This proposal would create a “Voluntary Appeals File” that would allow potential firearm purchasers experiencing erroneous delays or denials to submit information to the FBI such as “name, date of birth, social security number, any other identifying numbers and any documents that may clarify their records or prove their identity.“ [emphasis added] The Violence Policy Center is concerned that this new mechanism would require additional expenditures with no added public safety benefit.
The VPC believes that this new file would serve primarily as a repository for information on felons and misdemeanants who have had their firearm privileges restored post-conviction.26 NICS operation reports make it clear that such persons represent a significant proportion of those who appeal denials of firearm purchases. For example, the March 2000 NICS Operation Reportstated that 2,913 denials issued November 30, 1998 through December 31, 1999, were overturned by the FBI through the appeals process. Of those denials overturned, “approximately 46 percent were the result of information missing from the original record, such as expungement or restoration of rights.” The April 2001 NICS Operation Report stated with respect to appeals of denials, “Many records lack not only final dispositions, but post-judgment relief data as well. Such relief may include automatic restoration of rights at the state level, state statutes offering forgiveness for convictions, or the issuance of pardons at the state or federal level,” [emphasis added].27
Making it easier for felons who have had their firearm privileges restored to buy guns could have a detrimental effect on public safety, and facilitating the access to firearms of felons convicted under federal law is clearly contrary to the will of Congress.
Many States Automatically Restore Gun Privileges for Violent Felonsï¿½Even Murder
The public safety risk may be particularly acute in the case of states that automatically restore the ability of felons to legally purchase guns. For example, a convicted murderer in Minneapolis recently engaged police in a running gun battle in which three police officers were wounded. Law enforcement officials were stunned to learn that the suspect in the shooting legally owned the semiautomatic rifles he used. Although the shooter was convicted of the shotgun murder of his estranged wife and her friend in 1966, his ability to legally possess firearms was automatically restored in 1987 in accordance with Minnesota law.28
This is not an isolated risk. The Department of Justice has testified before Congress that state restoration of firearm privileges is “a major impediment to the effective enforcement of the firearms statutes against recidivist, violent offenders” and that restoration precludes subsequent prosecution of a felon-in-possession or Armed Career Criminal charge.29
Congress Opposes Arming Persons with Federal Convictions
Creating a database to make it more convenient for felons convicted of federal crimes who have had their rights restored is contrary to the will of Congress. Since fiscal year 1992, Congress has prohibited the expenditure of funds by the Department of the Treasury to act on applications for “relief from disability,” the only mechanism by which felons convicted under federal law may regain their ability to buy and possess firearms.30 Congress prohibited federal funds from being spent on this program when it was revealed that the cost of the program had ballooned to more than $4 million annually, and that the program had re-armed many felons who were subsequently arrested for violent crimes including murder and sexual assault.31
Since the federal “relief” program was operational for nearly 30 years from the date of its creation in the early 1960s, there is no doubt that many of the individuals who take advantage of the voluntary appeals file would be felons who received “relief from disability” under the federal program. The VPC strongly opposes the use of federal resources to make gun buying easier for those with felony convictions.
Recommendation: Use of the voluntary appeals file should be limited and should not include persons granted “relief” for federal convictions or those who have had their firearm privileges restored by similar state mechanisms or automatically through the operation of state law.
- The gun lobby has been attempting to construct a database to ensure that convicted felons who have had their gun privileges restored have easy access to guns. This proposal was included in the Hatch-Craig amendment to S. 254 in the 106th Congress
- U.S. Department of Justice, NICS Operation Report for 2000, p. 27 (April 2001).
- “Right of Felons to Own Guns Concerns Some After Gun Battle,” Minneapolis Star Tribune (July 24, 2001).
- Prosecution of Federal Gun Crimes: Hearing before the House Subcomm. on Crime and Criminal Justice, Committee on the Judiciary , 103rd Cong., 2d Sess. 20 (1994) (statement of Jo Ann Harris, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, before the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, Committee on the Judiciary (September 20, 1994).
- See e.g. H.R. 2490, Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act, 2000: “That none of the funds appropriated herein shall be available to investigate or act upon applications for relief from Federal firearms disabilities under 18 U.S.C. 925(c): Provided further, That such funds shall be available to investigate and act upon applications filed by corporations for relief from Federal firearms disabilities under 18 U.S.C. 925(c),” codified as Public Law 106-58.
- See Violence Policy Center, Putting Guns Back Into Criminals’ Hands: 100 Case Studies of Felons Granted Relief from Disability Under Federal Firearms Laws (May 1992); and Guns for Felons: How the NRA Works to Rearm Felons (March 2000).