Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Felon for Life?

From the Oregon statutes:

"166.250 Unlawful possession of firearms. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this section or ORS 166.260, 166.270, 166.274, 166.291, 166.292 or 166.410 to 166.470, a person commits the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm if the person . . . (C) Has been convicted of a felony or found guilty, except for insanity under ORS 161.295, of a felony;"

I recently met a politically active Democrat who also happens to be a strong 2nd Amendment supporter, but who no longer has the legal right to keep a firearm in the state of Oregon due to a felony conviction ten years ago. In the intervening time he has not re-offended, and by all appearances has gotten his life on the straight and narrow. But he can't hunt with a rifle or do anything else involving Second Amendment rights, because his are forfeit. He would, naturally, like to have those rights restored.

I didn't ask what his felony was (it's not polite and I wasn't interviewing him for a job) but he said it was a non-violent offense. That could be burglary, but given the statistics of who is in American prisons, it probably means a felony drug offense. Just guessing.

In some states, a person can lose his voting rights for life over a felony conviction. It has been pointed out that the definitions of which amounts of which drugs constitute a felony are often written with heavy bias toward drugs favored in minority communities; e.g. crack vs. powder cocaine. The resulting ethnic skew of drug felonies resulting in the loss of voting rights in many instances looks a lot like a vestige of Jim Crow laws, which it is. This is doubly so when you consider the not-quite-Johnny-Cochran-level legal representation and pressure to plea bargain that is put on low-income arrestees. Thus many in the liberal camp correctly oppose life-long forfeiture of voting rights as the penalty for a felony. I agree with them--it's ridiculous.

Then come 2nd Amendment rights. These can also be taken away as a result of a felony conviction. There is some apparent logic to this, especially if the crime in question was violent. Considering how few domestic assaults actually get reported, it isn't a bad reaction to say someone convicted of a single instance of a domestic assault should lose ready access to weapons (knives? bats? lighter fluid?). But it isn't a compelling argument either, not an open and shut case. Obviously most assaults--especially spousal abuse--don't involve a gun. Most crimes, even felonies, also do not involve guns. Drug sales are not predominantly violent. Even in the case of violent crimes, if someone goes to prison, does his time, then passes a reasonable period without re-offending, there seems a double standard of treating 2nd Amendment rights as less important than voting rights as something that should be restored to a fellow citizen. Both denials of basic rights affirm the view that a felon is a felon for life. After all, aren't prisons supposed to be about reform? If they aren't, why do we keep pretending so?

I don't have a clear answer for what the correct policy ought to be--I hadn't considered the issue before--but a blanket ban against ever owning a firearm as a result of a felony conviction seems an over-reaction. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.


Kevin Starrett said...

And it's about to get worse. House Bill 2304 will forbid anyone with a felony conviction from ever getting their gun rights restored, something they can currently request in some circumstances. An House Bill 2336 "Prohibits in any case involving domestic violence, setting aside conviction or setting aside record of arrest when dismissal is result of diversion."

That means any minor incident with a family member get cost you your rights for life. 2336 is due for a hearing Jan. 31.

JR said...

In the Declaration of Independence our forefathers stated "...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

They also stated that the purpose of government is to " these rights".

If we have the unalienable right to Life, then we also have the unalienable right to protect that life. If we have the unalienable right to Liberty, then we have the unalienable right to protect that liberty.

If you truly believe that these are unalienable rights, then it stands to reason that a felon, who has served his time, has these same rights.

If a person can not be trusted to legally own a firearm, what the heck is that person doing mingling with society?

Zak J. said...

Good point, jr. And of course the law only applies to those who choose to follow it; that is, it only stops genuinely reformed people attempting to stay within the letter of the law from having a gun. Career criminals will ignore the law, and do.

Chuck Butcher said...

The usual approach is to go to the DA and ask to have the felony expunged, you need to be able to show them good reasons to do so, but it does happen. You sure better have been an upstanding citizen for this approach to work.