U.S. Supreme Court Decides Today to Hear Case That Could Terminate Federal Guns-for-Felons Program

For Release:  Tuesday, January 22, 2002

VPC Research Led to End of Funding For Program That Armed Terrorist, Murderer, Rapists, And Child Molesters

WASHINGTON, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today hailed the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear a case that could put an end to a federal program that allows convicted felons to own guns. The case could terminate once and for all the federal “relief from disability” guns-for-felons program. 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” program, the only mechanism authorized by Congress to restore gun privileges to felons convicted under federal law. As a result, convicted felons have attempted to use the federal courts to circumvent the funding ban. Despite Congress’ desire to defund the program, Mr. Bean had his firearm privileges restored in a controversial ruling by a federal judge.

Research conducted by the Violence Policy Center in 1991 led to the congressional funding prohibition. 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 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. The Violence Policy Center also released a report in 2000 entitled Guns for Felons: How the NRA Works to Rearm Criminalswhich details the courts’ involvement in this controversy and the NRA’s defense of the program.

The VPC worked with members of Congress, including Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), to shut the program down through the appropriations process. “It was and still remains the clear, unequivocal intent of Congress that the guns-for-felons program cease operation altogether,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand.

Yet two federal courts have ruled that felons can bypass the federal “relief” program and obtain restoration of firearm privileges through the courts. Five federal circuit courts have rejected that argument. The Supreme Court will decide whether felons may use the federal courts to have their firearm privileges restored. The VPC will seek to assist the Supreme Court in considering the case through submission of a friend-of-the-court brief.

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.

Adds Rand, “The NRA claims to oppose the arming of felons, yet the organization has been the leading defender of the guns-for-felons program.”

Using information obtained under the FOIA from ATF, the VPC also found that, of those granted relief from 1985 to 1992, 69 were subsequently re-arrested for crimes that included: attempted murder; first degree sexual assault; abduction/kidnapping; child molestation; illegal possession of a machine gun; trafficking in cocaine, LSD, and PCP; and, illegal firearms possession or carrying. Between 1985 and 1992, the guns-for-felons program cost taxpayers $21 million.



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.

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