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View Full Version : Why is possession a felony when it comes to guns?


nobs11
11-16-2008, 9:33 PM
I was discussing gun control with a friend and I couldn't really answer why illegal possession of guns is a felony even when no "real" crime has been committed.

With most controlled substances, possession is usually a misdemeanor or an infraction and only a felony if you are selling. What is the historical reason that illegal possession or modifications was made a federal felony even if the firearms involved are not used in the commission of a crime? Did the full auto ban during prohibition set the precedent for this? Every bill usually has a motivational preamble that explains the "philosophy."

Maybe the Librarian, Gene, Bill, Oaklander, veteran members can provide some background and real information?

Any real history other than "the evil liberal communists want to take away all our guns and send us all to jail forever?"

Thanks.

pizzatorte
11-16-2008, 9:53 PM
Anything that isn't wrong isn't really a crime. Unforuntunately the nation's laws have been filled up with rules prohibiting things which aren't wrong, apart from being illegal, which is delightfully circular.

"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." -- Ayn Rand

As to why our government started banning possesion of weapons, Google "racist history of gun control" and take your pick of source material.

Librarian
11-16-2008, 10:33 PM
I was discussing gun control with a friend and I couldn't really answer why illegal possession of guns is a felony even when no "real" crime has been committed.

I'd guess there are two issues here: (1) possession of any gun by so-called 'prohibited persons', and (2) possession of particular 'illegal guns', like the so-called 'assault weapons' and cane guns and destructive devices and such.

The first circumstance is easier. The members of one set of generally 'prohibited persons' are judged - rightly or wrongly - to not be responsible members of society based on a characteristic: age (too young), mental competence and such. Plunking these people in jail doesn't help much - if they're really too <something> to be responsible, are they really going to understand? I expect not. But 'modern' people have long tried to protect the children and the mentally deficient from the rigors of full adult responsibility. Probably the full effect began with the passing of 'child labor laws', by which point children were valued a bit differently by society at large than earlier conditions allowed.

The other set is so judged based on individual actions, indicating that the person does not act as if s/he accepts the broad 'social contract' e.g. it's not nice to kill/rob your fellow citizens. That's the source of 'felon in possession' restrictions. (You can find a lot of this history associated with restricting felons from voting - disenfranchisement - and it goes back to ancient Greece. See link (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6562/is_/ai_n29235658) to one article.)

Neither set of evaluations is perfect; it's arguable, for example, either that we should allow for felons to Change Their Ways and restore their gun rights, or alternatively, decide They Are Bad Forever and actually keep them incarcerated - since we can't keep them from getting guns if they actually want them.

I think the 'particular gun' prohibition is just silly; if a person can be trusted to have/use even one gun in a reasonable and safe manner, such a person is no obvious danger with any weapon.

The recently-deceased Preston Covey wrote about this problem: The Selective Gun Ban Dilemma:

If you are principled and logically consistent, you must ban ALL guns, OR ban NONE. ALL OR NONE.

Put more bluntly: a selective gun ban is a scam; if you're committed to banning any gun to reduce gun violence, then you are inevitably committed to banning all guns. If you are honest, you will stand up, say so, and face the political consequences. This is not my paranoia, this is simple logic.

...

We will assume -- hypothetically, just for the sake of argument -- that the ban will be effective: that is, that banning a targeted gun will in fact reduce criminal access and criminal use of that gun.

Ban proponents have to assume that the ban will be effective, otherwise it's dishonest and irresponsible on its face, not to say useless for getting guns "off the streets" (as, in fact, I believe any gun ban is).

Let's even hypothetically assume that any selective ban on type-X guns is perfectly effective, as effective as if God totally disappeared any gun that we may choose to ban.

Then, here's how the logic of the dilemma goes:

Let's assume, contrary to fact and common sense, that a ban on guns of brand X today will magically eliminate those guns from criminal hands tomorrow. Then tomorrow, guns of type Y will become the criminals' "weapons of choice." Guns of brand Y will then become the "bad" guns, the evil "assault weapons" of tomorrow. So they too must banned. And so it must go, that, inevitably, all guns must be banned as they each, in turn, become the "weapons of choice" in violent crime. For as long as criminals have whatever guns are available, gun violence will continue unabated. By its own goals and criteria, Governor Casey's ban is committed to banning any type of gun that is popular with criminals -- or even any weapon that is "oriented" to "an anti-personnel role," in other words: all defensive weapons.
- Testimony before The Pennsylvania General Assembly's Select Committee to Investigate Automatic and Semiautomatic Firearms in Harrisburg, PA, September 20, 1994

So, the reason why you can't answer the question is that there is no really good reason for it.

