In Unanimous Ruling,
U.S. Supreme Court Shuts Door on NRA-Backed Federal Guns-for-Felons Program
Program Was Defunded
by Congress in 1992 in Response to Violence Policy Center Study
an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled
unanimously in United States v. Thomas Lamar Bean that the federal
"relief from disability" guns-for-felons program, which was operated by
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) until Congress defunded
it in 1992, cannot be revived by federal judges. The Court also refused
any comment on Bean's claim that he had a Second Amendment right to get
his guns back.
the National Rifle Association-backed program in 1992 following release
of the Violence Policy Center (VPC) study Putting
Guns Back Into Criminals' Hands. The study revealed that millions
of taxpayer dollars had been spent to rearm thousands of convicted, often
violent, felons�some of whom went on to commit new crimes. Successful
applicants included felons such as Jerome Sanford Brower, who in 1981
pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport explosives in foreign commerce
in furtherance of an international terrorist plot. Brower's gun privileges
were restored by ATF in 1985.
VPC Litigation Director
Mathew Nosanchuk states, "Today's Supreme Court decision is a resounding
victory for public safety. The unanimous opinion decisively rebuffs claims
by the NRA and other pro-gun advocates that felons should be able to use
the federal courts to have their gun privileges restored."
The case concerned
Thomas Lamar Bean, who was convicted of transporting ammunition illegally
into Mexico. Unable to obtain "relief" from ATF, he filed suit in federal
court in Texas seeking restoration of his firearm privileges claiming
that ATF's inaction constituted an appealable denial. The Texas court
saw fit to restore Bean's gun privileges. The federal government appealed
to the Fifth Circuit, which upheld the Texas district court's decision.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, rejected Bean's argument that ATF's failure
to act amounted to a de facto denial of his application. In the
decision, Justice Thomas states that "mere inaction by ATF does not invest
a district court with independent jurisdiction to act on an application."
Adds the VPC's Nosanchuk, "The Court recognized that there is nothing
in the law that would allow activist federal judges to deputize themselves
as surrogate ATF agents and spend time and resources restoring gun privileges
to convicted felons."
The VPC filed an amicus
curiae brief in the Supreme Court in support of the government's position.
The brief and
decision are available on the VPC's
website at www.vpc.org.
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, December 10, 2002
Violence Policy Center
(202) 822-8200 x105