Petitioners should lose Wise County ‘gun fight’ case

Editorial Board • Nov 10, 2017 at 5:30 PM

Legal maneuverings aside, the basic issues in the “gun fight at the Wise County corral” are already settled. The case involves four felons who have petitioned Wise Circuit Court to restore their constitutional right to bear arms.

The primary issue is whether states can deny felons rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and the answer is found in the Fifth Amendment guarantee against being “deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That phrase has been interpreted as also guaranteeing that rights can indeed be deprived “with” due process of law.

The other issue is whether Gov. Terry McAuliffe violated the Virginia Constitution in restoring, en masse, the right of felons to go armed. The state’s highest court has ruled that he does not. End of that story.

The public interest is best served if the four defendants lose.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that Americans have an individual constitutional right to bear arms. They also have a right to own property, and a right to life and liberty. But once a convicted felon has served his sentence, should he be able to resume full civic life with such rights as voting, serving on juries and owning a gun restored?

In the 1960s, federal law was changed to allow felons who served their time to petition the federal government for restoration of their right to own guns. But what followed was a determination that many of them were returning to a life of crime, which prompted Congress in 1992 to end that federal program. But felons could continue to petition states to restore that right within state jurisdiction.

We take no issue with states restoring some rights lost through a felony conviction such as a right to vote. But not to own weapons.

A U.S. Department of Justice study confirmed what most would expect — that of more than 400,000 felons released in 30 states, 75 percent were again arrested within five years, and of those, more than a quarter involved violent crime.

That’s sufficient to warrant a permanent loss of one’s right to own a weapon upon a felony conviction. In overturning Gov. McAuliffe’s unfortunate blanket restoration of those rights, the state’s highest court very likely saved lives.

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