Columns

Yes, Virginia: Felons Have a Right to Arm Themselves

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is joined by members of the House and Senate as he announces a compromise on a set of gun bills at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A man convicted in 1998 of robbing two women at gunpoint and then being sent to prison for beating up a woman in 2004 —the mother of his child, no less — and who also has several convictions for domestic violence could soon be allowed to buy as many guns as he wants in Virginia.

Amazing?

Even Rodell Callahan, the violent felon in question, can’t believe it. And he has one of the nation’s most vocal anti-gun Democrats, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to thank for it.

“If the governor trusts me to get my rights back … why won’t the circuit court trust me to get my firearm license?” Callahan told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “With everything going on in the world, it’s crazy. You got people shooting up nightclubs.”

Joseph Neel is another of the hundreds of thousands of convicted felons who are expected to appeal to judges in Virginia for the right to bear arms, some of whom have been classified as “sexually violent predators.”

Neel’s case goes to a judge in July.

Neel was convicted of felony statutory burglary and brandishing a firearm 15 years ago. He will try to convince a judge that he can be trusted to have guns to protect his family, his home, and maybe even visitors at Maymont, a 100-acre animal sanctuary in Richmond, Va. Neel is Maymont’s manager of zoology.

The presence of bears on the Maymont grounds doesn’t require the presence of firearms. However, Neel’s petition to the court speculates that if Maymont ever added mountain lions to its inventory of animals, Neel might need a gun.

Thomas Wayne Perdue was convicted of possessing a firearm as a felon in 2006. He had hunting rifles in a case in his home, something Perdue said was just “a bunch of baloney.” He is another of the felons who will be in court in July asking for a restoration of their gun rights.

“All I’m really basically after is getting back in the woods for recreational purposes,” Perdue said.

Ironically, Perdue, Callahan, and Neel find themselves on the path to possible gun ownership because of the order from Gov. McAuliffe that allowed them to vote in the November election.

PJM reported McAuliffe issued an executive order in April that cleared the way for 206,000 felons to vote, run for office, even serve as notary publics if only so they could “feel good about themselves again.”

Imagine how they’ll feel about themselves with a sidearm?

Once their political rights were restored by McAuliffe’s order, those 206,000 felons could begin working to re-arm themselves.

It’s always been the rule of Virginia law that felons, after being released from prison, could petition to get their political rights back first, and then have their gun rights restored by the state’s governor. Decisions were always made felon-by-felon, or case-by-case.

But thanks to McAuliffe’s sweeping voting-rights order for felons, local circuit court judges are afraid they could face a tsunami of violent felons stampeding local courthouses, demanding the right to own a gun.

Jason Pelt, a Virginia lawyer who specializes in gun rights restoration, told the Washington Post he had received more than 24 calls from felons seeking his help in court.

“The most anti-gun governor in a long time in Virginia just made it incredibly easy for felons to get guns,” Pelt said.

Even gun-rights groups have a problem with the fallout from McAuliffe’s order that, unintended or not, clears the way for ex-cons to buy guns.

They only wish McAuliffe would treat law-abiding citizens the same way.

“The governor’s blanket actions on violent felons shows that while he is busy trying to make it harder for Virginia’s law-abiding citizens to purchase and carry guns, he is willing to make it easier for some very violent, dangerous, and possibly unrepentant criminals to do the same thing,” Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave told the Washington Free Beacon.

“The governor’s gun-control priorities are interesting, to say the very least,” he added.

Beyond the discretion of local judges, the only hurdle high enough to block 206,000 convicted felons from rearming themselves would be a federal conviction.

So, there is little Virginia judges can do to slow down the stampede of new gun owners. And some prosecutors have said they will likely be so overwhelmed that the hearings will amount to little more than the sound of a rubber stamp on a felon’s application to buy guns.

Despite the unintended consequences of his order allowing felons to vote once they have paid their debt to society, McAuliffe has said he will not change the process of granting gun ownership rights to felons.

He also disputed the Washington Post report that showed 132 sex offenders who were still behind bars somehow got their names on the list of felons whose political rights, and possibly gun ownership rights, would be restored.

“No one has accidentally had their rights restored,” McAuliffe said on a WRVA radio talk show in Richmond.

However, McAuliffe also noted that his office was dealing with “gigantic lists” of felons, and with “any massive data file, you’re going to have issues. You are going to have data problems.”