In most states, ex-convicts have to wait years after their release to have their voting rights restored, and many are disenfranchised for life. Yet they often have their right to bear arms automatically reinstated when they leave prison, with little or no review by judges. A New York Times examination reveals that the gun lobby and their Republican allies have successfully eliminated hearings and common-sense restrictions on ex-cons’ ability to immediately reclaim their guns, with deadly consequences:
Under federal law, people with felony convictions forfeit their right to bear arms. Yet every year, thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review. In several states, they include people convicted of violent crimes, including first-degree murder and manslaughter, an examination by The New York Times has found.
While previously a small number of felons were able to reclaim their gun rights, the process became commonplace in many states in the late 1980s, after Congress started allowing state laws to dictate these reinstatements — part of an overhaul of federal gun laws orchestrated by the National Rifle Association. [...]
This gradual pulling back of what many Americans have unquestioningly assumed was a blanket prohibition has drawn relatively little public notice. Indeed, state law enforcement agencies have scant information, if any, on which felons are getting their gun rights back, let alone how many have gone on to commit new crimes.
The NRA’s “restoration movement” on behalf of ex-cons has already cost lives, and continues to jeopardize public safety. Even felons with histories of stalking and mental health problems can get their gun rights back almost immediately. A man in Washington state used his Glock-17 semiautomatic handgun to commit another murder two months after he was released from prison for two felony convictions.
Ex-cons’ easy access to guns serves as a bizarre juxtaposition with the barriers they face trying to vote. All but two states restrict ex-cons’ ability to vote after they are released, with 36 prohibiting them from voting while they are on parole and three disenfranchising former felons for the rest of their lives. Ex-cons are the single biggest group of disenfranchised citizens in the country, with 4.7 million Americans — or one in 43 adults — having currently or permanently lost their right to vote as the result of felony conviction.
Hispanic and black communities are disproportionately effected by these laws, with 13 percent of adult black men barred from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Denying former felons the vote can also hold back their successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
Meanwhile, Margaret C. Love, a lawyer who has researched gun rights restoration laws, estimates that in more than half the states felons have a reasonable chance of getting back their gun rights.
As ThinkProgress has been reporting, Republican lawmakers have not only been limiting ex-prisoners’ voting rights, but disenfranchising broad swaths of the population that tend to vote Democrat. These are groups that have historically been overlooked and benefit more than most from having their electoral voices heard.
When justifying voting restrictions, Republicans inevitably say they are worried about electoral fraud, and claim that people who break the laws should have no say in making them. By their logic, millions of ex-convicts can be trusted with guns, but not with ballots.