He Lost His Gun Rights Because of a
Misdemeanor DUI Conviction. That Was
Unconstitutional, a Judge Says.

The case highlights the broad reach of a federal law that bans
firearm possession by people with nonviolent criminal records.

Police officer stopping driver of a vehicle (Photo 102200458 © Framestock Footages | Dreamstime.com)

By Jacob Sullum. Nov 15, 2023

The federal ban on gun possession by people with certain kinds of criminal records is often described as applying to "felons," but that shorthand is misleading. The provision, 18 USC 922(g)(1), actually covers anyone convicted of "a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year." That is why Pennsylvania resident Edward A. Williams lost his right to own a gun after he was convicted of driving under the influence, a misdemeanor, in 2005. Had Williams defied Section 922(g)(1) by possessing a firearm, he would have been committing a federal felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

That consequence violated Williams' Second Amendment rights, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. U.S. District Judge John Milton Younge's decision in Williams v. Garland tracks the logic of a June ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which includes Pennsylvania. The latter case, Range v. Attorney General, involved a Pennsylvania man who likewise was convicted of a nonviolent misdemeanor: food stamp fraud. Both cases illustrate the breadth of this "prohibited person" category, which includes many Americans with no history of violence.

Back in 1995, Bryan Range pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $2,458 in food stamps by understating his income. He returned the money, paid a $100 fine and $288 in court costs, and served three years of probation. But although he did not initially realize it, that Pennsylvania misdemeanor conviction also carried a lifelong penalty under Section 922(g)(1): permanent loss of his Second Amendment rights. Even though Range did not serve any time behind bars, his crime theoretically was punishable by up to five years in prison.

Applying the constitutional test that the Supreme Court established last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the 3rd Circuit concluded that disarming Range was not "consistent with this Nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation." .....


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