Firearms Policy Coalition to challenge non-violent firearm disqualifiers

In 1991 anti-civil rights activist Josh Sugarmann made it his goal to completely scuttle the ability for individuals to get disqualifiers lifted from their records. Sugarmann did not like the idea that people could petition the Federal Government to have their gun rights restored if they were deemed no longer a threat to the public at large. The recidivist statistics around who fell back into the hands of the law were something like 3%, not a bad percentage. That number isn’t that bad, especially when comparing to 2022 America, where complete and totally violent criminals are constantly released on their own recognizance, and further not even prosecuted in many cases. Sugarmann created a problem where there was none, and saw that the program for disqualifier removal be defunded by pressuring Congress. The Firearms Policy Coalition just filed an en banc petition in a case dealing with a non-violent person having had their gun rights stripped. In the petition, they go after the specific law.

Philadelphia, PA (July 18, 2022) – Today, Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) announced the filing of an en banc petition in Williams v. Garland, which challenges the federal Gun Control Act’s lifetime ban on the exercise of Second Amendment rights due to a single misdemeanor conviction for a crime that did not involve violence, physical harm, or a firearm. The filing can be found at FPCLegal.org.

Following a 2005 trial, Edward Williams was convicted of driving under the influence, in violation of Pennsylvania law. Because he had a previous DUI non-conviction in 2001, that was later expunged, the 2005 conviction qualified as a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment. However, he was never imprisoned, and was instead placed under house arrest for 90 days, ordered to pay costs, a fine of $1,500, and to complete any recommended drug and alcohol treatment under the mandatory minimum sentence.

In May, the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of the Government, saying that the case “must meet the same fate” as a previous one due to circuit precedent. Because the decision came before the Supreme Court’s opinion in NYSRPA v. Bruen, today’s petition argues that “[r]ehearing en banc is appropriate because the panel opinion contradicts Bruen, which mandates a historical test based on dangerousness and thus forbids the disarmament of peaceable persons like Williams.”

And a rehearing is in order. Given Williams’s conviction for a non-violent offense, there’s no reason why he should be disbarred from firearm ownership. I am, and have been a firm believer that if someone has paid their debt to society, there should be a realistic and viable mechanism to reinvest people with all of their civil liberties, especially the right to keep and bear arms.

We are in a different time now, and who would or would not fall into the category of people disbarred from exercising their Second Amendment right needs to be revisited. The 1938 Federal Firearms Act is what brought about the concept of disbarring violent offenders from firearm ownership. It was not until April 6, 1961 when then Attorney General Bobby Kennedy petitioned to have the Federal Firearms Act changed, affecting non-violent offenders.

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Washington , D.C. , April 6 , 1961 

The VICE PRESIDENT
U.S. Senate , Washington , D.C. 

DEAR MR . VICE PRESIDENT:

The Department of Justice recommends the enactment of legislation to strengthen the Federal Firearms Act. 

The Federal Firearms Act ( 52 Stat. 1250; 15 U.S.C. 901 et seq.) prohibits the shipment of any firearms in interstate or foreign commerce to or by a person who is under indictment or has been convicted of certain specified crimes of violence such as murder, kidnaping, robbery, rape, mayhem, etc. It further prohibits a person who has been convicted of such a crime or is a fugitive from justice from receiving such firearms. The proposed legislation would amend these provisions to bring within their scope any person who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year. 

It is the view of the Department that this legislation would aid Federal law enforcement officers in their assault on organized crime. The Department of Justice therefore urges its early introduction and enactment.

The Bureau of the Budget has advised that there is no objection to the submission of this recommendation.

The Firearms Policy Coalition points to the history, text, and tradition of the Second Amendment. Kennedy’s urging for the law to be changed, which subsequent to him writing the Vice President and Congress it was, did not stop organized crime nor his own assassination. Regardless, the history dating back to 1961, 1938, or 1934 for that matter, wouldn’t necessarily be considered constitutionally sound when viewed through the proper lens.

“The Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that any firearm restriction must be consistent with the original understanding of the Second Amendment,” said FPCAF’s Director of Constitutional Studies, Joseph Greenlee. “At no point throughout American history, until just recently, would a peaceable person like Mr. Williams forfeit his right to keep and bear arms. We hope that the Third Circuit will use this opportunity to bring its test for Second Amendment challenges into line with Supreme Court precedent and American history.”

I’ve covered the topic of rights restoration quite a few times over the years, and this is an exciting big step in the right direction. Not only is this a step in the right direction, the en banc petition filed, if it’s successful, will cut out a vast pile of disqualified persons who would no longer be disqualified.

Should non-violent persons be disbarred from exercising a fundamental right? The answer to that is “no”. As for other persons who no longer have their Second Amendment right, that’s another story for another day, and a conversation I’m willing to have. While what I have to say might not appease the “shall not be infringed” crowd, I do believe the 1990’s defunding of the relief from disabilities provisions in our law need to be refunded. We’ll be watching this case closely, as the results will have a profound and resounding effect on people across the nation.