Non-violent Felons CANNOT be Denied Their 2nd Amendment Rights
US Court of Appeals finds Denial of Gun Rights for Non-Violent Felons Unconstitutional
June 6, 2023 marks another major win for supporters of the Second Amendment as the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the U.S. government cannot constitutionally ban those convicted of non-violent felonies from possessing guns. The case, Range v. Attorney General United States of America; Regina Lombardo, comes as one of many recent decisions upholding the importance of the Second Amendment and the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The court found in an 11-4 decision relying heavily on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, which reframed how courts are required to analyze gun rights. You can learn more about the Bruen case here, but for now, the important thing to note is that the government is required to justify any restrictions on firearms rights under a historical analysis, looking to traditional laws and restrictions, particularly towards the founding of the nation. The Third District Court of Appeals determined that the United States improperly and unconstitutionally deprived the Plaintiff, Range, of his Second Amendment rights due to a prior non-violent conviction.
Facts of the Case
In 1995, Bryan Range plead guilty to welfare fraud in Pennsylvania, which is a misdemeanor in that state which can result in a sentence of over one year imprisonment. Under 18 U.S.C 922(g)(1), a person is disqualified from owning or possessing a firearm if they have ever been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. It is not relevant whether the person actually served any time in prison; only the maximum possible punishment is considered. Because of his 1995 conviction, Mr. Range was denied multiple firearms purchases, despite the non-violent nature of his offense.
The Court’s Holding
The Third District Court of Appeals has found that the United States unconstitutionally deprived Mr. Range of his Second Amendment Rights based on a violation of Pennsylvania’s welfare fraud law. The Court explains that its decision is a narrow one. However, its finding and reasoning can be applied to any person convicted of a non-violent crime. The court found that: “Range remains one of ‘the people’ protected by the Second Amendment, and his eligibility to lawfully purchase a rifle and a shotgun is protected by his right to keep and bear arms. Because the Government has not shown that our Republic has a longstanding history and tradition of depriving people like Range of their firearms, § 922(g)(1) cannot constitutionally strip him of his Second Amendment rights.” In their analysis, the Court found that no historical justification exists for depriving all people convicted of felonies or other crimes punishable by over 1 year imprisonment of their firearms rights. The majority in this case determined that no arguments from the Government established a tradition in the United States of disarming all convicted felons. The opinion especially suggests that non-violent criminals are protected under the Second Amendment, as even the earliest of the Government’s analogies to restrictions on firearm possession by criminals only applied to those convicted of violent crimes.
Effects of this Decision
It is important to note that the decision in this case is not binding throughout the entire United States. This finding by the United States Third District Court of Appeals is in direct conflict with decisions in other districts. Therefore, it is only binding within the Third District, for now at least. You can find a map of the District Courts of Appeal here. While many of you reading this article will not be impacted by this decision directly, this case does present the opportunity for the law to change throughout the country. Attorneys in other districts will certainly cite to this decision and make the same arguments, and under the new Bruen standard, they may succeed where previous plaintiffs failed. This issue may eventually reach the Supreme Court, where their ruling would impact the law throughout the nation. We will be sure to stay on top of this issue, so check in regularly to make sure you’re always up to date on the law and your constitutional rights.
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