In Louisiana, if you have committed felonies â€“ murder, rape, manslaughter, armed robbery â€“ you still have the right to own a gun. Crazy, right? But federal law forbids that, doesnâ€™t it? Blame the 10th Amendment: if a state decides to restore that particular right, they can. Even if that state is number 2 in the number of murders by gunshot.
It was New Orleans judge Darryl Derbigny who ruled last week that the stateâ€™s newly amended constitution trumps the federal law. The amendment in question was passed last November by an overwhelming margin (talk about shortsighted!) and was backed byâ€¦.. yep, the NRA. The amendment made gun ownership a right on par with freedom of speech and religion.
Yes, thatâ€™s right: the freedom to own a gun is more important than any ownerâ€™s past record of crime. Think about that for a moment. Someone who murdered another human being has a right to own a gun in Louisiana. The felonâ€™s rights usurp the right of the rest of the people in Louisiana to be safe.
This isnâ€™t just a nebulous or theoretical kind of thing, either. The ruling came in a case that Judge Derbigny was hearing. A 20-year-old man who had plead guilty to burglary was later charged for having weapons in his car: a 40-caliber Smith & Wesson and an AK-47. He also had a 30-round magazine. But Judge Derbigny apparently thought that the man was perfectly within his rights to have such an aresenal, small as it was. Nevermind that it was also quite capable of doing a disproportionate amount of damage. The Judge threw the case out.
New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro promises to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Mr. Cannizzaro had been one of the voices weighing in against the gun rights amendment that passed last year, saying:
â€śUltimately, I believe that this amendment represents an effort by some to transform Louisiana into an unrestricted concealed carry state,â€ť he wrote last November. â€śThat is a state in which any individual is legally entitled to carry a concealed weapon without a permit or criminal background check, and without regard to criminal history.â€ť
But even though federal law prohibits the sale of guns to convicted felons, thousands get that right restored every year. If the states decide that gun rights are more important than public safety, there is nothing that the federal government can do about it. In at least 11 states, criminals â€“ people who killed, raped or committed other violent crimes â€“ can get their right to own a gun back either automatically upon release or by petition. In the latter case, the guidelines given to judges are â€śâ€¦ generally vague, the process often perfunctory.â€ť
In my state of Washington, we have the Hard Times for Armed Crimes Act which was passed in the mid-1990s. The law targets people who commit crimes with guns, felons who illegally carry guns, and people who steal guns. Sounds good, BUTâ€¦ judges have no discretion to deny felons gun rights upon release. They cannot consider mental health, what crime they had committed, whether they had stalked the victim, their character, etc. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesnâ€™t it? According to a study by the New York Times, over 3,300 felons regained their gun rights in Washington.
â€śOf that number, more than 400â€”about 13 percentâ€”have subsequently committed new crimes, the analysis found. More than 200 committed felonies, including murder, assault in the first and second degree, child rape and drive-by shooting.â€ť
So, if felons can have gun rights restored, they should be able to have voting rights restored, too. Itâ€™s only fair. But no, and in fact Republican lawmakers in several states are actively trying to curtail voting rights, as we have reported many times. Yet they have proposed bills in Colorado and Oklahoma similar to the Louisiana amendment, though the Oklahoma bill was withdrawn when the state GOP figured out that â€śnon-violentâ€ť felons included drug traffickers and child pornographers. Not that those are desirable but come on, murderers are okay to give guns to while a guy who served time for a dime bag of pot is a bigger threat? That is some wild pretzel logic, there.
What kind of craziness dwells in the minds of those who think that it is fine â€“ nay, good â€“ to allow people who have been convicted of violence against others to own a gun? Itâ€™s insanity. Sheer insanity.