For Release: Thursday, February 27, 1992
As the result of a fall 1991 Violence Policy Center study documenting a federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) program that allows convicted felons to regain their gun-owning privileges, Rep. Larry Smith (D-FL), Rep. Ed Feighan (D-OH), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL) today introduced the Felon Gun Prevention Act. The Act would prohibit ATF from granting convicted felons “relief” from the “disability” of not being able to possess a gun under federal law as the result of their conviction, in effect ending the $4.2-million-a-year program.
In endorsing the measure, Violence Policy Center Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “With record-high firearms murder rates and limited law enforcement resources it’s time to shut down this convicted felons’ second-chance club.”
At the Capitol Hill press conference announcing the introduction of the bill, the Violence Policy Center released a nine-page excerpt from its upcoming March 1992 study, Putting Guns Back Into the Hands of Criminals: 100 Case Studies of Felons Granted Relief From Disability Under Federal Firearms Laws. The excerpt describes ten case studies obtained by the Violence Policy Center from ATF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Crimes committed for which relief was granted include: the illegal sale of machine guns to an undercover ATF agent; manslaughter involving a shotgun; the sexual abuse of a child; armed robbery involving a handgun; burglary; drunk driving resulting in a homicide; drug distribution; and illegally shooting and killing a big horn sheep. [Study excerpt available separately.]
According to figures contained in the study, from 1985 to 1991, ATF spent more than $21.7 million to investigate those requesting relief from disability. From 1985 to 1990, of the 7,261 who sought restoration of their firearms privileges, 2,307 were eventually granted relief. Of the 386 granted relief in 1985, 14 were eventually rearrested for unspecified crimes (3.6 percent). Of the 491 granted relief in 1986, 23 were eventually rearrested (4.7 percent).
The relief from disability program stems from a 1965 amendment to the Federal Firearms Act of 1938. The amendment was passed as a congressional favor to firearms manufacturer Winchester, a division of Olin Mathieson. In 1962 Olin Mathieson pleaded guilty to felony counts stemming from a foreign kickback scheme. Because of its parent company’s conviction, Winchester could no longer ship firearms in interstate commerce. The law was enacted to allow Winchester to stay in business and specifically excluded those convicted of firearms crimes. Because of its broad wording and loose interpretation by ATF, the law soon became a convicted felons’ second-chance club. In 1986, as the result of the National Rifle Association-drafted McClure-Volkmer firearms decontrol bill, relief privileges were extended to those who had been convicted of crimes involving a firearm, involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or who had violated the Gun Control Act of 1968. McClure-Volkmer also added wording expanding the ability of federal courts to review decisions by ATF to deny relief.