In Unanimous Ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Shuts Door on NRA-Backed Federal Guns-for-Felons Program

For Release:  Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Program Was Defunded by Congress in 1992 in Response to Violence Policy Center Study

Washington, DC – In 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.

Congress defunded 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




About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Georgia Seltzer
(202) 822-8200 x104