KTGunner
11-16-2008, 11:22 PM
I think the 'particular gun' prohibition is just silly; if a person can be trusted to have/use even one gun in a reasonable and safe manner, such a person is no obvious danger with any weapon.

Best argument I've heard in a while. Too bad it makes too much sense for government.



Now's when do I get my F-16? ;)

Theseus
11-16-2008, 11:36 PM
Well, so too does the argument go that if they ban brand x and there is no change in crime the argument would be that they banned the wrong brand. . .

nobs11
11-17-2008, 12:07 AM
Thank you Librarian. I agree with the ALL or NONE being the only logically consistent view.

You answered part of my question, but the main question I had was what is the logical link or relationship between a person not accepting the "board social contract" as you put it and possession of prohibited guns. How do proponents of felonies for possession by citizens who have not committed a "real" crime (i.e. involving depriving another citizen of their right or an act that is in other ways harmful to society) argue their case?

In other words, who made the decision that possession of a block of wood and metal by an otherwise law abiding citizen that could shoot projectiles and had certain features was breaking the social contract when the item in question is sitting in the person's closet without causing anyone any harm. And how did they justify this to The People?

My question is more about the consequences of breaking the law when it comes to prohibited guns, than whether they should be prohibited at all.

As a parallel, a kid with illegal "race" modifications to his vehicle risks confiscation of his property if it is parked on the street. If he uses the vehicle to race and possibly hurt people, society sends him off to jail (I could be wrong on this but as far as I know). Why does this not apply to firearms. Why is the deterrent for mere possession long sentences in federal prison, instead of confiscation or fines?

pizzatorte
11-17-2008, 12:16 AM
Here's an example, from http://ammunitionaccountability.org/

Ammunition coding technology works by laser etching the back of each bullet with an alpha-numeric serial number. Then when a potential criminal purchases a box of 9mm cartridges, the box of ammunition and the bullets’ coding numbers would be connected to the purchaser in a statewide database.

The people who are banning objects see every person who would dare to possess those objects as "a potential criminal." Note that it doesn't say "some of the people who buy ammunition may be criminals." It says that EVERY person who buys ammunition IS a potential criminal.

That purchaser's possession gives them the means. They clearly already have a motive, otherwise they wouldn't possess the ammo. The only thing keeping the potential criminal ammunition possesor from killing a bunch of people is the opportunity.

The people who push this agenda are forever admitting that if they had a gun, they would go off and kill someone. They talk about how they get so angry, it sure is a good thing they don't have a weapon. They are fundamentally broken, and they are projecting onto everyone else. I'm quite sure that virtually ever member of this community places no connection whatsoever between firearms and anger. Guns are not emotional outlets. That is beyond the comprehension of those who are working to disarm us.

peekay331
11-17-2008, 12:18 AM
Thank you Librarian. I agree with the ALL or NONE being the only logically consistent view.

You answered part of my question, but the main question I had was what is the logical link or relationship between a person not accepting the "board social contract" as you put it and possession of prohibited guns. How do proponents of felonies for possession by citizens who have not committed a "real" crime (i.e. involving depriving another citizen of their right or an act that is in other ways harmful to society) argue their case?

In other words, who made the decision that possession of a block of wood and metal by an otherwise law abiding citizen that could shoot projectiles and had certain features was breaking the social contract when the item in question is sitting in the person's closet without causing anyone any harm. And how did they justify this to The People?

My question is more about the consequences of breaking the law when it comes to prohibited guns, than whether they should be prohibited at all.

As a parallel, a kid with illegal "race" modifications to his vehicle risks confiscation of his property if it is parked on the street. If he uses the vehicle to race and possibly hurt people, society sends him off to jail (I could be wrong on this but as far as I know). Why does this not apply to firearms. Why is the deterrent for mere possession long sentences in federal prison, instead of confiscation or fines?
I don't really understand the confusion. A felon loses the right to own a firearm. As such, if he possesses a firearm, it is considered contraband. It would be akin to me walking around with a kilo of cocaine or a gig of kiddie porn and not using or distributing it. My mere possession is enough to constitute a crime. Not every crime requires a specific victim.

nobs11
11-17-2008, 12:25 AM
I don't really understand the confusion. A felon loses the right to own a firearm. As such, if he possesses a firearm, it is considered contraband. It would be akin to me walking around with a kilo of cocaine or a gig of kiddie porn and not using or distributing it. My mere possession is enough to constitute a crime. Not every crime requires a specific victim.

I am not arguing about the felon status, but rather the consequences of breaking this law.

