Virginia

Should Felons Get Their Gun Rights Back?

Yes, especially if their right to vote's been restored.

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Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's order restoring the voting rights of 206,000 ex-convicts was remarkable both for what it did and for what it did not do. What it did has been covered amply. What it did not do has been completely ignored.

The order restored felons' rights to vote, to hold public office, to serve on juries, and to act as notary publics. But it explicitly excluded one basic American right: "Nothing in this Order restores the right to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms."

That might seem like simple common sense—a precaution so obvious it needs no explanation. But it does require explanation. In fact, it needs not only an explanation, but a great deal of justification.

Republicans have slammed McAuliffe's order as nothing more than political chicanery. But while they might have a point about the politics, they are wrong on principle. Having paid their debt, felons should be able to rejoin civil society as full members in good standing. As Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) put it the other day, responding to GOP critics: "The right to vote is a right. It is not a privilege."

The same holds true for the right to keep and bear arms—and the right to self-defense. So why shouldn't the same principle that applies to voting rights apply to gun rights?

The answer, presumably, is that felons might be dangerous. But that doesn't hold up under even casual scrutiny. For one thing, it implies the state is releasing dangerous people into the general population. If the state is doing that, then it should stop. But supporters of the governor's executive order clearly don't think that is happening. They seem to hold that felons have reformed. McAuliffe himself said "they have atoned." If so, then they present no threat, do they?

What's more, many felons were convicted of nonviolent offenses. Since they never committed violent crimes in the past, why think they will in the future?

For instance, the Code of Virginia makes it a felony in some cases to possess more than half an ounce of marijuana—as well as to grow pot in any amount for somebody else's use. Virginia law also makes it a felony to "break and enter the dwelling house of another in the nighttime" with the intent to commit burglary. And even simply to possess "burglarious tools."

In Virginia, it's a felony to steal anything worth more than $200. And to receive stolen goods. And to use "public assets for private or personal purposes unrelated to" the duties of public office. It's even a felony—really—to steal a chicken worth more than $5, or a dog or horse worth anything at all.

Should somebody who once took a used iPhone—or an unused chicken—be granted the privilege of being a notary public, yet be deprived of a fundamental constitutional right to arms for the rest of her life?

Indeed, many of the arguments that apply to the right to vote also apply to the right to own a firearm. When he announced his executive order, the governor said this: "These individuals have completed their sentences… You can't be a second-class citizen. Once you've paid your time, there's no difference to me. We want you back. We want you to be a productive member of society." Nothing in that statement implies "gun rights excepted."

Other supporters of McAuliffe's order contend, as the Washington Post did, that those who disagree with it "insist that the state continue to exact punishment and retribution" upon people who have paid their debt to society—and that such insistence is wrongheaded. Fair point—and one that applies with just as much force to gun rights as to voting rights.

Finally, there is the racial angle. The racist roots of felon disenfranchisement have been well established and are widely understood. But there is considerably less understanding about the racist history of gun control, which is also well established.

Depriving blacks of the right to arms was one among many ways that the South subjugated blacks. For instance, post-Civil War "Black Codes" prohibited freed slaves from owning firearms. In fact, one argument Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney employed in his notorious decision in Dred Scott was that state laws in effect when the Constitution was drafted proved that blacks were not full citizens. To think they otherwise, he wrote, "would give to persons of the negro race" the right to travel freely, "full liberty of speech in public and in private," the right "to hold public meetings"—and the right "to keep and carry arms wherever they went." Full citizens had such rights. Blacks didn't.

As many have noted by now, depriving convicted felons of the right to vote disproportionately affects African-Americans. But depriving convicted felons of the right to own guns has precisely the same disproportionate effect. McAuliffe and other advocates of gun control might want to see everybody's gun rights revoked, not just those of felons. But that isn't likely to happen soon. And until it does, denying the right to arms to ex-convicts as a group perpetuates the very second-class citizenship McAuliffe claims to deplore.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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89 responses to “Should Felons Get Their Gun Rights Back?

  1. Obviously the solution is to eliminate *everyone’s* “right” to vote and possess a weapon.

    1. If we just eliminated every person, there’d be no more problems.

        1. Nikki/Warty 2016!

      1. “Save the world; kill all humans” was something I was heard somebody proclaiming on his soapbox on the Venice Beach boardwalk a few years ago…

    2. Obviously the solution is to eliminate *everyone’s* “right” to vote and possess a weapon.

      Equality Uber Alles.

