State Restoration Not Enough for Gun Rights

     (CN) – Tennessee’s restoration of a convicted felon’s civil rights does not restore his federal rights, including his right to own a firearm, a divided Sixth Circuit ruled.
     In 1987, Billy York Walker was convicted on non-violent felony charges, according to court records. He remains subject to the federal ban on the possession of firearms by a convicted felon even though a Tennessee state court restored his civil rights in 2010, including his right to vote, right to serve on a jury, and right to hold office.
     The state judge’s ruling said Walker “shall have the explicit right to bear and possess firearms.” But when he tried to buy a firearm at a Gander Mountain in Jackson, Tenn., he was prevented from doing so because his name is included in an FBI database as a person disqualified from owning a gun.
     Walked sued in Western Tennessee district court, claiming that his restoration of rights under Tennessee law should also apply to the federal government. But a 2-1 majority of the Sixth Circuit was not convinced.
     “Because Walker was convicted in federal court, the restoration of his rights under Tennessee law is not in itself enough,” Judge John Rogers wrote for a three-member panel on Tuesday.
     Walker’s right to vote and serve on a jury have been restored under federal law, but only via cross-reference to state law, not because a federal court ruled in his favor, the Cincinnati-based appeals court ruled.
     Rogers wrote that Walker’s right to vote under federal law is based on whether Tennessee allows him to vote.
     “There is no token of forgiveness for Walker in the federal law’s treatment of his right to vote,” the judge wrote. “That Walker regained the right to vote under federal law reflects no judgment in federal law regarding his conviction in particular or the voting rights of felons in general.”
     Walker’s right to vote, therefore, hinged entirely on the laws of Tennessee and therefore the federal government never deprived him of this right in the sense necessary for it to be restored. The Sixth Circuit noted that felons in Maine and Vermont never lose the right to vote, even while incarcerated.
     Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Beecham v. United States, “nothing…suggests that a state restoration of state civil rights would by virtues of those federal provisions result in a federal restoration of rights,” Tuesday’s ruling states.
     Rogers said a reading of the legislative history suggests Congress did not intend the law to offer non-rehabilitated felons restoration of their rights.
     “If § 921(a)(20) restored firearms rights to felons who had lost and regained civil rights without any consideration of their crimes by the convicting jurisdiction, then Congress’s failure to address this provision would be difficult to explain in light of Congress’s stated general intent to prevent felons from possessing firearms,” the judge wrote in the 14-page opinion.
     Judge Eric Clay dissented. He said he believed the “undisputed restoration” of Walker’s rights under Tennessee law should restore Walker’s federal rights as well.

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