Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. I carry a gun daily — as I’m writing this, I’ve got a Sig Sauer P238 in my pocket and a Springfield 1911 on my desk.
However, I also believe in responsible gun ownership and keeping guns out of “bad guys’” hands. Now, most people would probably agree that convicted felons are bad guys, right? So ask yourself this: Should a convicted felon be allowed to own a gun?
Before you answer, let’s take a look at what happened to Arizona state trooper Edward Andersson.
Last month, Andersson was ambushed while responding to an emergency call on Interstate 10, west of Phoenix. After setting up road flares, Andersson was shot in the shoulder with a 9 mm pistol by Leonard Pennelas-Escobar, who then charged the trooper and began slamming his head into the ground.
As the pair struggled, a passing motorist witnessed the attack and stopped to help. This good Samaritan removed his own 9 mm handgun from the center console and approached Andersson and Pennelas-Escobar, giving verbal commands for the suspect to stop beating the officer.
The suspect ignored him, so the Samaritan fired at least two shots, temporarily incapacitating Pennelas-Escobar. While the good Samaritan attempted to render aid to Andersson, the suspect attempted to assault the officer again. The good Samaritan fired one more shot, resulting in a fatal head wound. The trooper was then airlifted to a local hospital, where he spent the weekend recovering.
An Unlikely Hero
Now, here’s where the story gets really interesting. The good Samaritan was later identified as Thomas Yoxall, a convicted felon.
In 2000, Yoxall stole electronics from a group home where he worked, resulting in a charge of felony theft. Under federal law, a convicted felon is ineligible to own a firearm. This ban includes nonviolent felonies, with the exception of antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices.
That being said, felony charges can be expunged or reduced, which would result in certain civil rights being restored. So in 2003, Yoxall petitioned the court to restore his right to bear arms. In October of that year, a Superior Court judge vacated Yoxall’s guilty judgement, granting him the privilege of once again owning a gun.
It’s clear from the story above that a man’s life was saved because a convicted felon was given another opportunity to own a gun. Does that change your answer?
Statistically, 75% of felons are rearrested within five years of release, more than half within the first year. Obviously, these data don’t support the argument that criminals should be able to own firearms, but keep in mind that a large majority of criminals don’t obtain their firearms legally.
What if a person was convicted of a nonviolent felony years — perhaps decades — ago, served their time and has continued to be a productive member of society ever since? Should that person be automatically prohibited from owning a gun ever again?
On the other hand, if someone has been convicted of violating the law to the extent of obtaining a felony charge, should society trust them with a deadly weapon? Anti-gun groups would say absolutely not, because they want to keep guns away from as many people as possible. But many of the strongest Second Amendment supporters tend to agree with these groups that convicted felons, at least, should not be allowed to own firearms.
Personally, I think applicants ought to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis just as they are now. Because while we don’t want a convicted ax murderer buying a gun, a kid who made a stupid choice and stole some electronics 16 years ago should be able to earn a second chance.
There’s no easy answer, but it’s certainly worth the discussion. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and as always…