Society

Felons Deserve Their Second Amendment Rights

| by Nik Bonopartis
a person holding a handguna person holding a handgun

A bill proposed by a Missouri Republican would restore gun rights to non-violent felony offenders and give those convicted of violent crimes a path to legal gun ownership.

It isn't as crazy as it sounds.

With Democrats and Republicans finding common ground on the problem of mass incarceration, there's a wider trend toward ending draconian aspects of the criminal justice system. The efforts range from restoring voting rights to felons to doing away with mandatory sentencing laws that put convicts behind bars for life for petty crimes like retail theft.

In July 2015, Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado scored a symbolic victory when congress passed a bill he sponsored allowing non-violent offenders to regain their Second Amendment rights.

"America is a land of second chances," Buck said at the time, according to the Washington Examiner. "One mistake should not define your future."

Buck said he reconsidered his stance on felons owning guns when he heard from a constituent, a grandfather who had written a bad check in his early 20s and was convicted of a felony. The man wrote to Buck, saying he wanted to take his grandson hunting but couldn't because of a mistake he'd made decades ago.

The senate didn't approve the bill, but that doesn't mean lawmakers can't try again.

They'll have to for the Missouri bill -- and other state measures with similar goals -- to mean anything. Unlike laws stripping voting rights from felonies, which vary from state to state, federal law supercedes anything passed at the state level when it comes to who can and cannot purchase guns.

“Regardless of what legislation passes, I am still going to have to follow the federal laws as a federal dealer, so it won't change how I do things at all," gun store owner Zach Terhark told Missouri's KOLR.

Greene County, Missouri, Sheriff Jim Arnott also said he doesn't like the bill.

“That's just not a good idea, when you commit a crime, and you commit a felony, you lose that right," Arnott said. "You lose that right to vote, you lose that right to have a firearm, and I believe that's the way it should be."

If Arnott was concerned about the safety of his officers, then point taken. That's why future versions of the Missouri bill should do away with the provision that could allow violent felons to regain gun rights. Even if those felons have to convince a judge that they're trustworthy, that still puts the public at the mercy of one person's judgment.

But "I believe that's the way it should be" is not a valid reason to curtail freedoms. If someone had tried that reasoning with the Founding Fathers, they would have been laughed out of the legislative chambers.

There must be a solid, compelling argument for curtailing personal freedom -- an argument based in fact, not emotion. Most of the restrictions against felons --  like denying them the right to vote -- are holdovers from English common law that was brought to the colonies. Centuries later, they deserve a second look, and if they don't make sense, then it's time to repeal them.

We're talking about people convicted of non-violent crimes like gambling, forgery, cybercrime and theft. Unless the anti-gun element can prove those people are a physical danger to the American public, there's no justification for denying them rights all other Americans enjoy.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: KOLR, Washington Examiner, KQED / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (2)

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