Terminate Federal Guns-for-Felons
Program, Violence Policy Center Tells U.S. Supreme Court
VPC Research Led
to End of Funding For Program That Armed Terrorist, Murderer, Rapists,
And Child Molesters
a friend-of-the-court brief filed last night in the U.S. Supreme Court,
the Violence Policy Center (VPC) urged the Justices to respect Congress'
decision to end�once and for all�a federal program that allowed convicted
felons to own guns. In January 2002, the Court agreed to hear the case
of Thomas Lamar Bean, a Texas gun show promoter who lost his ability to
possess firearms after a conviction for illegally transporting ammunition
into Mexico. Since 1992, Congress has barred funding for the federal "relief
from disability" guns-for-felons program, the only federal mechanism authorized
by Congress to restore gun privileges to convicted felons. As a result,
convicted felons have attempted to use the federal courts to circumvent
the funding ban. Despite Congress' desire to shut down the program, Mr.
Bean convinced a federal judge to restore his firearm privileges.
research led to the congressional funding prohibition in 1992. The VPC
investigated some of the criminals whose firearm privileges were restored
by the "relief from disability" program. Based on 100 case files obtained
under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the federal agency charged with administering
the program, a VPC study,
Putting Guns Back Into Criminals' Hands, found that 41 percent
of the crimes sampled involved: crimes of violence (16 percent), drug
distribution or possession (17 percent), or firearm violations (eight
percent). The crimes of violence included five sexual assaults, four homicides
(three of which were vehicular), and five robberies involving weapons.
VPC research revealed
that terrorist Jerome Sanford Brower was rearmed by the program in 1985.
Brower was convicted of conspiring to transport explosives to Libya in
furtherance of an international terrorism plot masterminded by former
CIA agents Edwin Wilson and Francis Terpil.
Building on this research,
VPC released its 2000 report, Guns
for Felons: How the NRA Works to Rearm Criminals, which found
that many felons whose firearms privileges were restored used those firearms
to commit further crimes, including many violent crimes. VPC found that
69 felons granted "relief" between 1985 and 1992 were rearrested for crimes
ranging from drug trafficking to sexual assault, kidnaping, child molestation,
and domestic abuse. The VPC report also detailed the NRA's defense of
the program. Between 1985 and 1992, the guns-for-felons program cost taxpayers
"This is an open-and-shut
case," said Mathew Nosanchuk, VPC Litigation Director. "When Congress
closed one loophole by shutting down ATF's guns-for-felons program, it
did not intend to open another loophole allowing felons to make an end
run around ATF by asking a federal judge to restore their gun privileges."
swift action to shut down the program through the appropriations process,
the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans in effect deputized federal judges
to step into ATF's shoes to hear petitions for relief from disability.
Every other court of appeals to consider the issue has rejected this argument,
including the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which
issued a forceful decision less than two weeks ago in Pontarelli v.
ATF, strongly criticizing its sister circuit's decision in Bean
and overruling an earlier decision that agreed with the Bean decision.
brief was prepared by Craig Goldblatt, Peter "Bo" Rutledge, Maya Alexandri,
Gregory S. Chernack, and Jennifer M. Rockoff of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering,
in Washington, D.C.
The Violence Policy Center is a
national non-profit educational foundation that conducts research on violence
in America and works to develop violence-reduction policies and proposals.
The Center examines the role of firearms in America, conducts research
on firearms violence, and explores new ways to decrease firearm-related
death and injury.
Tuesday, April 9, 2002
Violence Policy Center
(202) 822-8200 x105