  2. In the westerns popular when I was a kid, a recurring story line was the guy returning to town from prison, having “paid his debt” to society. And the deal was, he was accepted as long as he behaved.

    1. In the ones I watched, the bad guy always got shot dead. No need to worry about future rights there.

      1. The guy returning from prison wasn’t a bad guy. He was a good guy who had to pay for a mistake. Yes, I do yearn for simpler times.

  3. No, let’s just give them a right which allows them to commit real violence on a much broader scale: Voting.

    1. So you’re cool with felons holding public office then?

        1. aren’t politicians just felons who haven’t been caught yet

          1. Exactly.

            1. Hillary was caught. Just not convicted. Yet.

              Hillary for Prison 2016!

          2. I propose we adopt the Fourecks system. All politicians are put in prison as soon as they’re elected, on the theory that it will save time later.

        2. Right. I’d rather take away their explicitly not-a-right to *actually commit* real violence on a broader scale by holding office than somebody else’s right to nominally (dis)approve of it.

          Focusing on felons voting rights strikes me as very Plebeians vs. Slaves type of argument where even if someone wins, everybody loses.

      1. Don’t they already?

      2. Given the number of elected officials who become felons, it’s only fair that felons sbould have the right to vote for who gets to join their club. Otherwise would violate freedom of association.

  4. So we’re just going to pretend the D’s aren’t implicitly acknowledging that ex-cons can be trusted to vote D but they can’t be trusted with a gun because voting D is a pretty good indicator that you’ll take somebody else’s shit by force given half a chance?

    1. No. The Demoncrats already take somebody else’s shit by force to give to other people because D’s are better and more caring people than anyone opposing them. Demoncrats already have a sufficient number of armed thugs that operates under the name of law enforcement. Common street thugs serve as their reserve force which which are activated as needed. They are used for riots and the like. To arm them now would risk too many friendly fire incidents at said riots.

  5. I’d say this is pretty backwards; the “right” to take part in a voluntary government process isn’t nearly as important as the “right” to acquire defense for oneself.

  6. Yes. The denial of a non-violent felon’s 2A rights doesn’t even pass rational basis, much less strict scrutiny.

    1. I’ve always said that if the nature of their crime was such that they can no longer be trusted with a weapon, then they can no longer be trusted to walk the streets period. Letting them run free with the admonition to “not go getting any guns ya hear” is stupidity at the highest level.

  7. Once felons pay their debt to society, they should no longer be “felons”, returning to full citizenship. It is offensive and ridiculous to label people permanently, inhibiting their ability to contribute to society.

    I think the problem is that we’ve become pansies on crime. If someone has proven themselves unfit for society, then removal from society is the only answer. Life in a cage, or the more humane execution is the only proper answer. Hang em high or forgive and forget once the debt is paid. Anything in between is illogical.

    1. Was going to say this pretty much exactly.Their sentence is their sentence — prison, parole, whatever. Once that sentence is completed that should be it, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have the same rights as anyone else in society.

      1. Nope. They must wear the scarlet letter for all time. As a matter of fact, maybe they should be branded to assist in identification. Maybe some sort of number…

    2. Hence my comment above about the old westerns. It seemed to be understood people make mistakes. You fuck up, you pay a price. But not a life sentence.

    3. People lose their gun rights all of the time without being “felons”. Civil restraining orders being the most obvious example. If there is a history of violence or abusive behavior, I do not think they should get their gun rights back, at least not automatically. But that is probably too nuanced to ever be passed into law.

      1. A lot of the civil restraining orders are the near-automatic result of filing for divorce, without any hint of violence.

        It’s also quite possible for someone to learn that violence doesn’t improve situations, and quit resorting to it.

  8. Depends on the crime. Violent and/or it was committed with a weapon? No. You sold some crack on the street corner? Meh…

    1. I think we’d be better off just not putting nonviolent offenders in jail.

      1. Well, yeah… your friendly street-corner crack dealer should not be in jail. That goes without saying. Hell, crack shouldn’t even be illegal to begin with and the street-corner marketplace shouldn’t even be a thing.

