RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 22, 2016)  A Virginia bill introduced this month would restore gun rights to people convicted of non-violent felonies without them having to ask permission from the state.  An indirect result of this legislation would be to deprive the state and feds of a political weapon against patriotic dissent.

Sponsored by House Delegate Gregory D. Habeeb (R-8), House Bill 1406 (HB1406) would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot the would allow non-violent felons who have had their other civil rights restored to also exercise their right to keep and bear arms without having to petition a court first. The proposal would amend Article II, Section 1 and Article V, Section 12 of the Constitution of Virginia , to state that their right to “possess, transport, or carry a firearm, ammunition for a firearm, or a stun weapon shall be restored automatically upon the restoration of such person’s civil rights.”

The bill was introduced on Sept. 16 and awaits a committee referral. If approved by both the state legislature and Virginian voters in the 2018 general election, the measure would take effect January 1, 2019.

To some gun rights advocates, the idea of giving felons access to firearms may seem too extreme. However, we need to keep in mind several things. One, even if this bill were approved, Virginia state law would still provide restrictions on access to guns. People with protective orders or restraining orders are some of the individuals who are currently not allowed to purchase or possess firearms and are not among those specified in the legislation. This proposal only involves people who have committed nonviolent crimes and who have had their other rights restored.

It is illogical and inconsistent to give citizens back some civil rights, but not others. Furthermore, felons can cause as much harm with a ballot as they might with a bullet. If they’re too dangerous to have a gun, then they can’t be trusted to elect appropriate government office holders.

But there is another reason to do this. It denies the government, state or federal, of a circuitously way to disarm ordinary Americans of their right to keep and bear arms as an act of political repercussion or as a threat-point to quell dissent.

It is not hard for a seemingly law-abiding individual to be convicted of a felony. There are so many laws on the books, it is impossible to keep track, and just as untenable to abide by them all. The Congressional Research Service cannot even keep track of all the federal laws.

According to Boston civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate, Americans commit an average of three felonies every single day. What’s more, they are totally unaware they are doing it. We can assume none of these violations are violent in nature.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we adhered to traditional English Common Law, which requires criminal intent for an act to be regarded as a crime. If that were the case, prosecution for these violations would never succeed. However, our current judicial system adheres very much to the principle of ignorantia legis neminem excusat – ignorance of law excuses no one.

Requiring Virginians convicted of non-violent felonies to petition a court in order to re-assume their right to keep and bear arms gives government a legal subterfuge to stalk regular citizens until they discover some law they have unwittingly broken, then prosecute them. Once they’re convicted and served their time, the court could then refuse to restore their gun rights. This possibility can stifle political activism by those fearful of retaliation in this manner.

It really does not matter how slim or unlikely this might occur. There is no reason to have the current requirement on the books. If a non-violent felon wants a gun, they can easily get one illegally. Having a law prohibiting this does not deter people who have just finished serving time for violating other laws.

TJ Martinell

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