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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Arms Dealer Can’t Fight Felon-in-Possession Ban

(CN) - A repeated offender of gun laws who characterizes himself as a nonviolent felon cannot challenge the federal felon-in-possession ban, the 4th Circuit ruled.

Gregory Pruess once operated a military museum, collected weapons and other military memorabilia, and was a licensed firearms dealer.

He pleaded guilty in 1994 to one felony count after he was charged with owning and transferring three grenades and a mortar round with "obliterated identification and lot numbers."

After serving his year-long sentence, Pruess returned to the arms trade, selling UZI submachine gun barrels, grenades and other military-style weapons, some of which were stolen.

Authorities arrested him after an undercover sting, and he pleaded guilty that time to 18 counts. While awaiting sentencing, he was caught again ordering a pistol over the Internet, using an altered firearms license.

When he concluded his next stint in prison some years later, Pruess was again caught buying likely stolen ammunition, grenades and parachute flares.

This time he pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition as a convicted felon, though he insisted that the felon-in-possession prohibition violated his rights under the Second and Fifth Amendments. He also claimed that he bought the ammunition so that others could test a device he had designed to attach of night-vision scopes to rifles and other weapons.

When the District Court upheld the constitutionality of the conviction, Pruess appealed 4th Circuit.

A three-judge panel affirmed last week, finding that Pruess failed to "rebut the presumption of lawfulness of the felon-in-possession prohibition as applied to him."

In its 2008 resolution of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment confers a right to keep and bear arms "typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes," according to the ruling.

In this respect, Pruess does not make the cut, the 4th Circuit found.

"Pruess' repeated violations of the firearms laws, leading to at least twenty prior convictions, make clear he is hardly 'law-abiding' and 'responsible,'" Judge Diana Motz wrote for the court. "Indeed, even if Pruess did not intend to use them for violence himself, he acknowledged that he believed that weapons and ammunition underlying his convictions were stolen."

"Moreover, Pruess' vast collection of weapons and explosives with clearly military purposes - including the belted ammunition appropriate for use in machine guns at issue in this case - demonstrates that the firearms and ammunition cannot be intended, in any substantial part, for 'defense of hearth and home,' Motz added. "Tellingly, although Pruess asserts that the belted ammunition, when detached from the belt, is standard ammunition 'sold at Wal-Mart,' he does not assert that his purpose in acquiring the ammunition was self-defense. Rather, he claims he intended to use the ammunition to test the night-vision scope-attachment device he had designed. Yet Pruess cites no post-Heller precedent to support his dubious contention that the Second Amendment protects this purpose, either because it (like hunting) provides him financial support, or because it purportedly supports the military. Accordingly, Pruess' "proffered reason for possessing" the ammunition at issue 'is far too vague and unsubstantiated to remove his case from the typical felon in possession case.'" (Emphasis and parentheses in original.)

The court also rejected Pruess' challenge to the ban under the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment.

"There is a plainly rational relation between the felon-in-possession prohibition as applied to a collector of dangerous, often stolen weapons and explosives who has repeatedly and flagrantly ignored the laws of the United States, like Pruess, and the legitimate government interest in public safety," Motz wrote.

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