Stop Assuming All Felons Are Murderers

Nina Berman Gun Rally - CroppedI guess I have to talk about this new extension of “stand your ground” in George. But it isn’t because of the conservatives. That isn’t to say the law isn’t awful, because it most certainly is. My understanding is that it allows people to carry guns wherever they want. Now they can’t carry them into a church if the church doesn’t want guns there. But doing so would be equivalent to a parking ticket. So if some white supremacist wants to bring a gun into a black church, it isn’t really against the law until he starts firing at people.

But I’m afraid that that too many liberals are concerned that “stand your ground” will now apply to ex-felons. Cliff Schecter mentioned that on today’s episode of Majority Report. But more concerning is what Digby wrote yesterday:

So, they are basically giving felons a right to kill if they “feel afraid.” They can’t vote but they can carry guns and kill people with impunity. Sure, that makes perfect sense.

There are various things wrong with this. The most basic is that I don’t understand why ex-felons shouldn’t have “stand your ground” rights if other people do. If the state of Georgia has decided that the world is just an awful place that people need to be packing heat and killing lest they be killed, how is that not just as true for ex-felons as anyone else? Does their history of crime make them less deserving of life?

But I do understand where Digby is coming from and I do largely agree. She’s thinking of murderers and rapists and other violent criminals. But she’s got to know that these are generally not the kind of crimes people get labeled felons for. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 49.9% of the people in custody are there for drug offenses as of 29 March 2014. Another 10.5% are there because of immigration crimes. Less than 25% are there for rape, murder, or weapons charges, and those in that last category are 63% of the prisoners.

One of the big problems in our country is that we’ve decided that some unfortunate junkie or unlucky pot smoker should be saddled with the exact same label as a serial killer. But that’s a societal problem. As liberals, we need to push against that and see that there is no such thing as an “ex-felon” much less a “felon”—a term used for the rest of a person’s life regardless of what he might go on to do.

Another issue with what Digby wrote is that it is not true that ex-felons can’t vote in Georgia. The rights of ex-felons are different from state to state. But because this misinformation is so often mentioned, ex-felons all over the nation think that they can’t vote when they can. Pro Con has a great webpage that lists all the laws in all the states, State Felon Voting Laws. I was even surprised that in two states—Maine and Vermont—current felons can vote via absentee ballot. And even in the 11 states where felons might lose their rights for good, there are remedies. So let’s not continue to repeat the myth that ex-felons can’t vote.

The more important point to this discussion of “stand your ground” in Georgia is whether ex-felons can own guns. The laws here are all over the board, but as 2011, ex-felons in Georgia could only own guns if they were granted a pardon. But it just so happens that the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles seems to hand them out for the asking. But they don’t seem to give them to murderers and rapists. So it does seem that the Georgia ex-felons that we should be most concerned about will not be legally walking around with guns.

I don’t mean to minimize these “stand your ground” laws. They are a pox on society. And Digby made the important point, “Sadly, the way these things work is that something truly horrible will have to happen before they reverse this crazy law.” But the issue is the law, not that people who made mistakes in the past are treated like everyone else.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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