Gun control, and topics surrounding it, have been much discussed in the wake of recent high-profile cases of gun violence in the U.S. One question that arises in this context is the restrictions placed on gun ownership based on criminal conviction status. Are these restrictions appropriate and will they prevent the types of violence we’ve seen in recent months?
The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 is the legislation that made it illegal for convicted felons (among other groups of excluded persons) to purchase or own a firearm. This was in reaction to high-profile gun violence, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy early in the 1960s. This law was later modified in 1986 by passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which gave certain powers over gun ownership back to the states.
Currently, all individuals convicted of a felony lose their right to firearm ownership, as do some individuals convicted of misdemeanor offenses. For example, someone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence is banned under federal law from owning or possessing a firearm, as are respondents to a restraining orders. Some state laws are even more strict in this regard.
Photo courtesy of nesoiam
The goal of all this, many would reasonably argue, is to reduce the likelihood of gun violence by those convicted of serious crimes, as well as by those who have demonstrated a propensity for violence (thus, the domestic violence restriction). This Federal Gun Control Legislation Timeline seems to support the idea of a progression in government control of gun ownership over time as a way to legislatively address gun violence.
The problem with all this is that not all serious crimes are violent crimes, nor are they all committed by violent people. Those convicted of felony-level fraud or embezzlement lose their right to bear arms right alongside people convicted of felony assault or murder. This may seem counter-intuitive if our goal is to reduce violence, but that’s how the system has evolved.
People can and do change, which is partly why some felons can have their right to own firearm ownership restored. Laws and rules about this vary from one state to the next, so some research is required to determine how this applies in a particular jurisdiction. Some states automatically restore the right once the term of the felony conviction is over, while others require the individual to appeal for restoration.
Ultimately, there is little incentive for legislators or lobbyists to argue for less restrictive gun laws that would allow non-violent felons to retain the right of firearms ownership, especially in the current climate. To many people, a felon is a felon is a felon, and the exact circumstances of the offense don’t matter all that much. Also, some studies have shown that restricting a felon’s access to firearms reduces the likelihood of future violent crimes by 20-30%.
I suspect that as long as that’s the case, the situation will change little, if any at all. What are your thoughts on this, though? Are there any viable reasons to modify existing laws to allow non-violent offenders to retain their Second Amendment rights? If so, how might we do that effectively and what might be the possible consequences?