Nearly everyone would agree that convicted, violent criminals should not be able to purchase guns. Everyone, that is, except first-term Colorado Rep. Ken Buck -- who is now advancing NRA-supported legislation to reinstate a federal "guns for felons" program that has been shut down for decades.
Congressman Buck, a former Weld County Colorado prosecutor, recently made headlines by tweeting a photo of himself in his Capitol Hill office holding an AR-15 assault rifle painted like an American flag. Buck has now made another reckless choice to put the interests of the gun lobby and firearms industry ahead of public safety.
Congressman Buck's proposal would allow convicted felons to buy and possess firearms -- including felons convicted of violent crimes. It passed the House of Representatives this month after he attached it as an amendment to a larger budgetary measure. It's now a real possibility that it could be included in must-pass spending legislation Congress has to approve by year's end.
Federal law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms or explosives. Yet, until 1992 felons were able to take advantage of a loophole in legislation passed in 1965 that allowed felons to seek relief from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for the disability of not being able to possess a firearm. In 1986, the NRA-backed Firearms Owners' Protection Act included a provision that allowed felons convicted of gun crimes to apply for relief from disability.
Tens of thousands of convicted felons took part in the program for decades until 1992, when it was shut down as the result of research conducted by the Violence Policy Center (VPC). The organization found that from 1982 to 1992, ATF had processed more than 22,000 applications at a cost to taxpayers of millions of dollars each year. Approximately a third of applicants were eventually granted relief.
Even as they try to revive this moribund program, both Congressman Buck and the NRA insist they don't want to arm violent criminals. Buck said that "this bill does not intend in any way, shape, or form to allow a violent criminal to possess a firearm." This claim does not stand up to the facts.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the VPC obtained records from ATF for a random sample of 100 convicted felons who were granted relief. One-third of them were involved in either violent or drug-related crimes. The 100 cases included: five convictions of sexual assault; 11 burglary convictions; 13 convictions for distributions of narcotics; and, four homicide convictions.
One of the convicted felons allowed to purchase firearms as a result of the program was Jerome Sanford Brower, who had pled guilty to charges of conspiracy to transfer explosives to terrorists in Libya. Another was Jon Wayne Young, who pled guilty to aggravated assault and aggravated robbery and had a history of sex-related offenses going back to age 13.
The VPC also found that 69 of the felons who were granted relief between 1985 and 1992 went on to be arrested for new crimes, including attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, abduction/kidnapping, child molestation, and drug trafficking.
Congressman Buck, the NRA, and firearms manufacturers are undoubtedly hoping they can slip this legislation through Congress and avoid public debate. In the face of all the evidence, this brazen attempt to allow felons to rearm is simply indefensible and a threat to public safety.
"America is a land of second chances," Congressman Buck recently said in support of his bill. So it is. But this should not include a second chance for dangerous convicted criminals to obtain firearms they could use to harm more innocent people.
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