Felons Are Keeping Guns That Should Be Taken Away From Them

Gun laws requiring guns to be taken away from convicted felons are either being ignored or have too many loopholes. We need to fix that.

As I noted last week, the shooter in the workplace shooting that led to the death of five people should not have been able to keep his gun due to a felony conviction should have resulted in his guns being seized. As it turns out, this is not an uncommon issue:

The workplace shooting in a Chicago suburb last week that left five people dead exposed the failings of the system designed to keep guns away from convicted felons and others deemed too dangerous to handle firearms.

Federal law bars gun ownership by felons, fugitives, drug abusers, people adjudicated to be mentally ill, those dishonorably discharged from the military or living in the country illegally, and by convicted domestic abusers or others subject to domestic violence restraining orders. But experts say the number of people who are barred from owning guns but have them anyway may reach into the millions.

Still, only eight states have laws that provide an explicit mechanism so that people suspected of having guns in violation of those prohibitions are actually required to give them up. And some of those states merely allow — but do not require — the police to seek a court order to confiscate such guns.

That was the case in Illinois, where the authorities knew for more than four years that Gary Martin was a violent felon but apparently did nothing to ensure that he surrendered the laser-sighted Smith & Wesson handgun that he used to kill five co-workers in Aurora, Ill., on Friday.

The authorities say they are investigating how Mr. Martin slipped through the cracks of the Illinois law, which the police might have been able to use to confiscate his handgun years ago. And the Illinois State Police said they were reviewing why an initial background check failed to turn up a criminal conviction that should have blocked him from buying the gun to begin with.

(…)

The authorities say they are investigating how Mr. Martin slipped through the cracks of the Illinois law, which the police might have been able to use to confiscate his handgun years ago. And the Illinois State Police said they were reviewing why an initial background check failed to turn up a criminal conviction that should have blocked him from buying the gun to begin with.

“That’s a challenging situation for law enforcement to knock on a door and say, ‘Hey, we’re here to take your guns, Mr. Dangerous Criminal,'” said Adam Skaggs, chief counsel of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates tighter gun laws.

Only a single state — California — has a database dedicated to tracking firearm owners who have lost their right to possess a gun, either because of a new criminal conviction or something else. The program, which was created in 2001 and went online five years later, was sponsored by the Republican leader in the State Senate and was approved with strong bipartisan support.

Agents from the California Department of Justice work with local law enforcement officials to surveil and disarm people in the database believed to illegally own firearms.

“They’re like little SWAT teams,” said Mark Leno, a former California state senator who sponsored a $24 million special appropriation in 2013 to hire 36 more state agents and reduce a backlog of suspected illegal gun owners.

“It is very labor intensive to do this right, and there is always the risk that someone, especially if they are suffering from a serious mental illness, could become very frightened and might act out,” said Mr. Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco.

The California mentioned above has proven to be rather successful in the time that it has been successful. Over the past five years, for example, the Golden State has managed to cut the number of people in the database the backlog of ineligible felons still in possession of weapons, from around 20,000 to around 10,000. In 2017 alone, the program managed to seize nearly 4,000 guns that were in the hands of people who should not have guns due to their criminal records. The problem is that California’s system remains a rarity across the country. Right now, only two other states, Colorado and Nevada have laws that expressly require felons to prove to courts or law enforcement that they have turned over any weapons they own after conviction. Five other states, Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania have statutes that cover this area but they are not nearly as stringent, something we’ve seen from Illinois in particular both in the case last week and in the case of a shooting in Kentucky last year where the shooter had his guns returned erroneously after having been convicted of a felony in Illinois. In the case of Illinois, there were efforts to change the law to make gun seizure mandatory upon conviction but objections due to lack of money and manpower from law enforcement caused the proposal to become stalled in the state legislature. In addition to these states, some other states require people convicted of charges such as domestic abuse, or who are subject to restraining orders, to give up their weapons or have laws that give Judges discretion to take weapons from those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, As a matter of course, though, most of these laws are discretionary rather than mandatory and they often end up being ignored,

As with something like universal background checks, it seems axiomatic to say that this is an area of gun control law that ought to have near universa support. There is no justification for someone who has been convicted of a violent felony or charge of something such as domestic abuse, who are subject to a restraining order, or who are subject to a restraining order to be able to keep their weapons. At the very least, it seems as if those states where there are already such laws on the books should be on top of actually making sure that they are enforced, something that is specially true given that many such states are heavily Democratic states where public support for gun control is far higher than it is in other states. Granted, the fact is that very few of the mass shootings that we have seen over the past decade or more were committed by people who should not have had weapons but there are enough of them — such as the Sandy Springs, Texas case, the Knoxville Waffle House shooting last April, the shooting at an African-American church in South Carolina, and, of course last Friday’s shooting — that the fact that these events potentially could have been prevented if the law were properly enforced and followed or if the loopholes in the law had been closed is both outrageous and a tragedy.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    Oh, I’m sure the gun nuts will find reasons for an abuser to hold on to his pistol, even though he’s been convicted of domestic abuse, has a restraining order against him, and has a history of issuing threats….

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  2. Roy Marshall says:

    I’m a very strong 2nd amendment supporter but I think that taking guns away from people convicted of a gun-owning prohibited crime should be done as soon as the conviction is handed down.

  3. alanstorm says:

    But experts say the number of people who are barred from owning guns but have them anyway may reach into the millions.

