Bad week for felons who want to have guns

Supreme courts in the two states that seemed potentially most open to preserving felons’ rights to keep and bear arms — Colorado and Louisiana — have rejected such claims.

In Colorado, a past Colorado Supreme Court precedent had seemingly concluded that the Colorado Constitution protects even felons, at least when it comes to keeping guns at home for self-defense. The Colorado Court of Appeals had followed that precedent. But Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted its precedents as not allowing such possession by felons, except when the felons arm themselves to protect against “imminent” attack (which is very difficult, given that, by the time an attack is imminent, it may be too late to get a gun). See State v. Carbajal (Colo. June 30, 2014) (5-to-2 vote).

In Louisiana, voters in 2012 revised the state constitutional right to bear arms to read, “The right of each citizen to keep and bear arms is fundamental and shall not be infringed. Any restriction on this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” In yesterday’s State v. Eberhardt (La. July 1, 2014), the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the state ban on felons’ possessing guns remains constitutional (paragraph break added):

We conclude that LSA–R.S. 14:95.1 serves a compelling governmental interest that has long been jurisprudentially recognized and is grounded in the legislature’s intent to protect the safety of the general public from felons convicted of specified serious crimes, who have demonstrated a dangerous disregard for the law and the safety of others and who present a potential threat of further or future criminal activity.

Further, the law is narrowly tailored in its application to the possession of firearms or the carrying of concealed weapons for a period of only ten years from the date of completion of sentence, probation, parole, or suspension of sentence, and to only those convicted of the enumerated felonies determined by the legislature to be offenses having the actual or potential danger of harm to other members of the general public. [Footnote: We note that Louisiana’s LSA-R.S. 14:95.1 felon-in-possession law is less restrictive than the comparable federal law, which encompasses nearly all felonies and has no ten-year cleansing period.] Under these circumstances, we find “a long history, a substantial consensus, and simple common sense” to be sufficient evidence for even a strict scrutiny review.

There is still, however, some room for felons whose past crimes are minor and remote to argue that such laws — including the federal felon-in-possession ban — are unconstitutional as applied to them. See the North Carolina cases discussed here and some other opinions discussed here.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.
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