Federal law expressly bans people convicted of felonies, or who have been the subject of a Dishonorable Discharge from the military, from owning, possessing, or seeking to gain possession of firearms. If they are found guilty of any of the listed offenses, then it is another felony.
It can get even worse, though. I have heard of cases where a convicted felon has been charged with possession even though they are simply living with someone who legally owns a firearm. I’ve never bothered to look up any specific cases, so take this assertion with a grain of salt, but it does point up the very real concern that exists when felons have access to guns.
This desire to keep weapons out of the hands of felons in many states extends to less lethal defense tools as well. Felons are often banned from possessing stun guns and defensive sprays. Eugene Volokh thinks this is something that needs to be changed.
“Yet felons need self-defense tools, too. They may need self-defense tools more than the average nonfelon does: Being a felon dramatically hurts your career prospects, which means you’ll likely have to live in a poorer and therefore on average more crime-ridden part of town. And the legal bar on felons’ possessing firearms makes stun guns even more valuable to them.”
Mr. Volokh goes on to point out that the ban certainly might make sense when it comes to violent felons, but what about those convicted of non-violent crimes? Does anyone really think that someone convicted of passing bad checks is going to go on a killing spree?
This is a good point, and I’m not particularly averse to easing the restrictions against less lethal weapons when it comes to non-violent criminals. I’m not in favor, mind you, but it just isn’t something I’d oppose because it doesn’t matter to me all that much. But, as Mr. Volokh freely admits in his post, it is a tricky thing to determine where the line should be drawn.
Although not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination, it seems to me that easing the restrictions on non-violent felons possessing less lethal weapons might just lead to a challenge on keeping them away from more violent ex-cons. Equal treatment under the law, and all that.
Keep in mind that no one in their right mind thinks that such restrictions actually bars felons from acquiring weapons if they want them. Instead it should be considered a valuable law enforcement tool, adding another charge against the criminal when they are caught at committing their next crime. This adds to the bargaining leverage of the prosecutor, mainly to put pressure on the perp to confess to the main crime and cut a deal as long as some of the lesser charges are dropped.
This might seem of small value to those not involved in law enforcement, but it cuts down on the time the criminal spends free on bail. Not to mention that it could lead to a conviction without a drawn out trial, which is a drain on the taxpayer if nothing else.
In that light, shouldn’t we keep the laws as they are? After all, non-violent felons are also prone to commit further felonies after they are released from prison. If being able to charge them with another crime is a valuable tool to streamline the trial/conviction process, wouldn’t it also be just as valuable when our hypothetical check kiter is caught once again?
This is true enough, except that I think someone who has not engaged in a criminal assault should have the means to resist such an assault on their own person. Less lethal weapons are much, much less effective than firearms, but they are certainly better than nothing.