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Legislature Should Amend the Felony Firearms Act to Protect the Right to Bear Arms

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The North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that the state’s Felony Firearms Act was unconstitutional as applied to an ex-felon. The law places severe restrictions on the right to bear arms for ex-felons.

I wrote about the Felony Firearms Act and a North Carolina Supreme Court case called Britt v. North Carolina a couple of years ago. In that case, the Court held that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to an ex-felon (Britt) who had been convicted of a non-violent felony, had committed no crimes for the entire 30 years following his conviction, and even had owned guns for 17 years post-conviction.

The Court examined several factors in determining that Britt’s rights were violated, including the type of felony conviction and the history of "good behavior" since the crime. The question was whether the restrictions were reasonable regulations "fairly related to the preservation of public peace and safety." The Court found that the statute was unreasonable as applied to Britt.

In 2010, the legislature addressed the Britt case but did so inadequately. Instead of properly addressing the flaws in the law and ensuring that there wouldn’t be a constant stream of ex-felons challenging the law, it did as little as possible with the hope that severe restrictions could remain in place even for nonviolent ex-felons.

It should be noted that prior to 1995, there generally was no prohibition on nonviolent ex-felons possessing firearms. In 2004, the legislature passed a complete and permanent ban on firearm possession by all ex-felons, including nonviolent ex-felons.

The facts in the most recent case, Baysden v. State (pdf), are very similar to the Britt case. There are some differences, however. Baysden had been convicted of two crimes, not one. One of the crimes was considered a "violent" crime by the legislature. Nevertheless, the Court wasn’t influenced by the "violent" label because the actual crime was obviously not a violent crime.

Baysden’s "violent" crime was possession of a sawed-off shotgun, which, by the way, was "rusted up and inoperable."

In some ways, restrictions imposed on Baysden were even more unreasonable than on Britt. Baysden had worked for the United States Department of Defense from 1981 to 2007 maintaining aircraft for the Navy. He passed a DoD background check and was "decorated for exemplary service during a tour of duty in Iraq."

The Court of Appeals held, in a 2-1 decision, that the Felony Firearms Act was unconstitutional as applied to Baysden.

In response to Britt, the legislature in 2010 made minor changes to the blanket prohibition such as changing the law to allow gun possession by someone who committed one nonviolent felony, but not two. As we can see in the Baysden case, this change was completely inadequate for properly addressing whether a nonviolent ex-felon should own a gun.

There are probably narrow ways for the legislature to address the unreasonable regulations contained within the Felony Firearms Act. As I have argued, however, there’s no basis for prohibiting nonviolent ex-felons from owning guns. The entire prohibition should be lifted. As for violent ex-felons, there should be reasonable regulations, but not a complete and permanent ban.

Supreme Court to Hear Obamacare Case

The United States Supreme Court, as expected, has decided to hear the challenges to Obamacare.

Oral arguments will be in March with the opinion released no later than June 2012.

Click here for the Rights & Regulation Update archive.

 

Daren Bakst is Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation. In this position, Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.  He has done extensive work on the farm bill… ...

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