Can a Convicted Felon Ever Possess a Firearm?
Federal law prohibits any person who has ever been “convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” to ever or for any reason “possess… any firearm or ammunition.” 18 U.S.C. 922(g) makes it a federal crime for any person who has ever been convicted of any felony to ever possess any firearm regardless if it is inside or outside of the home. This blanket federal ban on all felon gun possession is punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment.
There are exceptions to this rule in some instances. Federal law contains an explicit statutory exclusion which provides that the federal criminal offense of firearms possession is inapplicable to persons who has had their civil rights restored on the predicate state felony conviction. 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20) provides:
“What constitutes a conviction of such a crime shall be determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held. Any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter, unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly [or implicitly as a matter of state law] provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms.”
Whether a person has had his civil rights restored for a state conviction is a matter determined by state, not federal law. However, for federal law to recognize the state restoration of rights exception, the terms of the restoration must include the right to vote, the right to seek and hold public office, and the right to serve on a jury. If the restoring state includes the three aforementioned rights then federal law contains an additional clause that must be examined. This clause looks to the actual state law to see if there are any restrictions imposed on the right of the convicted felon to possess a weapon. If there is some added firearms restriction under state law, then the federal clause is triggered to make the possession of any firearms unlawful under federal law, despite the state’s restoration of civil rights.
Is there any other way to regain the right to own a gun? In theory, one can submit an application to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, (ATF) under 18 U.S.C. 925(c) requesting restoration of your gun rights. The application is supposedly granted if it is established . . . that the circumstances . . . and the applicant’s record and reputation, are such that the applicant will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety and that the granting of the relief would not be contrary to the public interest.