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Published: Friday, 11/18/2011

Still armed, dangerous


Conservative politicians are fond of arguing that America needs no new gun laws, but just needs to enforce those already on the books. So why do felons find it so easy to obtain firearms — legally — once they leave prison?

Under federal law, people who have been convicted of felonies forfeit their right to own firearms. But the New York Times reported this week that "thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review."

Such restorations occur not just in cases of relatively minor offenses. The Times reported that in several states, felons convicted of violent crimes, including first-degree murder and manslaughter, can get their gun rights back.

In the past, only a small number of felons could do this. But the numbers swelled in the late 1980s, after Congress started letting states decide on reinstatements — a policy supported by the National Rifle Association.

What have states' rights done to people's rights? The Times found the horror stories you would reasonably expect when irresponsibility and firearms mix.

A man in Washington state with two felony convictions and a history of mental-health problems had gun ownership rights restored by a judge without a hearing. Two months later, he blew another man away with a Glock-17 semiautomatic handgun.

In another affront to reason, a convicted murderer, after his release from prison, had his firearms rights restored automatically. He shot and wounded three police officers in a Minneapolis suburb.

The Times cited Ohio as one of 11 states with laws on gun restoration that are so permissive as to be an invitation to trouble. It noted that last year, a Cleveland judge restored gun rights to a man who had been convicted of first-degree murder for shooting a grocer in the head.

Next time you hear a politician say there's no need for legislation to keep guns out of the wrong hands, consider those felons who are still dangerous and — thanks to the NRA and a lack of effective laws — still armed.

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