Third Circuit Backs Gun Rights for Felons

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     PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A razor’s edge split the en banc Third Circuit Wednesday in supporting the right for felons to bear arms, fueling predictions of a Supreme Court battle.
     The consolidated dates appeals of convicted felons Daniel Binderup and Julio Suarez produced five opinions, clocking in all together at 174 pages.
     Binderup and Suarez persuaded the plurality that the nature and age of their convictions should exempt them from the prohibition on felons owning firearms, codified in Section 922(g)(1) of Title 18.
     In 1998, Binderup was convicted for “corrupting a minor” for his consensual sexual relationship with a 17-year-old employee. He was 41.
     That same year Suarez was convicted of driving under the influence. The only other blight on his record occurred in 1990: a conviction for possession of a handgun without a license.
     Since then, fear of violating the federal ban has kept both Pennsylvania men from getting guns that they would like for self-defense.
     Both persuaded federal judges to that Section 922(g)(1) was applied to them unconstitutionally.
     The Third Circuit split 8-7 in their favor Wednesday. U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro wrote the lead opinion, broken up into three sections with varying support of the court. Ambro’s concluding sections drew just two colleagues’ support, but another five joined an opinion led by U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman concurring in the judgments.
     “Because their personal circumstances are distinguishable from those of the class of persons historically excluded from Second Amendment protections due to their propensity for violence, Daniel Binderup and Julio Suarez fall outside the proper scope of the felon dispossession statute,” Hardiman wrote.
     Hardiman said only violent felons can be dispossessed of their right to bear arms, and even they can potentially recover this right under certain circumstances.
     Section 922(g)(1) is thus unconstitutional, the court found, because it is based on the nature of the charge and length of the sentence, regardless of whether it is violent.
     “[A] law that burdens persons, arms, or conduct protected by the Second Amendment and that does so with the effect that the core of the right is eviscerated is unconstitutional,” Hardiman wrote.
     U.S. Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes led the dissent, joined by Chief Judge Theodore McKee and Judges Thomas Vanaskie, Patty Shwartz, Cheryl Ann Krause and L. Felipe Restrepo.
     They called the underlying challenge “troubling,” saying the push for courts to consider applying the law to every felon’s particular case is unworkable.
     “We as a society require persons convicted of crimes to forfeit any number of rights and privileges, including the right to sit on a jury, the right to hold elective office, and the right to vote,” Fuentes wrote.
     “However much the plaintiffs may see unfairness in the fact that their law-abiding peers can legally own firearms and they cannot, that disparity is a consequence of their own unlawful conduct.”
     Six of the seven judges in the dissent were appointed by Democratic presidents, while the concurring opinion came from five wholly Republican judges.
     Ambro, the author of the lead opinions is a Democrat appointee. His final sections were joined by appointees of President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush.
     Gun proponents with the Second Amendment Foundation praised the decision.
     “Today’s victory confirms that the government can’t simply disarm anyone it wishes,” SAF attorney Alan Gura said in the statement. “At an absolute minimum, people convicted of non-serious crimes, who pose no threat to anyone, retain their fundamental rights.”
     Shortly before breaking for the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court actually expanded the federal firearms ban against convicted domestic abusers.
     The Supreme Court will begin considering new cases this fall, but an appeal of this Pennsylvania ruling is unlikely until after the presidential election.
     The Republican-controlled Congress has insisted that it will wait until after the presidential election to hold confirmation hearings on any nominee put forward to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
     Merrick Garland, the D.C. Circuit judge nominated for the job by President Barack Obama, swings conservative.