      2. Do you consider fraud/theft violent?

        How about…I think we’d be better off just not putting nonviolent victimless offenders in jail.

    2. Violent and/or it was committed with a weapon? No.

      I’d even go so far as to call this bullshit. Certainly at the Federal level.

      Committed a violent act with a firearm? Maybe. A local court judge saying the accused/felon shouldn’t have guns in a case like Oscar Pistorius’? Sure. But pretty much everyone at the state level and above has no real business making the call.

      Beat a man to death with a pipe wrench or slowly poisoned a spouse/family member to death for the insurance money? Why bother? The former is going to be murderously violent with or without access to guns and the latter has proven to be so deliberate and/or methodical as to obviate the need for firearms (restrictions) in the first place. Without some compelling evidence to the tune of signed affidavits that they’re going to shoot someone once they get out fail to see the point. The same rules apply, no gun laws would’ve prevent O.J. Simpson’s murder/trial, Tim McVeigh, or 9/11 and, moreover, if felons want guns, they’re going to get them.

      1. if felons want guns, they’re going to get them.

        …and with any luck, generate more bond and legal fees revenue for lawyers, which are the pupa stage in the development of the parasitical machine politician.
        Does this help clarify matters?

    3. How about “Felony releasing a balloon?”
      http://articles.sun-sentinel.c…..ood-storks

  9. “The right to vote is a right. It is not a privilege.”

    I musta missed the part in the Constitution where government is given the power to grant privilege.

    In fact:

    No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    To the layman, it might appear that granting privilege kinda violates that last part…

    But who am I to interpret the holy words?

  10. I do not understand how these lifelong restrictions are constitutional without additional due process protections. You go to jail for a couple years for fraud and you lose your right to vote and own a gun: how does that even make any sort of sense? Shouldn’t the state have to prove AFTER you have served your sentence that you may still be a threat to society and should not own a gun? (I have no idea how you justify continually depriving the vote to somebody.)

    1. If you were still a threat to society, why would they let your out?

      1. That reminds me…
        “Senior d’Anconia, what do you think is going to happen to the world?” “Just exactly what it deserves,” “Oh, how cruel!”
        Never conflate society with the looter parasites that infest its governments…

    2. And absent reason.com, who even talks about this stuff?

      There is no way this is kosher, but I’ll bet if you asked your questions of 100 random people, 98 would have no idea what you were going on about, or they would be just fine with it, because criminal.

      Bah.

  11. McAuliffe already wrote the speech. All the next governor has to do is find/replace “voting” with “gun ownership”.

  12. Plus the fact that “everything” is a felony now. Some tree service downed a power line here and the owner was charged with third degree felony criminal mischief.

  13. They never lost their rights. Their rights were just being illegally suppressed by the state. Their gun rights still are.

    1. Their gun rights still are.

      Exactly. ‘If you make it illegal to own guns, then only criminals will own guns’ carries no riders about ex post facto or criminal history.

    2. True. Rights are different from privileges and immunities. Privileges and immunities are what allow cops to murder unarmed kids on the flimsiest of pretexts (such as suspicions from sumptuary laws creating victimless “crimes”) with no fear of indictment or trial. I personally would pay to attend a Drug Czar rally with “Jesus for mandatory minimums” preachers and civil asset forfeiture proselytizers, plus placards demanding Bush-pushed death sentences for marijuana, all surrounded by vengeful yardbirds packing heat.

  14. Convicted felons only lose their voting rights because the 14th Amendment explicitly allows (but does not require) States to deny the right to vote to convicted felons.

    At the very least, gun rights ought to be automatically restored along with voting rights. Personally, I’d argue that, under the Constitution, gun rights ought to be restored when the person is no longer under any sort of custody, even if his voting rights aren’t yet restored.

    And imagine the “fun” that could be had if other rights protected by the Bill of Rights were permanently lost on conviction for a felony. For that matter, consider that this is just what Clarence Thomas asked about when the took the extraordinary (for him) step of asking questions during oral argument.

