on themselves and sues the (McDonald's) where they bought the coffee--because it was too hot(?!)--and gets millions for it, anything is possible.

Criminals will get guns regardless. I say tax the heck out of bullets and gunpowder at point of manufacture or import (fifty, a hundred times the retail price of the bullet) and I bet even then, idiots would shoot off guns in the air at midnight on New Years.

I lived in Chicago during the period of restrictive gun laws, but that neither stopped the bad guys from owning guns or children killed in their bedrooms by a stay bullet. Our neighborhood was a rough one and I had shots fired at my house on several occasions. Still, I never bought a gun, we neighbors got organized.

Sadly, Americans who want a peaceful existence where they can come home, pet the dog and watch TV instead of caring about their community are over.

Well, on to a related thread. First I would say that in answer to the question on the previous thread I did outline what I thought would be reasonable gun regulations. I think that it has been well established that a felon has forfeit some legally established rights. I don't think that the right to keep a gun is a human right, it is a legal right. So while the felon has a right to be secure and safe from attack, and a right to defend her or himself and IMO those should be seen as human rights, the felon should not be allowed to own a gun as that is a legal right which has been forfeited.
That's my opinion on it anyway.

Seriously, if all the gun rhetoric is correct that people need guns to protect themselves from the bad guys, then the former bad guys who've repaid their debt to society need them too. According to that logic, not allowing them to have guns is a death sentence.