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U.S. Supreme Court considers felon's firearm possession rights

Recently we posted about a decision of the Florida Supreme Court which would allow a convicted felon to use a firearm for self-defense under the state's "stand your ground" rule. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of a Florida man, regarding the question of whether a person convicted of a felony can transfer his firearms to the custody of someone else if he cannot regain possession of them himself.

The case, Henderson v. United States, concerns a man, who was convicted of selling illegal drugs in Florida in 2006. He has since completed his sentence.

Before his conviction, Henderson had voluntarily surrendered his collection of firearms instead of waiting for the federal government to seize them after the conviction, which means that legally the firearms, which are still in the custody of the FBI, remain his property. 

The issue before the court is the apparent conflict between a federal law and federal rules of procedure. The law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms, including controlling firearms through others. The rules, however, direct the government to return property to its owner once all criminal proceedings have been concluded. Henderson is arguing that he should be allowed to transfer the firearms to a third party that he knows, such as his wife, or his neighbor.

Attorneys for the federal government argue that such a transfer would constitute "constructive possession" of firearms by Henderson, that the law should not allow such a transfer, and that the government should retain possession of the weapons.

The case may be of limited utility in its scope. The key fact is that Henderson did not wait for the government to seize his weapons; had he done so, they would no longer be his property and the discrepancy between the federal law and the federal rules would not have arisen for the Court to consider.

But if the Court rules in favor of Henderson, the decision may open a possibility for those facing federal felony charges to voluntarily surrender their firearms before conviction, and then exercise at least some control over the disposition of those firearms once they have completed their sentence.

Source: SunHerald, "Felon can have his crossbow; Supreme Court to rule on rest of arsenal," Michael Doyle, Feb. 19, 2015

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