In Georgia, as in most other states, convicted felons cannot possess firearms. On its face, this seems like responsible public policy.
However, this broadly written law only partly addresses the logic for its passage; convicted felons are dangerous criminals prone to violence.
For the most part, this is true. Many convicted felons have committed serious violent offenses in Georgia. People convicted of crimes like armed robbery and malice murder are simply not suited for gun ownership for obvious reasons.
Additionally, gun violence is a serious problem. This is particularly true with the rise in gang activity in the west Georgia area.
However, laws should be written with a purpose that does not violate our embedded natural rights. Gun ownership is one of these natural rights codified in the 2nd Amendment.
One of our local judges recently explained in open court the reasoning behind Georgia’s Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon criminal law. To paraphrase, he said that in order to protect the community from violence, this law is intended to deter people with a history of violence from possessing guns. This judge hit the mark.
But should convicted non-violent felons be allowed to own a gun?
This question has found itself on the national stage and will likely be an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Last year, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, called for the restoration of voting rights for some non-violent felons. This idea has caught on with both parties. However, voting rights legislation will never succeed without some of these folks getting back their right to own guns as well.
The right to own a firearm is not like the privilege to possess a driver’s license. It is, like the right to vote, is a fundamental civil right.
People convicted of non-violent felonies should not have a Constitutional right removed just because of the stigma associated with a felony conviction.
There are thousands of examples of people who have been convicted of forgery, theft, and many other non-violent offenses. The vast majority of those cases did not even involve a gun.
While these are criminal acts and should not be tolerated, the offender does not put our community at risk by keeping a handgun at home for personal protection.
Why should an 18 year old man, who was caught with more than 1 ounce of marijuana, not be able to take a future child deer hunting, purchase a shotgun for sport shooting, or receive his father’s gun collection in a will?
How does taking away their 2nd Amendment right make society safer? It doesn’t.
As this idea of decriminalizing gun ownership for some felons gains further support, the question then becomes who qualifies and who does not.
A simple idea would be for the General Assembly to pass a statute that just lists the offenses in Georgia that are considered “non-violent.”
This probably should be a short list.
However, our Founding Fathers would be proud of us for conforming our laws to the very document that so much blood has been given; the United States Constitution.