Voting should be an inalienable right, not forfeited by any conviction. The right to keep arms should be restored upon completion of an offender’s sentence unless he was convicted of crimes of violence.
Virginia’s Governor recently restored voting rights to a large number of felons. You can read the New York Times’ account of this here – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/us/governor-terry-mcauliffe-virginia-voting-rights-convicted-felons.html
I’ll present here a brief dialogue between me and a very smart G+ friend. I think it covers the issues here well.
Friend: Quick hypothetical…
If rights should be restored in full after a sentence is served, would you include the 2nd amendment rights? I believe the question is purely academic because where federal law allows for states to decide the issue with regard to voting rights, I believe it strictly prohibits the same for gun ownership. Could be mistaken about that.
I honestly feel the nature of the crime should be considered with the answer being a clear “no” in cases of violent crime.
Me: That’s a very good question. For violent crimes, I would say gun rights should remain suspended. In fact, my stance would depend on what right we’re talking about. I treat voting differently because it’s the primary and most powerful voice the citizen has in a democracy. As long as our votes are fairly counted and elections determine the leadership of our nation, we can save ourselves (or be the instrument of our own destruction).
For a felony having nothing to do with violence or force, I don’t see why someone shouldn’t have their firearms rights restored after their sentence is served. The right to self defense should be inherent. There’s an argument that firearms specifically are very rarely needed for self defense, but that would be a distraction from the main issue of whether this right is inherent. We could also consider the other legitimate uses of firearms, such as hunting or sports, and whether there’s a compelling reason the state should prevent a felon from engaging in these activities. This could get tricky to implement, but we could start with the standard of whether a reasonable person believes the felon would be likely to illegally use a firearm and see where that takes us.
Friend: Well, in the case of voting rights, wouldn’t the same principle hold true in regards to crimes of moral turpitude? Do you want the former leaders of Enron to have a say in who becomes the leader of the free world?
Me: I thought about moral turpitude as a disqualifier, but I think it’s more important to treat the right to vote as inherent than to allow exceptions and weaken this right. I think the moral turpitude argument could have unintended consequences, and I note that some of the most immoral people (e.g. Don Blankenship) are either walking free with all their rights intact or not convicted of any felonies. For democracy to work, we have to trust that the masses of the people won’t be so shortsighted, fearful, or ignorant as to vote a disastrous person into power. I know this isn’t the best time for that trust and the Bush 2 Presidency is a counterexample, but I still prefer democracy to the alternatives.
Both: We were in agreement and ended the discussion at this point.
So what do you think about this? Feel free to tell me in the comments.