Can a case be made that 10 years in federal prison and loss of many rights, some permanently, for possessing a piece of property that does not violate individual or collective rights is in conflict with the following?

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

SOneThreeCoupe
11-17-2008, 6:42 AM
No, it can't be made because it'd force the government to give up power, which they will not do.

All the government has to do is issue some press releases showing the "destructive potential" of whatever firearm is currently in question and get public opinion on its side, then SCOTUS can just rule arbitrarily about the illegality of that weapon because its dangers obviously outweigh how our Founders felt about RKBA.

The law does not make sense because gun control isn't about controlling the guns, it's about controlling the people.

Also, if you put "felony" on any crime, you're telling the public that it's one of the worse crimes and thus anyone who commits that particular felony is committing one of the worse acts. You are creating in the public a morality that is not theirs, but yours, and you control them by exercising that power whenever possible.

It is not Constitutionally sound and creates a collective mistrust of those who own guns. Add in the fact that the media has a tendency to report only crimes committed with firearms and you have created a society distrusting of the privately-owned firearm and extremely trusting of the government-owned firearm.

Electric Factory
11-17-2008, 7:02 AM
Now's when do I get my F-16? ;)

This does create an interesting but purely academic discussion; if it's true that a non-criminal can be trusted to operate his firearm of choice legally then why a limit on the type of firearm ? And to extend the logic then why NOT an M1 Abrahms tank in my garage ?

Is it because the M1 Abrahms is recognized to fall outside of ' normal sporting application' ? And if THAT's true then the case is made that any particular 'firearm' or destructive device[ F-16, 60mm mortar, fragmentation grenade, Thompson submachinegun, full auto 1919] can similarly be regulated out of civilian hands, which is the situation we currently have.

It seems to me that we [ legal gun owners] have to rationally develop a threshold of ownership which can be logically defended no matter how far you extend the logic.

Electric Factory
11-17-2008, 7:03 AM
The law does not make sense because gun control isn't about controlling the guns, it's about controlling the people.

.

Bingo.

Vacaville
11-17-2008, 7:13 AM
I'd guess there are two issues here: (1) possession of any gun by so-called 'prohibited persons', and (2) possession of particular 'illegal guns', like the so-called 'assault weapons' and cane guns and destructive devices and such.

The first circumstance is easier. The members of one set of generally 'prohibited persons' are judged - rightly or wrongly - to not be responsible members of society based on a characteristic: age (too young), mental competence and such. Plunking these people in jail doesn't help much - if they're really too <something> to be responsible, are they really going to understand? I expect not. But 'modern' people have long tried to protect the children and the mentally deficient from the rigors of full adult responsibility. Probably the full effect began with the passing of 'child labor laws', by which point children were valued a bit differently by society at large than earlier conditions allowed.

The other set is so judged based on individual actions, indicating that the person does not act as if s/he accepts the broad 'social contract' e.g. it's not nice to kill/rob your fellow citizens. That's the source of 'felon in possession' restrictions. (You can find a lot of this history associated with restricting felons from voting - disenfranchisement - and it goes back to ancient Greece. See link (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb6562/is_/ai_n29235658) to one article.)

Neither set of evaluations is perfect; it's arguable, for example, either that we should allow for felons to Change Their Ways and restore their gun rights, or alternatively, decide They Are Bad Forever and actually keep them incarcerated - since we can't keep them from getting guns if they actually want them.

I think the 'particular gun' prohibition is just silly; if a person can be trusted to have/use even one gun in a reasonable and safe manner, such a person is no obvious danger with any weapon.

The recently-deceased Preston Covey wrote about this problem: - Testimony before The Pennsylvania General Assembly's Select Committee to Investigate Automatic and Semiautomatic Firearms in Harrisburg, PA, September 20, 1994

So, the reason why you can't answer the question is that there is no really good reason for it.

Excellent argument. An observation I made on a trip to England last year was that there were multiple knife attacks all around London. Stabbing sprees were all over the news. All I could think is that the criminals have reached for the next best weapon since their guns had been taken away.

Telperion
11-17-2008, 7:54 AM
I'm not sure there is an overly complicated answer: most of the felony-level offenses were introduced with the 1968 Gun Control Act, which simultaneously disallowed convicted felons from owning guns. A legal positivist would say that society views even minor infractions involving guns very seriously. A cynic would say that prohibiting felons to own guns, and then defining minor, technical violations (e.g. 922(r)) as felonies, allows the government the widest latitude to strip people of their rights.

