For Release: Tuesday, April 9, 2002
VPC Research Led to End of Funding For Program That Armed Terrorist, Murderer, Rapists, And Child Molesters
WASHINGTON, DC – In a friend-of-the-court brief filed last night in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) urged the Justices to respect Congress’ decision to end once and for all a federal program that allowed convicted felons to own guns. In January 2002, the Court agreed to hear the case of Thomas Lamar Bean, a Texas gun show promoter who lost his ability to possess firearms after a conviction for illegally transporting ammunition into Mexico. Since 1992, Congress has barred funding for the federal “relief from disability” guns-for-felons program, the only federal mechanism authorized by Congress to restore gun privileges to convicted felons. As a result, convicted felons have attempted to use the federal courts to circumvent the funding ban. Despite Congress’ desire to shut down the program, Mr. Bean convinced a federal judge to restore his firearm privileges.
Groundbreaking VPC research led to the congressional funding prohibition in 1992. The VPC investigated some of the criminals whose firearm privileges were restored by the “relief from disability” program. Based on 100 case files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the federal agency charged with administering the program, a VPC study, Putting Guns Back Into Criminals’ Hands, 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.
VPC research revealed that terrorist Jerome Sanford Brower was rearmed by the program in 1985. 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.
Building on this research, VPC released its 2000 report, Guns for Felons: How the NRA Works to Rearm Criminals, which found that many felons whose firearms privileges were restored used those firearms to commit further crimes, including many violent crimes. VPC found that 69 felons granted “relief” between 1985 and 1992 were rearrested for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to sexual assault, kidnaping, child molestation, and domestic abuse. The VPC report also detailed the NRA’s defense of the program. Between 1985 and 1992, the guns-for-felons program cost taxpayers $21 million.
“This is an open-and-shut case,” said Mathew Nosanchuk, VPC Litigation Director. “When Congress closed one loophole by shutting down ATF’s guns-for-felons program, it did not intend to open another loophole allowing felons to make an end run around ATF by asking a federal judge to restore their gun privileges.”
Despite Congress’ swift action to shut down the program through the appropriations process, the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans in effect deputized federal judges to step into ATF’s shoes to hear petitions for relief from disability. Every other court of appeals to consider the issue has rejected this argument, including the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which issued a forceful decision less than two weeks ago in Pontarelli v. ATF, strongly criticizing its sister circuit’s decision in Bean and overruling an earlier decision that agreed with the Bean decision.
VPC’s friend-of-the-court brief was prepared by Craig Goldblatt, Peter “Bo” Rutledge, Maya Alexandri, Gregory S. Chernack, and Jennifer M. Rockoff of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, in Washington, D.C.