I had not heard about this, and maybe it is old hat. Anyway, Wyoming is trying to restore firearms rights for people convicted of a DV misdemeanor. The BATF said it would not recognize the expungement. The state sued, and lost at the district court level. It is now on appeal to the 10th circuit.
|Gun rights fight takes shape: Wyoming lawsuit against feds attracts national attention|
By BEN NEARY
Associated Press writer Monday, October 08, 2007
CHEYENNE -- National groups on both sides of the gun control debate are training their sights on Wyoming.
The state has been waging a legal fight to uphold a 2004 state law that allows people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to regain their right to own firearms by having their records expunged.
Although all states have the authority to restore gun rights, the federal government objected to the Wyoming law. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it would not recognize the state's law, arguing convictions were not being truly expunged because they can be used to enhance sentences in subsequent cases.
Gun control advocates have joined the fray, arguing that, because the record isn't wiped clean, Wyoming is violating federal law by allowing people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to obtain guns.
For Wyoming and gun-rights supporters, the issue is whether the federal government can dictate to states who can have guns.
"The (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) simply does not agree, on a policy basis, with the Wyoming Legislature's decision and has self-appointed itself the omnipotent role of deciding who should, and should not, possess firearms," attorneys on behalf of Wyoming argued in court papers this summer.
The federal agency told the state that if its law stayed on the books, they would no longer recognize more than 10,000 Wyoming concealed weapons permits as a substitute for federal background checks for firearms purchases. Such background checks are required under the federal Brady Act.
The state sued the federal agency last year. This summer, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson ruled in favor of the agency, and Wyoming has appealed the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
This week, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives filed its response to the appeal.
"As the district court explained, the term 'expungement' is ordinarily understood to refer to the removal of all consequences of a conviction," federal lawyers wrote.
The Wyoming law specifies that in order for a conviction to be expunged, it must not have involved the use of a firearm. Offenders also may only expunge their records once. Prosecutors and the petitioners' original victims must be notified when the expungement petitions are filed in court.
The National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners Foundation, both pro-gun groups based in Washington, D.C., filed briefs in support of the state's position in the trial court. The foundation has filed a brief in the appeals court, but a spokeswoman for the NRA said this week that her group hasn't decided whether it would do so.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal declined to comment on the case this week. He was to speak Friday at the Capitol during a ceremony honoring victims of domestic violence killed in the state.
So far this year, 23 convictions have been expunged under the Wyoming law, according to Attorney General Bruce Salzburg. That compares with 27 in 2005 and 13 in 2006. Salzburg said the state has granted one concealed weapon permit to a person whose record was expunged under the law and is awaiting a decision in the federal appeal to see whether the state will have to revoke that permit.
Salzburg declined to comment on the appeal, citing ongoing litigation.
House Speaker Roy Cohee, R-Casper, said he believes some people convicted of abuse should be barred from gun ownership, but that the state law was appropriate in giving courts latitude to weigh each individual case.
"If it was a domestic violence thing where a family went a little too far in defining their opinions to each other, should an individual be held for life never to hunt in the state of Wyoming again? I think that's probably going a little too far," Cohee said.
The Wyoming Coalition against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault supported the expungement bill when it passed a few years ago.
"We were optimistic that if this would give judges a little room to take away more firearms, that's what we were hoping for," said Suzan Pauling, public policy director for the coalition.
"We're trying to stay as neutral as we possibly can," Pauling said of the coalition's current position. "The majority of homicides by domestic violence are caused by guns, and the more guns we can get out of the hands of offenders, the better. So whichever way we can do that, we support, basically."
Herbert W. Titus, lawyer for the Gun Owners Foundation, said the Wyoming case is significant because the issue of whether restoration of gun rights is defined by federal regulations or state law is pending in trial courts around the country.
National gun control groups, however, say they find the Wyoming law inexplicable.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington intends to file a brief next week arguing against Wyoming's position, according to senior attorney Daniel Vice.
"Congress wisely determined that domestic violence abusers should not get guns, that that's a danger to the public, and especially for women who are abused by their spouses," Vice said. "So by Wyoming making it easier for abusers to get guns, it endangers public safety, and especially women in those abusive relationships."
The implications could be pretty big. For a lot of expungments and "plea in abeyance" type arrangements, the BATF could stop recognizing them.