Raise your hand if this sounds like someone you know: As a not-yet-fully-baked adult, he made what today’s parents refer to as “bad choices.” A few too many traffic tickets. A bit of theft. An unsuccessful attempt to outrun the cops. A bar brawl. A burglary. Some or all of the above . . . and then some.
Fast forward to today. It’s been 10 . . . 15 . . . maybe 20 years since any trouble with the law. He has a career, or maybe his own business, and a family. But here’s what he doesn’t have: the right under Washington law and federal law to own or possess firearms. He has one or two, or even more, felony convictions on his record, and every felony conviction disqualifies him.
It does not even take a felony case to lose firearm rights. Conviction for a misdemeanor offense with a “domestic violence” tag also terminates gun rights.
And in nearly every case, it does not matter whether the conviction has been expunged, or whether the charge was dismissed under some deferral program offered as a plea deal by the prosecuting attorney. As far as the authorities are concerned, the conviction still prohibits firearm possession.
That’s a grim picture for a guy who outgrew the “bad choices” period of his life long ago, and now just wants to hunt with his dad and grandfather, or take his own kid to the range.
For the vast majority of such people, however, Washington law offers a way to restore gun rights. A Superior Court will issue a court order restoring gun rights for an eligible person. So who is eligible? These are the basic criteria: five years have elapsed since the date of the felony conviction (three years if the conviction was for a misdemeanor), and there are no pending criminal charges or arrest warrants. And, of course, the person must not be prohibited from firearm possession due to some other factor unrelated to the old conviction, such as a mental-health commitment, or a court order that limits firearm rights, such as a protection order, restraining order, or no-contact order.
Some offenses are so serious that a convicted person can never restore firearm rights. These are the sex offenses and Class A felonies, such as homicide, robbery, and other violent crimes.
In Washington, if an eligible person asks a Superior Court judge to restore firearm rights, the judge must grant the request. It’s mandatory. The judge cannot refuse the request just because the judge thinks the applicant is a bad actor. On the other side of the coin, the judge cannot grant the request of an ineligible person just because the person has a long list of accomplishments and a fistful of character references. This is a pass/fail test. The applicant either meets the criteria or he doesn’t.
The law on restoration of firearm rights is surprisingly complex and confusing. There are rules, and exceptions to rules, and exceptions to the exceptions. There is an intricate intersection of state and federal law, especially when it comes to domestic-violence offenses. And there is a driving blizzard of bad information about firearm rights put out by everyone from bloggers and forum contributors to sheriff’s staffs and lawyers who ought to know better. Given the right guide through that blizzard, the guy described at the beginning of this post stands a pretty good chance of recovering his gun rights.