I’ve blogged previously about the Britt and Whitaker cases. Britt held that a particular convicted felon retained his right to bear arms under the state constitution, and that G.S. 14-415.1 — which purports to prohibit all felons from possessing firearms — was unconstitutional as applied to him. Whitaker rejected a similar claim made by another convicted felon and made clear that Britt was an exceptional result, driven by the fact that the plaintiff in Britt had committed a single, non-violent felony many years earlier, and had since remained completely out of trouble.
Rather than wait for the courts to accumulate case law about which felons are entitled to possess guns and which are not, the General Assembly jumped into the issue during the just-concluded session. It enacted S.L. 2010-108, which attempts to clarify and limit the circumstances under which felons may retain or regain their gun rights. The statute appears to be consistent with the thrust of Britt and Whitaker, although I am sure that it will be challenged by someone who falls outside its scope.
My colleague John Rubin has drafted the following excellent summary of the legislation, for those interested in a bit more detail. I grateful for his willingness to share it:
[The law] [a]mends various statutes, described below, to allow people convicted of certain felonies to apply for restoration of the right to possess firearms and to create an exception from the firearm restrictions for certain white collar criminal convictions. Provides that changes become effective February 1, 2011, and apply to offenses committed on or after that date. Also directs North Carolina Attorney General, effective July 20, 2010, to request the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to review these changes and determine whether a person who qualifies under them may purchase and possess a firearm under federal firearms restrictions.
New G.S. 14-415.4 contains the new restoration procedures. The new statute gives the responsibility for hearing restoration petitions to the district court in the district where the person resides. New G.S. 14-415.4(i) states that restoration does not constitute an expunction or pardon, and G.S. 14-415.4(l) states that the knowing and willful submission of false information is a Class 1 misdemeanor and permanently bars restoration of firearm rights.
The initial prerequisite for restoration is that the person must have no more than one conviction for a “nonviolent felony,” which does not include any Class A, B1, or B2 felony or any Class C through I felony that involves an assault as an essential element, possession or use of a firearm or deadly weapon as an essential or nonessential element, or other specified circumstances. Multiple nonviolent felony convictions arising out of the same event and consolidated for sentencing count as one felony. A person is ineligible for restoration for various reasons listed in the statute, including having been adjudicated guilty of or having received a prayer for judgment continued or a suspended sentence for one or more misdemeanor crimes of violence or other listed misdemeanors. To obtain restoration, the person must have had their civil rights restored for at least 20 years, which typically occurs automatically under G.S. 13-1 following a person’s completion of all incidents of his or her sentence. The new statute also states that a person who was convicted of a nonviolent felony in another jurisdiction is eligible for restoration if his or her civil rights, including the right to possess a firearm, have been restored for at least 20 years in the other jurisdiction; this provision may inadvertently make the waiting period for restoration of firearm rights in North Carolina considerably longer for people with convictions from other jurisdictions because they may not be able to obtain restoration of their firearm rights in the other jurisdiction for some time after their citizenship rights have been restored there. New G.S. 14-415.4 establishes other criteria a person must satisfy to obtain restoration of firearm rights, such as a one-year period of residency in North Carolina.
The act amends G.S. 14-415.1 (possession of firearm by a felon) to provide that a convicted felon whose firearm rights have been restored is not subject to the prohibition in that statute; similarly, the act amends G.S. 14-404(c) (handgun permits) and G.S. 14-415.12(b) (concealed handgun permits) to provide that people whose firearms rights have been restored are eligible to obtain the indicated permits if they meet the other criteria for issuance. The act also amends the above statutes to exempt from the firearms restrictions felony convictions pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, or restraints of trade. People convicted of these felonies do not need to apply for restoration of their firearms rights (unless convicted of other nonviolent felonies); the changes exempt them from the firearms restrictions.