For Release: Wednessday, October 16, 2002
Program Was Shut down by Congress in Response to VPC Study
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning in United States v. Thomas Lamar Bean, the most significant gun case of the Court’s new term thus far. In Bean, the Court will decide whether the NRA-supported federal “relief from disability” guns-for-felons program, which was operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) until Congress shut it down in 1992, can be revived by federal judges, even though Congress has expressly prohibited any spending for this purpose.
Congress acted after the Violence Policy Center (VPC) released the 1992 study Putting Guns Back Into Criminals’ Hands. The study documented that many of the people whose gun privileges were restored by ATF with taxpayer dollars were dangerous or violent criminals 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. He had his gun privileges restored by ATF in 1985.
Following today’s oral arguments, VPC Litigation Director Mathew Nosanchuk states, “Congress shut the door on the federal guns-for-felons program 10 years ago, and we’re optimistic that the Court will reject any invitation to reopen it. The Justices showed little interest in arguments designed to distract attention from this central issue in the case.”
The case before the Court concerns Thomas Lamar Bean, who was convicted of transporting ammunition illegally into Mexico. Unable to obtain relief from ATF, he filed suit in federal court seeking restoration of his firearm privileges. He claimed that ATF’s inaction constituted an appealable denial. The Texas court agreed with him, finding that ATF’s failure to act amounted to a de facto denial of his application.
However, Congress was clear when it de-funded the program it intended to put an end once and for all to the federal guns-for-felons program. Adds Nosanchuk, “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.