For Release: Monday, July 24, 1995
Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) and Congressman Richard Durbin (D-IL) today will introduce the “Stop Arming Felons Act.” The bill would permanently close loopholes in federal law that have allowed convicted, violent felons access to firearms and explosives. Introduction of the bill follows recent action by the House Appropriations Committee that stopped a Republican-led, National Rifle Association-backed effort to revive a federal program at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) that put guns and explosives back into the hands of criminals.
The program has been shut down on an annual basis through amendments to Treasury Appropriations bills since fiscal year 1993 after a Violence Policy Center (VPC) study, Putting Guns Back Into Criminals’ Hands, revealed that $21 million had been spent from 1985 to 1991 to restore firearm and explosive privileges to individuals convicted of terrorism, murder, rape, drug dealing, gun trafficking, and child molestation.
One of the felons granted relief under the program in 1985 was Jerome Sanford Brower. 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.
Under federal law, those convicted of a felony are forbidden from possessing firearms and explosives. Yet until 1992 felons could apply to ATF for “relief” from the “disability” of not being able to possess firearms or buy explosives from dealers. The “relief from disability” program was the result of an obscure 1965 law originally enacted to allow firearm manufacturer Winchester to stay in business after its parent company had been convicted in a felony kick-back scheme.
In a sampling of 100 cases of persons granted relief under the program obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from ATF, the 1992 VPC study 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.
The VPC has also determined that of those granted relief from 1985 to 1992, 69 were subsequently re-arrested for crimes that included: attempted murder; first degree sexual assault; abduction/kidnapping; child molestation; illegal possession of a machine gun; trafficking in cocaine, LSD, and PCP; and illegal firearms possession or carrying.
The Act would disallow individuals from applying to ATF for restoration of their gun or explosives privileges. Corporations would remain eligible for relief. In addition, the Act would close a loophole (put into place as part of the 1986 NRA-backed “Firearms Owners’ Protection Act”) that amended federal law so that restoration of civil rights by a state automatically restored the privilege of firearms possession, unless the state law or individual pardon expressly forbid it. This loophole has been condemned by the Justice Department as “a major impediment to the effective enforcement of the firearms statutes against recidivist, violent offenders.”
VPC Director of Federal Policy Kristen Rand states, “The NRA has worked hard to put guns back into the hands of criminals by expanding existing loopholes and creating new ones. Senator Simon and Congressman Durbin are to be commended for doing what the NRA only talks about keeping firearms and explosives out of the hands of violent felons.”