    1. Wrong. Reading the 14th Amendment reveals that it does not deny States power to “abridge the privileges or immunities” or “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property”, but it nowhere overrides or imperils the rights reserved to Americans in the Bill of Rights.
      Just as the Second Amendment bans ABM treaties and guarantees states the power to react to nuclear attack (to the discomfiture of communists), so it ensures that the victims of prohibitionist coercion over victimless “crime” and sumptuary laws may arm themselves to the teeth. Prohibitionists may relax and rest assured that there are other laws that forbid those victims of lying supertitious aggression from hunting them down like so many rabid curs (to the discomfiture of prohibitionists). Current trends, however, indicate that those politicians will soon be extinct anyway, since the LP is the only party left standing with an electable platform and viable candidates.

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  16. Progs don’t believe in rights as we understand them. Just ask Tony. What they’re doing here is quite consistent with their priorities: participation in the mechanism of collectivism is important to them, individual rights like self-defense are not.

    1. More precisely: the participation of ex-felons and undocumented persons in the mechanism of collectivism is important to progressives. The participation of active military and expatriate citizens, not so much.

  17. This is what I have been saying for years, if someone is violent and has a past of being such, why are they out walking the streets. The problem with all of it, one can find themselves with a felony, loose all of their rights and never even committed a crime. All it takes is someone with a grudge to get someone locked up. I am of the opinion, any person who has served their time and is released should have all of their rights restored upon leaving the gates or released from parole. The violent ones who are released and go on to commit another crime, then the question becomes why was that person out in the first place. Which is the question I ask now despite the fact of felons cannot have firearms.

  18. Either one is free or one is not.

    1. Do you think you’re free? I don’t think I am. Yet I am not in prison.

      There are gradations.

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  20. Realistically it is impossible to deny gun possession to anyone in our society. There are too many guns out there, they can be purchased other than by straight forward means requiring identification (gun shows, street,purchase).

  21. Having paid their debt…

    No they didn’t. “Paying your debt” is not done by sitting in a cell for a while, it’s done with either money or “an eye for an eye”. Also, the debt is paid to the victims not the government.

    The very reason so many people are confused by this entire discussion is due to our current perversion of what justice is. Justice is repayment, to the victim or victim’s next of kin, nothing more and nothing less.

    And if someone had paid their debt, then who am I to decide to aggress against them for attempting to protect themselves? Why does a third party even get to have a say in this at all*?

    *Not in the terms of guilt or innocence, that’s for a jury to decide. Where do they get off on demanding aggression must be used against someone who has already paid their debt?

  22. Restoring infringed Second Amendment rights to persons railroaded and branded felons via victimless crime” usurpations smuggled into law would, I’ll wager, do more to end police brutality than anything else. I may be wrong, but there is one way to find out…

  23. I agree with the author, but this one sentence doesn’t seem to belong:

    Virginia law also makes it a felony to “break and enter the dwelling house of another in the nighttime” with the intent to commit burglary.

    That one really does deserve to be a felony.

  24. As Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) put it the other day, responding to GOP critics: “The right to vote is a right. It is not a privilege.”

    It’s a right which they forfeited when they committed a felony.

    1. Including felony gun possession?

  25. I know I’d rather give them back their gun rights than their voting rights.

    1. Including convicted murderers?

      1. If we really think they’re going to murder again, why did we let them out? Gun possession prohibition is an awfully flimsy barrier to a future murder.

  26. There should be a severe penalty though for a future case of recidivism that involves use of a firearm….
    Mandatory Execution sounds fair.

  27. I’ve argued with social conservatives in our local Tea Party group whether felons should have their voting rights preserved. Most say no. I suspect they believe felons vote for Democrats. The same arguments apply to gun rights. It depends on the felony. When I questioned whether persons convicted of felony gun possession, such as Tea Party Patriot founder Mark Meckler who was accused of violating New York’s felony gun possession law at a NYC airport, should be able to vote, there was no response from social conservatives. On the other hand, I would have a more difficult time justifying preserving gun rights for convicted murderers.

    1. such as Tea Party Patriot founder Mark Meckler who was accused of violating New York’s felony gun possession law at a NYC airport,

      So, not convicted? Why should I give two shits?

