In the last few decades, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people convicted of felonies and denied various civil rights (including gun rights). That is a problem for society.
Millions of Americans who have served their time (or never served any time in jail or prison as they received probation) are prohibited from possessing firearms. This situation can be easily visualized on the second page of this study [PDF]. The majority of those individuals are not convicted of a crime that remotely suggests they are a danger to society if they are allowed to possess a gun.
I won’t rehash my previous arguments against a total ban on gun ownership for those convicted of felonies, as those arguments can be read here and here. Instead, my purpose here is to shed some light on how that situation adversely affects the law-abiding gun owners in America and our gun rights as a whole.
The Second Amendment is a constitutional right that is constantly under attack. Many of the people who so strongly opposed to gun ownership take that position out of ignorance and fear, which is a result of not having any experience with guns and gun ownership. Indeed, I myself did not support gun rights until I was in law school – and might never have even thought to learn about guns, then become a gun owner, then become a gun rights advocate had I not worked at a company where the owner was a firearms enthusiast. Growing up, I was not exposed to guns in a positive light, and so I was slightly anti-gun essentially by default. Thankfully, that changed.
Each time a person is barred from gun ownership by a minor criminal conviction, there is a ripple effect. That person will be prevented from owning guns themselves, and that may reduce or discourage gun ownership on the part of their significant other. That may in turn reduce their children or other relatives exposure to guns in a positive setting, creating an effect that ripples through generations of people. The net result can be a single felony conviction preventing dozens of people from being exposed to lawful gun ownership, who then buy the anti-gun messages in the media. When those dozens of people take to the poling place, we end up with anti-gun politicians who threaten the gun rights of all Americans.
Criminal justice reform is sorely needed in the US. We incarcerate more people than any other country in the word, despite our population being rather small in the grand scheme of things. For every person we as a country send to prison, many more are stripped of their civil rights (including gun ownership). That situation will not be sustainable in the long run.
To be sure, I am not suggesting that those convicted of violent crimes should be let off with a slap on the wrist and no affect upon their ability to lawfully own a gun. Serious crimes should be punished in a serious manner. However, a person who possessed a small amount of drugs when they were a teenager should not be forever barred from lawful gun ownership. Nor should a person who committed theft as a teenager. Indeed, such a ban only affects the people who were not going to misuse a gun in the first place, and does nothing to stop the violent criminals who ignore gun control laws.
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