In addition to spending time in prison, people convicted of felonies lose some rights for life, including the right to vote and to own a gun. However the latter is no longer the case.
A long report in The New York Times on Monday said that many ex-cons are getting their gun rights back -- and it isn't even that difficult, writing:
Under federal law, people with felony convictions forfeit their right to bear arms. Yet every year, thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review. In several states, they include people convicted of violent crimes, including first-degree murder and manslaughter, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 gave the gun ownership question back to individual states and now at least 11 states automatically restore gun rights to non-violent felons if they stay out of trouble for a certain period of time.
While gun activists applaud this (the NRA backed the 1986 legislation), there are problems. The Times reports on what happened in Washington state:
Since 1995, more than 3,300 felons and people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors have regained their gun rights in the state—430 in 2010 alone—according to the analysis of data provided by the state police and the court system. Of that number, more than 400—about 13 percent—have subsequently committed new crimes, the analysis found. More than 200 committed felonies, including murder, assault in the first and second degree, child rape and drive-by shooting.
It appears to be smart to keep felons from getting guns. The Times said a 1999 report published in the American Journal of Public Health found that prohibiting felons from buying guns cut their risk of committing new gun or violent crimes by 20% to 30%.