Tags: Felons | Want | Second | Amendment | Rights | Restored

Felons Want Second Amendment Rights Restored

Thursday, 24 January 2002 12:00 AM

Under Title 18 Section 925(c), federally-convicted felons "may make application to the Secretary [of the Treasury] for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws with respect to the acquisition, receipt, transfer, shipment, transportation, or possession of firearms."

The law details that relief is to be granted only if "the applicant's record and reputation, are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest."

Until 1992, the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) operated the federal "Relief from Disability" program, reviewing those applications. But Congress inserted language in the annual ATF appropriations bill denying the agency the use of any federal funds to operate the program.

As a result, many of the individuals, who are now being denied reviews by ATF, have turned their attention on the courts, utilizing another part of Title 18 Section 925(c) of the U.S. Code.

"Any person whose application for relief from disabilities is denied by [ATF] may file a petition with the United States district court for the district in which he resides for a judicial review of such denial," according to the original law. "The court may in its discretion admit additional evidence where failure to do so would result in a miscarriage of justice."

Applicants argued that, because ATF was no longer conducting the legally required reviews of their applications, the secretary of the treasury had, by default, denied their applications, making them eligible for judicial review.

Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case regarding whether that judicial review is legal.

Thomas Lamar Bean, a federally-licensed firearms dealer, was arrested by Mexican border police in 1998 after crossing into Mexico with one case of approximately 200 shotgun shells in his vehicle.

Bean and three associates had attended a gun show in Laredo, Texas, earlier in the day and, according to court records, the group decided to go into Mexico for dinner that night. Testimony by Bean's companions indicated that he had instructed them to remove all firearms and ammunition from the vehicle before departing, but the shotgun shells were overlooked.

Bean was found guilty of "unlawfully importing ammunition" under Mexican law, a felony at the time. Publicity about Bean's case has resulted in the classification of such actions being reduced to a misdemeanor.

When he was returned to the U.S. six months later, and after spending a month in a U.S. facility, Bean applied to ATF under the "Relief from Disability" program to have his Second Amendment rights restored.

In granting Bean's petition for relief, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the case "an almost incredible plight," and found that Bean had been imprisoned in Mexico and deprived of his Second Amendment rights as a U.S. citizen for what was "at most, a simple oversight."

But, according to Violence Policy Center (VPC), no convicted felon should ever be eligible to have his Second Amendment rights restored, regardless of the circumstances.

"It was and still remains the clear, unequivocal intent of Congress that the 'guns-for-felons' program cease operation altogether," according to VPC legislative director Kristen Rand.

VPC worked with anti-Second Amendment members of Congress in 1992 to end the program through the appropriations process after attempts to repeal the "Relief from Disability" provision failed. A VPC press release called the 5th Circuit Court's ruling "controversial."

But John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, says Bean's case is a perfect example of why the judicial review was included in the original law.

"All felons are not equal," he said. "This is a person who was convicted in the court of a foreign country for a felony that would not have been a felony in the United States."

In fact, law enforcement officials, state legislators and even ATF agents testified as to Bean's "lawful character" at his trial. Velleco says Second Amendment opponents have succumbed to the myth that "guns are bad" and that citizens who want guns are "bad by association."

"It's not 'felons' that we should be concerned about getting hold of guns. It's violent criminals," he said. "If someone is a convicted felon because they wrote bad checks or got in trouble with the IRS, which is pretty easy to do, they shouldn't be deprived of their right to defend themselves."

Velleco also points out what he sees as the irony of the efforts to end judicial review of the relief from disability applications, supposedly to keep violent felons from getting guns.

"If violent criminals want to get a gun, they're going to get a gun," he said. "The strongest evidence to support the people using this appeals process is that they're going through the system to get their rights restored legally."

No date has been set for the Supreme Court to hear arguments in the Bean case.

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Under Title 18 Section 925(c), federally-convicted felons may make application to the Secretary [of the Treasury] for relief from the disabilities imposed by Federal laws with respect to the acquisition, receipt, transfer, shipment, transportation, or possession of...
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Thursday, 24 January 2002 12:00 AM
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