Bill would restore full handgun rights to some Alaska felons

BURDEN OF PROOF: Prosecutors would have a tougher time.

March 25, 2010 

JUNEAU -- Some felons living in Alaska would have full gun rights restored under a bill heard Thursday in a committee hearing.

Under current state law, their partial gun rights can be restored in three ways: a felon is granted a pardon, the felon's conviction is set aside, or 10 years have elapsed since the sentence was completed, including probation and parole. It conflicts with a 1998 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said if felons' gun rights are restored, it must be done entirely -- or not at all.

Felons whose rights have been partially restored are barred from buying handguns and carrying concealed weapons outside their homes and property unless hunting or engaging in other outdoor activities that "necessarily involves the carrying of a weapon for personal protection."

But the National Rifle Association, state lawyers and private-practice lawyers told the House Judiciary Committee that the all-or-nothing rule means federal authorities could arrest and charge felons who have long since repaid their debts to society with unlawful possession of any firearm even though they would have satisfied state law.

Brian Judy of the NRA asked lawmakers to "get past the perceived stigma of 'giving firearms to felons,' which we're not doing here. ... This bill is not about giving firearms to felons."

Judy said the bill's effect is "virtually insignificant."

Assistant Attorney General Annie Carpeneti said her department is concerned the bill would make it difficult for the state to prosecute a swath of unlawful weapon possession cases that includes felons who have not had their rights restored.

The difficulty stems from language in the bill that shifts the burden of proof in these cases from the defense to the prosecution, Carpeneti explained.

"In this case, I am not empathetic to the state," said state Rep. Jay Ramras, who is running for lieutenant governor.

The other committee members present, Republican Reps. Carl Gatto and Bob Lynn and Democrat Bob Herron, did not object. The bill now heads to the Finance Committee.

The bill could also invalidate Alaska concealed handgun permits in seven of the 35 other states that recognize Alaska's permits, Judy said. Those seven states recognize Alaska permits only if Alaska laws are similar to their own.

The permits are not required in Alaska, but many gun owners get the $94 permits for multi-state rights. There are about 7,500 valid Alaska concealed handgun permits, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Ron Sterling, 58, of Anchorage testified through Anchorage attorney Wayne Anthony Ross that he was recently denied a handgun purchase because the current law's "twisted, Alice-in-Wonderland logic" is penalizing him 40 years after a drug charge as a teenager.

Bill Satterberg, a Fairbanks attorney, also supported the bill, saying a client whose conviction was essentially cleared from his record was denied the right to retrieve the guns he relies on for life in Bush Alaska.

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