Justice Delayed is Justice Denied

Several times a week I receive inquiries from people who have had their firearms rights taken away and now desire to have them restored. In Florida, if you plead guilty to or are convicted of a felony, or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, your firearms rights are taken away. The good news is that in most cases your rights can be restored, the bad news is that the state is woefully behind in processing the applications.

After eight years from the end of any sentence or probation an individual can apply to the Office of Executive Clemency (the Governor) to have their firearms rights restored.  The process includes obtaining records from the county of conviction and submitting an application. Unfortunately, the law does not require the state to process the applications in a specific time period and makes no distinction between violent and non-violent felonies. When the state would provide the information, the Governor’s office had more than 90,000 pending applications.

A common scenario is someone who did something stupid as a teenager or young adult (which of us didn’t do something dumb  when we were young) who enters a guilty plea on advice of counsel to avoid the risk of going to jail. In most cases the person was not advised that they would be forfeiting their gun rights by accepting a plea deal. The person is now in their 40s or 50s, has a family and or business that they want to protect or likes to hunt  or shoot for recreation. Florida law treats this person no differently than a dangerous or violent felon. This is wrong.

The problem with fixing the system is that there is no political will to do so. The issue is too easily demagogued  as “giving guns to felons” so good people who have paid their debt to society are denied their constitutional rights long after their punishment has ended.

Later this year Florida will elect a new governor. All of the candidates should be asked  where they stand on the issues of fundamental justice, the rule of law and redemption.