Federal “Felon-in-Possession” Law Violates Second Amendment
On June 6, 2023, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the current federal “felon in possession” law (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)) violated a Pennsylvania man’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms because he remains among “the people” protected by the Second Amendment despite his previous conviction. Bryan Range, the man who brought the suit against the federal government, was convicted of a misdemeanor in 1995 for making false statements in order to acquire food stamps which was punishable up to 5 years imprisonment, to which he was sentenced to 3 years’ probation. When Mr. Range attempted to purchase a firearm years later, he failed a background check due to his conviction because current federal law makes it “unlawful for any person…who has been convicted in any court, of a crime punishable for a term exceeding one year” to “possess…any firearm or ammunition.” Although his suit was initially dismissed in 2021, the United States Supreme Court ruled last June in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that any gun restrictions on gun ownership had to be consistent with the nation’s historical traditions of gun regulation. Given the higher burden set by that case, the Third Circuit ruled 11-4 that the government could not show that there was a tradition of disarming non-violent criminals of guns at the time of the Second Amendment’s passing and thus Mr. Range could not be stripped of his right to gun ownership given his criminal history.
Stage Set for Supreme Court and Further Challenges to Gun Restrictions
The United States government will undoubtedly appeal (or file what is referred to as a petition for writ of certiorari) to the Supreme Court of the United States, which will have to decide if it should accept the petition and weigh in on the Third Circuit’s ruling. Given the potential ramifications of uneven application of the law across different federal districts and circuit courts, it seems likely it will hear the appeal. Gun right advocates will also likely use this precedent to further initiate lawsuits against government regulation of gun ownership in the interim. Observers will be paying close attention to the case as it has far reaching consequences for the future and potentially restoring gun rights to many people in the United States currently denied access, possession, and ownership based on their criminal record. It also has the potential to limit many potential criminal prosecutions.