The Anti-Gunners Strain The Quality of Mercy
January 20, 2003
by Joseph P. Tartaro
In his play The Merchant of Venice William Shakespeare dealt with the conflict between the letter of the law and high human motivation.
I thought of Portias famous quality of mercy speech during the plays trial scene recently in connection with the Supreme Courts recent ruling in the Bean case appeal.
In rejecting the appeal of the former Texas firearm dealer who had lost his right to ever again own firearms as well as the possibility of resuming his former livelihood, the high court might have been legally correct. At least I was assured that this was so by my old friend David I. Caplan, PhD, JD, the constitutional scholar and National Rifle Association board member.
Caplan phoned recently to discuss a couple of key cases that have been before the Supremes in recent years, and focused on the fact the court had made the right decision with regard to the ultimate authority for restoration of rights. He indicated that while the lower courts which had ruled to restore Beans rights might have been trying to correct a bad situation, they had been twisting the function of law by accepting for the courts an investigative duty which they were not staffed, funded or authorized to fulfill.
He pointed out that in granting the grace to restore the firearms rights of a prohibited person, Congress had clearly intended that the process would involve a thorough investigation of the applicant in question. He claimed that the courts, whether federal or state, are not equipped to conduct such investigations and would be overtaxed if they attempted to take on those duties.
Not being a lawyer, I would defer to Caplan on this point. However, we both agreed that the original intent of Congress to create a path where the evidence would justify a merciful restoration of rights after investigation of each applicants history by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) was just. It was the later 1992 Congressional decision, at the instigation of the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and other mean-spirited gun haters, to deny funds for such investigations that was unjust. And the continuation of that prohibition on funding has compounded the injustice.
Bean is not the only one who deserves access to the process for restoration of rights. In his case, the Mexican crime of which he was convicted is not a felony in the US, and because of his case, it no longer is considered so in Mexico. His circumstance, and that of thousands of other Americansguilty or innocent of the crimes that cost them their rightssuggest that the unforgiving, hard-hearted approach of the VPC and other anti-gunners runs contrary to the quality of mercy and justice.
By denying any possibility of rights restoration by a sneaky budgetary stratagem is characteristic of the nature of anti-gunners who, unable to deny everyone the right to guns and self-defense, are willing to apply an iron-fisted, one-size-fits-all prohibition on an increasing number of slices of the general public. Felons first, followed by various misdemeanants, then youthful offenders, domestic abusers, and people under restraining orders.
Dumping thousands of individual cases into one rigid, unforgiving mold is very much like the ancient times when debtors were forced to languish pointlessly in prison until they could pay their debts. Such inhumanity was legal, of course, which is why it is such a model for the anti-gunners. They deny the fact that the doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, even legislator that they trust today could have led an exemplary life after a youthful offense, or domestic flare-up, or even a felony.
Any attempt to restore funding to ATF for reinstate the restoration of rights process becomes in their spin a guns-for-felons program.
Here is a sampling from a VPC Dec. 11, 2002 news release issued after the Supreme Court ruling in the Bean case.
In an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the US Supreme Court today (Dec. 11) ruled unanimously in United States v. Thomas Lamar Bean that the federal relief from disability guns-for-felons program, which was operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) until Congress defunded it in 1992, cannot be revived by federal judges. The court also refused any comment on Beans claim that he had a Second Amendment right to get his guns back.
Congress defunded the National Rifle Association-backed program in 1992 following release of the Violence Policy Center (VPC) study Putting Guns Back Into Criminals Hands. The study revealed that millions of taxpayer dollars had been spent to rearm thousands of convicted, often violent, felonssome of whom went on to commit new crimes. Successful applicants included felons such as Jerome Sanford Brower, who in 1981 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport explosives in foreign commerce in furtherance of an international terrorist plot. Browers gun privileges were restored by ATF in 1985.
VPC Litigation Director Mathew Nosanchuk states, Todays Supreme Court decision is a resounding victory for public safety. The unanimous opinion decisively rebuffs claims by the NRA and other pro-gun advocates that felons should be able to use the federal courts to have their gun privileges restored.
The VPC had filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in support of the governments position in the Bean case
Notice that the VPC completely ignores the policy that anyone could have been unjustly convicted, or have completely turned their lives around. When it comes to guns, the VPC shows no mercy.
Meanwhile, many others grapple with the rights restoration problem.
A Jan. 1, 2003 story in The News Journal of Delaware deals with this very subject.
When Ralph T. Miles and some friends stole an electric guitar and a tank of laughing gas 25 years ago, they werent thinking about what could happen to their constitutional rights to own firearms or run for public office, The News Journal began.
There was this plan for a big concert, and we were all going to be famous rock stars, said the 43-year-old contractor from New Castle County. We were thinking bigger than reality.
It wasnt until earlier this year, when Miles was pardoned by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner for the crimes he committed as an 18-year-old, that the question of those civil rights came up. He assumed the pardon would restore the civil rights he lost with his conviction. Chief Deputy Attorney General Ferris Wharton said state prosecutors thought the same thing until questions arose in the 1990s.
We have always been operating under the assumption that (a pardon) restored the right to possess a firearm, Wharton said.
But Delaware State Police told Miles that if he were in possession of a gun, he would be in violation of federal gun laws forbidding felons from owning firearms.
No matter what lawmakers and officials in Delaware decide, the problem lies with ATF. That agency has ruled that Delaware pardons do not restore peoples Second Amendment right to bear arms. Only ATF can do that, but ATF is prohibited from spending money to conduct the necessary investigations.
Caplan is no doubt right about the process, but he also said the solution is a legislative one: Congress must restore the funds so that ATF can conduct the investigations and restore the rights of those prohibited persons who deserve to be treated like first class citizens again.
If Congress can display the quality of mercy and grant the grace for restoration of rights through the ATF, then it should have the intestinal fortitude to authorize the funds for that process, not just in one case, but for many others who have unjustly suffered the same harsh treatment.
And if they cant justify the money, they should at least allow affected individuals to pay the costs involved for any necessary investigation.
Now either of these solutions would demonstrate mercy and human compassion.
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