It’s been an issue of debate for decades, and recently it’s a hot topic once again: should felons be allowed to vote? And what about their rights to keep and bear arms?
In most states citizens convicted of a felony lose their right to vote for a period of time. In some states such as Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, this right is lost forever unless granted clemency that reinstates that right. Under federal law a citizen convicted of a felony loses their 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms. I’ve heard and read the arguments from people who support these perpetual abridgements of citizens’ rights for felony convictions, and for the most part I’m simply not convinced.
To boil it down the argument seems to essentially be a matter of “they chose to commit the crime, so they can’t be trusted with these rights.” While I am an avid supporter of the 2nd Amendment (as well as the other 9 in the Bill of Rights), I can at least see a certain amount of logic regarding the right to own and carry a gun being restricted from a person who has been convicted of a violent crime in which the perpetrator used a firearm. Similarly restricting the right to vote of a felon may be reasonable if the citizen was convicted of something like election fraud for voting multiple times in the same election. But the majority of felons are convicted for outlawed activity nothing like those.
Consider for a moment that laws are made and unmade by humans, and the judicial system is not infallible. In a lot of states felonies include behavior like driving on a suspended license more than twice, and the most commonly committed felonies include possession of a controlled substance like marijuana. And more than a few times innocent people have been convicted of felonies.
But it begs the question: if these three rights: the right to vote, the right to keep arms and the right to bear arms can so easily be abridged by committing a felony, then what other rights should be taken away when you are convicted of a crime? This gets even more interesting if we also apply the “once convicted, can’t be trusted with that right forever” argument.
Convicted of a felony involving a church scandal: lose your 1st Amendment freedom of religion
Convicted of fraud: lose your 1st Amendment freedom of speech
Was that fraud committed in written form and disseminated?: Lose your freedom of the press
Convicted of harboring a fugitive, or keeping some outlawed paraphernalia in your home, maybe an empty shell casing in Washington DC: Lose your 4th Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure
Convicted of a crime on your own private property: lose your 5th Amendment right to private property
Convicted of ANYTHING: lose your 5th, 6th, & 7th Amendment rights to a fair and speedy trial by jury (Why not? You’re a criminal. You can’t be trusted to plead your case honestly anyway … right?)
This could go on and on. We could have all sorts of fun finding reasons to restrict your 3rd Amendment rights against boarding soldiers.
One more disturbing argument I hear comes mostly from social conservatives who are afraid that the majority of felons would vote for social liberals and economic socialists if allowed. While I might tend to share the second concern, that’s a bias that I can’t ethically support legislatively.
Many states have a treason law on the books. Perhaps the current administration could reinstate some form of Sedition Act, thereby outlawing criticism of the government. Then republicans, libertarians and disappointed democrats could be rounded up and charged with sedition, having their rights to vote and keep and bear arms removed. Hey, it would be law; they would be guilty; and felons can’t be trusted right?