    IOW, Current laws are not working because they’re not being enforced. But according to the hoplophobes, what we need are…MORE LAWS!

    Sorry, kids, it isn’t gun owners that are singing loony tunes here.

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  4. An Interested Party says:

    Current laws are not working because they’re not being enforced.

    And why is that? Perhaps many of those people who are supposed to carry out those laws believe them to be illegitimate and, I as a result, are lax in their duties…

  5. Mister Bluster says:

    …Sorry, kids, it isn’t gun owners that are singing loony tunes here.

    Don’t be so condescending Zippy.

    The NRA CAN NOT restrict the 1st Amendment rights of American Citizens as much as they would like to.
    What is the NRA going to do to doctors who speak out about gun violence? Shoot them?

    After NRA Mocks Doctors, Physicians Reply: ‘This Is Our Lane’

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  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @alanstorm:
    The murder lobby – the NRA and the GOP – regularly make enforcement impossible. They make research impossible. They fight efforts to make safer guns. They fight any attempt to create a national database. They fight efforts to trace guns or ammo. IOW they deliberately undercut efforts at enforcement then point to failures of enforcement they’ve caused and say, “See? Laws don’t work.”

    You know, the same kind of dishonest bullshit you just pulled. Lies, lies and more lies, all in the service of gun manufacturer profits. Dead kids = cha ching!

    So, why don’t you take one of your guns and blow it out your ass?

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  7. Teve says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I recall a story a few years ago about how there were certain federal forms that the government kept when it came to firearms that had to be searched through when investigating crimes, and the NRA and its allies had gotten Congress to make it illegal to computerize that information to make the searches harder.

  8. Matt says:

    In the past gun control related articles I have called for actual enforcement of current laws before piling more unenforced laws on. This is why….

    @Teve: Oh I would love to know what forms you’re talking about.

    @An Interested Party: I dunno man I know that there’s a huge slew of laws that aren’t being enforced in general. If all laws were fully enforced every single one of us would be felons. I suggest it’s more of a systemic problem.

    CUE Micheal and the others calling me a gun nut again…

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  9. Teve says:

    How the NRA Hobbled the ATF

    Rules pushed by the gun lobby and its allies in Congress have left the agency unable to enforce the law.
    ALAN BERLOW
    FEBRUARY 11, 2013 11:02 AM

    the NRA is a scam to make gun manufacturers money, and its supporters are conspiracy loons and rubes. I just hope congressional committees find solid evidence of the money laundering they’ve been doing for Russia.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    Friend who has turned into a gun nut was just ranting about the gaggle of Republican politicians who are now calling for a gun registry, calling them “anti-Constitutional.” I pointed out that just because it was a regulation he didn’t like did not make said registry un-Constitutional and quoted Heller.

    …what is it about these people who label everything they don’t like as “anti-Constitutional”? Quite often right in the face of SCOTUS decisions that say yeah, sure, go ahead, do that. It’s as if there is a Platonic ideal of the Constitution in their minds and they measure everything against that, rather than reality, a.k.a. decisions by SCOTUS. Makes me want to slap them.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    what is it about these people who label everything they don’t like as “anti-Constitutional”?

    You really need to ask that?

  12. gVOR08 says:
  13. Gustopher says:

    There is no justification for someone who has been convicted of a violent felony or charge of something such as domestic abuse, who are subject to a restraining order, or who are subject to a restraining order to be able to keep their weapons.

    I think we would want to look closely at the requirements to get a restraining order against someone, before denying them their constitutional rights.

    I want to take away their guns, but restraining orders are granted with a lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

    That said, it’s not a hill I would die on — taking their weapons unfairly is less worse than civil forfeiture, etc. Ensuring someone accused of stalking or abuse has their 2nd Amendment Rights scrupulously guarded is just not high on my list of priorities.

  14. Tyrell says:

    How can they get these guns from convicted felons? I don’t think that they’re going to walk in the police station and turn them in.
    What if they gave it away or hid it somewhere?

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tyrell: “And once again, Freddy, you have inadvertently stumbled upon the truth.”

  16. Franklin says:

    There’s no way to prove it, but I strongly suspect that ten thousand felons with fewer weapons available has saved lives. If California can do it, so can every other state.

  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Meanwhile the company who brought you the AK-47 is now unveiling a suicide drone…which will allow you to hit a target with a bomb with amazing accuracy.
    Which is just perfect for hunting rabbits or deer….I mean, what else would you use it for?
    Well trained militia, indeed.
    https://www.pressherald.com/2019/02/23/ak-47-manufacturer-unveils-new-product-the-suicide-drone/

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I’m considering what’s happened to my friend proof of the theory that self-pity will trash your brain cells. He USED to be intelligent–now everything is seen through the lens of “everyone’s out to get me, a middle-aged white male, boo hoo….” followed up by a diatribe of How Everything In The U.S. Is Going Downhill.

    There’s a reason I’ve stopped talking to him.

  19. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Research in Brazil constantly show that contraband from Miami is the main supplier of firearms to the criminal gangs. It’s very difficult to separate legal firearms from illegal firearms, specially because there is no control or registry in the US. The least that you’d expect would be for a special registry to trace firearms and then take away every single firearm in possession of felons.

  20. Mister Bluster says:

    @grumpy realist:..Going Downhill…

    When anyone starts bloviating about that I tell them that the United States has been going to hell in a hand basket since June 14, 1954.
    The day the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.