Constitutional Law

Felons Claim Second Amendment Gives Them Right to Own Guns

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Felons such as James Francis Barton Jr. are challenging federal laws that bar them from owning guns.

Barton has been charged with keeping at his Pittsburgh home seven pistols, three shotguns and five rifles, the Associated Press reports. Judges have so far disagreed with that argument but Barton’s Pennsylvania lawyer, David Chontos, thinks his client has rights too. “Felons, such as Barton, have the need and the right to protect themselves and their families by keeping firearms in their home,” he told AP.

Barton is basing his claim on the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision that found a Second Amendment right to keep handguns for protection in the home. Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized in his majority opinion that the right is not unlimited and many gun regulations are valid.

Law professors said felons such as Barton are unlikely to win their cases because they have proven themselves untrustworthy, justifying a restriction on their right to own guns. But other cases may be closer calls.

Some of the issues likely to be litigated: Do nonviolent criminals have a right to own guns at home? What about older persons who were convicted of crimes in their youth, such as taking a car on a joy ride?

“Do you think Scooter Libby should have a gun?” asks law professor Douglas Berman of Ohio State University, posing one hypothetical. Libby, a former White House aide, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the probe into the leak of a CIA agent’s identity.

Another issue likely to be litigated is whether a ban on gun ownership in public housing is permissible, the AP story says. Defenders of the ban will likely argue the government has more power as a landlord than in general.

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