  28. “For one thing, it implies the state is releasing dangerous people into the general population. If the state is doing that, then it should stop. But supporters of the governor’s executive order clearly don’t think that is happening. They seem to hold that felons have reformed. McAuliffe himself said “they have atoned.” If so, then they present no threat, do they?”

    does anyone think mcauliffe actually believes that? just because they won’t let him and other politicians lock up people for life, on the off chance they might reoffend, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if it meant they could take credit for the smallest reduction in the crime rate.

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  31. I wish people would stop using “ex-convict” and “felon” interchangeably. Does the law apply to all felons, or just the ex-convict ones?

  32. why-ex-felons-should-be-allowed-to-vote

    We don’t permanently strip criminals of freedom of speech or religion, the right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches or the right against self-incrimination. Why deprive them of the vote?

    The obvious exception is the Second Amendment right to own a gun, which felons lose. But firearms, unlike ballots, can be highly useful in criminal activities.

    Chapman recently made this argument in favor of voting rights for released felons. He accepted the logic of barring convicted criminals from having guns, but claimed it didn’t apply to voting.

    Commenters tore him a new one, pointing out that votes are also “highly useful in criminal activities”. Ooops. Government is a gun, which votes partially direct.

    In *both* cases, barring convicted felons from pointing guns at people makes sense. They have been convicted of violating the rights of their neighbors. They can’t be trusted with power. There’s a very long tradition of criminals permanently losing rights.

    1. Having paid their debt, felons should be able to rejoin civil society as full members in good standing.

      Who says? I don’t see any argument here, only a dubious claim.

      Part of the payment is the permanent loss of rights, and permanent loss of standing. If you pay a fine, you don’t get the money back later.

      There is no reason they should ever have good standing again. It’s simply *irrational* to pretend like their crimes never happened. They did. Actions today are predictive of future behavior.

  33. The answer, presumably, is that felons might be dangerous. But that doesn’t hold up under even casual scrutiny. For one thing, it implies the state is releasing dangerous people into the general population. If the state is doing that, then it should stop.

    Really? You support that?

    So if the data shows that released felons offend at a higher rate than the general population, you support keeping them incarcerated indefinitely?

    Or are you just talking out of your ass, flailing about for an argument?

  34. Depriving blacks of the right to arms was one among many ways that the South subjugated blacks. For instance, post-Civil War “Black Codes” prohibited freed slaves from owning firearms.

    So released felon convicts have the same moral standing as released slaves. Fascinating. Share with us more of your profundity.

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  38. It took over 200 years for politicians to find the part of the constitution allowing them to require American citizens to qualify for their second amendment rights by federal law and be stripped of their rights under state laws.

    Voting is not actually a right under the federal constitution, if it’s a right it’s a right under the state constitutions. If the state allows citizens to vote there is a right not to be excluded for certain reasons (sex, race, etc) but there is no actual right to vote in the federal constitution.

  39. For one thing, it implies the state is releasing dangerous people into the general population. If the state is doing that, then it should stop.

    It is one thing to argue that a person should not be given parole if they are regarded as dangerous, but what about an individual who has fully served their jail sentence? If a state assesses them to still be “dangerous” should they remain interned even after their sentence is over?

    That way lies preventive detention and the Soviet gulag system.

  40. Anyone who wants a gun can get one. There is a very healthy black market for those who can’t pass a background check. The truth is that if the government completely stopped regulating the sale of firearms, we would not be any more or less safe. Same is true for concealed carry. It is ludicrous to believe that a criminal would think twice about owning or carrying a firearm if it was to be used in the commission of a crime. The only people affected by gun laws are law abiding citizens. Anecdotally, I have been carrying a concealed firearm for about 12 years. In that time I have had several face to face conversations with law enforcement (asking directions or at the coffee bar in the local convenience store). I have never been asked to produce my permit for the simple reason that a concealed weapon is just that. You’re not supposed to be able to see it. In the county I live in, concealed carry permits have risen from 2% to 7% of the population since 2001. Gun crimes are, as in most of the rest of the country, in decline. Gun control is about politics, not public safety and all the politicians know it.

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  45. If you were a white collar criminal or convicted of a non violent offense, you should get your rights restored automatically. If you are a violent offender, or had a history of violent behavior while incarcerated, it should be reviewed by a panel of experts. Otherwise, we are lying to ourselves when we say once a man is released from prison he has paid his debt to society.

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