A restoration of rights for nonviolent felons in Wyoming took effect July 1 and includes the right to “use or knowingly possess” a firearm.
But it remains unclear for some whether that means nonviolent felons can buy firearms from licensed gun dealers. Having and using a gun is one thing, but legally being able to buy a gun, which still requires a federal background check, isn’t as clear, a gun rights advocate told Cowboy State Daily.
“This is a big issue that hasn’t been settled yet in Wyoming, in our opinion,” said Gun Owners of America spokesman Mark Jones of Buffalo.
Federal prohibitions against nonviolent offenders owning firearms were recently struck down in a federal court, which should settle the matter, he added. But “should” is the key word there.
Gun Dealers OK With It
Meanwhile, some Wyoming gun dealers said they haven’t seen any changes one way or the other since the restoration of rights took effect.
“If they (nonviolent felons) have gone through the process and done everything correctly to have their rights resorted and want to be productive members of society, then we’re fine with it,” Leo Perez, manager of Dave’s Guns in Laramie, told Cowboy State Daily.
Dennis Mazet, who owns High Country Sporting Goods in Riverton, told Cowboy State Daily that he was also OK with selling firearms to nonviolent felons who meet all the same qualifications as anybody else legally eligible to buy them.
However, he also wondered if somebody with any sort of felony on their record could pass a federal background check. Dealers must refuse any sales to people who don’t pass.
“I would have no problem with it, but I don’t know if they could pass the federal background check,” he said. “That’s done through the FBI.”
Neither gun dealer has noticed any uptick in business since July 1.
“July is usually one of our slowest months anyway. That’s the time when everybody is out enjoying what they’ve already bought,” Perez said.
Jones said GOA didn’t support the gun rights section restoration of rights legislation, which passed during this year’s session of the Wyoming Legislature.
It also included the restoration of rights to vote, be an elector or juror or “to hold any office of honor, trust or profit within this state,” according to the Wyoming Department of Corrections.
Non-violent felonies include such things as white-collar crimes, property crimes and some drug-related offences.
GOA opposed the firearms section of the restoration of rights because it’s the organization’s opinion that Wyoming never forbade that right for nonviolent felons to begin with, Jones said.
The legislation apparently “revoked it (the right to own guns) in order to restore it,” and that effectively put a gun control measure on the Wyoming books that wasn’t there before, he said.
That, and the lingering question over the effect on federal background checks, made the legislation more harmful than helpful as far as GOA is concerned, Jones said.
The group plans to push for bills to clarify the matter during the upcoming Legislative session, he said.
“This is one of the most complex gun rights issue I’ve ever encountered,” Jones said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.