Restoring Federal Firearm Rights with a Felony

Happy Friday, everybody. This week’s video here’s something that comes up from time to time, and that is when I get a client that comes in that was convicted of a felony several years ago, even sometimes decades ago and they want to try to find a way to get their gun rights restored to them. So this is a tricky, tricky question with an even trickier answer. So here is something that may surprise some of you. There is actually a law that allows the federal government to restore gun rights to people convicted of a felony. Because as most of you know, if you’re convicted of a felony, you cannot possess any firearms or ammunition. That’s a prohibition, both on the state level and on the federal level. So even if the State of Texas does something to restore your gun rights to you, which they can do, on the federal level, you would still be violating a law if you possess a gun and you’re convicted of a felony.

So there is a federal law that allows for this. It’s 18 U.S.C. 925, and it says that the attorney general of the United States has the power to receive an application for this specific type of relief and grant that relief. What’s even more surprising is that there is a committee or a board that was set up within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms whose sole responsibility it was to review these applications and make decisions on them. Here’s where it gets tricky though, because you’d be able to go online, you’d be able to find that form, find that application, fill it out and send it in. Back in 1993, the Senate Appropriations Committee, when they did their budget, they defunded the alcohol, tobacco and firearms for using any money for this committee. Specifically for this committee, they said that they cannot use any government money to fund these efforts.

What that means is for all intents and purposes, the committee, even though it still exists by name, no longer operates in any way, shape or form. Why that makes this matter so messy is because if you were to fill out an application, send it off to the ATF, you would likely receive that application back to you saying that this committee has been defunded, is no longer operational, and therefore can take no action on your application. Now, if you were to petition the federal court, let’s say you were convicted of a federal felony back in the 80s, and you want to go back to that same court and say, “I’d like to appeal this decision that they denied my application for this relief.” Which is generally speaking in your right to do. You can appeal a decision that was made by a governmental entity.

The problem you run into, and there’s case law out there that talks about this, is because this committee is not actually making a decision. They’re not denying your application, they’re simply taking no action on it. That handcuffs the federal district courts to where they now do not have standing to overturn the decision because in the eyes of the law, no decision has been made. So that means that people with felony level convictions are stuck. Even though the law specifically allows a mechanism for them to get their gun rights back in actual practice, such relief just doesn’t exist. The only way currently to get your gun rights back is through some act of clemency, whether that’s a pardon on the state level or on the federal level. Other than that, there really is no way.

So when people come in and they ask, “Hey, how do I get my gun rights restored? This was a felony that happened back when I was a teenager or a young adult and now I’m in my 40s or 50s. I’m a totally different person.” Unfortunately, my answer nine times out of 10 is there’s really nothing we can do as of right now. Now, we’re always keeping our eye on the law to see if anything changes. If all of a sudden this committee starts to become funded again to where they’re reviewing these applications and anything changes, then we’ll reach back out to these individuals and say, “Hey, something’s changed. Come back in, let’s reassess.” But until that happens, this answer’s likely not going to change anytime soon.

And as you can imagine, one of the last things on legislators’ minds is, “Hey, we really need to look at restoring the gun rights of convicted felons.” It’s just not something that’s ever going to generate enough political buzz for anybody to really take any action on it. So I don’t anticipate this answer to change anytime soon. So unfortunately, if you know somebody that was ever convicted of a felony and they want to know the answer, “Hey, how do I get my gun rights back?” As of right now, the answer is unless you can secure either a presidential or a governor pardon, then the answer is going to be, there’s really nothing you can do.

If you have any questions about any of this, or you want to just talk about it and pitch some ideas that maybe I haven’t thought of, or if you’ve heard of something that seems to work for somebody that you know, by all means, reach out, let me know. I’m happy to talk to you about it in greater detail. Hope everybody has a great weekend and I look forward to talking to y’all next week.

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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