It’s been a while since the Supreme Court ruled on a gun rights case, but they intend to hear a new one in the coming months. The case is a tricky one, and it involves the rights of convicted felons. At issue is whether or not these felons, once released, should have the right to sell or transfer their firearms. To be sure, it’s a specialized appeal, but the ramifications could prove interesting.
The case is that of Tony Henderson, a former agent with the U.S. Border Patrol. In 2007, he was convicted of marijuana distribution before being sentenced to prison for six months. After being arrested, Henderson relinquished his 19 guns to the FBI. Because convicted federal felons cannot own firearms, Henderson asked to be allowed to sell the guns or transfer them to his wife. Two courts have thus far ruled against him.
The Bigger Issue
To be clear, this case will not address the important underlying issue, which is whether or not felons should be able to possess firearms. Henderson wished to sell the guns – currently in FBI possession – in a transaction that would not have seen the firearms returned to him for even a moment.
At the same time, perhaps that is the discussion we need to be having. There is no asterisk in the Constitution as far as I’m aware. It tells us that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Do I advocate giving a paroled murderer back his right to own a gun? Not particularly. But at the same time, we need to take a very close look at the foundation on which we’re building our laws.
Why is it only guns? Why can’t we strip away a released felon’s right to free speech? Why not take away his right to practice the religion of his choice? Because these would be nonsensical notions, quickly shot down by a sensible populace. But when it comes to guns, people lose their senses. What does a marijuana conviction have to do with gun ownership?
The reason for all of this fear is the astounding recidivism rates we see. Repeat offenders are the norm. This indicates what? A re-examination of the justice system, perhaps? Maybe there’s something we’re doing, or not doing, in our penal environment that’s contrary to our stated goals of rehabilitation?
Instead of stripping rights away from convicted felons, we should be looking at what we believe about said felons. If we believe they come out of prison only to present a danger to society, then why are we letting them out of prison? If we believe that a man may be welcomed back to the community after serving his time, then why are we withholding their right to self-defense?
There are no easy answers here, that much is for sure. But I firmly believe that once the gun debate turns to issues such as recidivism and mental illness, we will finally make great strides towards reducing firearm violence in the U.S. As long as we keep the focus on “guns are bad, ban them,” nothing will change.