In contrast, one can away with very serious acts committed with a motor vehicle without felony consequences. First-offense DUI is a not a felony, and the person who killed two Tongon royals on US-101 was only convicted of misdemeanors [1 (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/11/06/BAT113UQ4U.DTL)]. Sweeping people into the felony camp for many minor- and mid-level vehicle-related offenses would be too expensive to the government in terms of incarceration costs, and lost revenue from destroying the lives of productive people who made bad judgment calls. Turning the screws on people who break gun laws doesn't seem to present the government with the same dilemma.

BillCA
11-17-2008, 8:56 AM
Telperion is correct as far as he refers to the GCA68. Prior to that time, laws prohibiting ex-felons from possessing firearms varied from state to state. Not surprisingly, it was a misdemeanor in most states and a felony only in a few. Some states prohibited ex-felons from possessing handguns only. GCA68 forced it to be a federal felony.

For "illegal weapons", Congress and the anti-gun movement have attempted in may ways to ban guns, including selectively declaring certain "types" of guns as unlawful. NFA34 required a tax-stamp on machine guns, sawed off shotguns, silencers, etc. due to a few overblown incidents in the 1920's.

As far as my memory and research goes, each of these bans was proceeded with statements to the effect that the new laws would "give our police the tools they need to maintain public order" -- or some such twaddle. In each case, passage of the law has done little to allow police to stop or solve real crimes. But it has enhanced LE's ability to make the life of a lawful citizen miserable.

yellowfin
11-17-2008, 10:38 AM
NFA34 required a tax-stamp on machine guns, sawed off shotguns, silencers, etc. due to a few overblown incidents in the 1920's.

As far as my memory and research goes, each of these bans was proceeded with statements to the effect that the new laws would "give our police the tools they need to maintain public order" -- or some such twaddle. In each case, passage of the law has done little to allow police to stop or solve real crimes. But it has enhanced LE's ability to make the life of a lawful citizen miserable.
There is considerable reason to believe that the NFA was intended to quash a rebellion in the event of the Depression getting so bad the people want to dump the government as they were fed up with their own conditions and FDR's incessant meddling. They should have while they had the chance, as they certainly would have been constitutionally justified in doing so. The NFA fundamentally removes the mandate of parity between armed citizens and government guns, the undeniable intent of the 2nd Amendment which was by that act erased. The addition of suppressors to the NFA was in response to poaching by the poor, killing game in the off season to put meat on their table. Uncle Sam didn't like people taking care of themselves--it was King FDR who was to take care of them by the means he saw fit.

wolf13
11-17-2008, 11:15 AM
There is considerable reason to believe that the NFA was intended to quash a rebellion in the event of the Depression getting so bad the people want to dump the government as they were fed up with their own conditions and FDR's incessant meddling. They should have while they had the chance, as they certainly would have been constitutionally justified in doing so. The NFA fundamentally removes the mandate of parity between armed citizens and government guns, the undeniable intent of the 2nd Amendment which was by that act erased. The addition of suppressors to the NFA was in response to poaching by the poor, killing game in the off season to put meat on their table. Uncle Sam didn't like people taking care of themselves--it was King FDR who was to take care of them by the means he saw fit.

This is what I have been able to deduce from what I have read. I wasn't alive back then, but have read a lot on the subject, and have come to the conclusion that this is what lead to it.

aileron
11-17-2008, 11:24 AM
The people who push this agenda are forever admitting that if they had a gun, they would go off and kill someone. They talk about how they get so angry, it sure is a good thing they don't have a weapon. They are fundamentally broken, and they are projecting onto everyone else.

If they openly admit to such an insane point of view, then why isn't some govt organization trying to get their drivers license revoked, before they go nutty and run a bunch of people over. They are kind of stating in a veiled way that they are a threat to society.

MP301
11-18-2008, 1:53 AM
Hey nobs11,

In CA, possesion of a concealled handgun without a permit is a Misdemeanor on the first offense...Unless the handgun is not registered to you, then it is a Felony. The second offense for possesion of a concealled handgun is a "Wobbler"...which means that it can be charged as either a Felony or a Misdemeanor depending on the circumstances or, more accurately, what the DA wants to do.

Possesion of a controlled substance is actually a Felony, not a Misdemeanor! This does not included Marijuana unless you posses over an ounce...packaged for sale, etc.etc.

Hope that this info helps..

_Odin_
11-18-2008, 8:45 AM
I believe possession of an unregistered AW is an infraction on the first offense, assuming your record is clean and only one AW is found. I say this because I remember reading about a case in which someone in El Dorado Hills had an 80% lower AR or some-such; they found him guilty of an infraction.

So yea, not all illegal possession is a felony.