U.S. appeals court to reconsider ban on nonviolent felons owning guns

AR-15 upper receivers are displayed for sale at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, California, U.S., April 12, 2021. REUTERS/Bing Guan
  • Full 3rd Circuit to consider on Feb. 15 a ban on nonviolent felons owning guns
  • Case follows major U.S. Supreme Court Second Amendment ruling

(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Friday said it would reconsider next month whether a federal law prohibiting nonviolent felons from owning firearms is constitutional in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last year expanding gun rights.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to have the full court rehear the case of a Pennsylvania man convicted of welfare fraud who argued the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms.

A three-judge panel in November had ruled against Bryan Range, who had argued it was unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's June holding in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

In that case, a 6-3 conservative majority of the justices declared for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.

The ruling, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, instructed courts going forward to determine if gun restrictions are "consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation."

The case will now be heard en banc on Feb. 15 by the full 3rd Circuit, which has seven active judges appointed by Republican presidents and six appointed by Democrats.

"We are very pleased that the full Third Circuit Court of Appeals will be considering this important issue, said David Thompson, a lawyer for Range at Cooper & Kirk.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to requests for comment.

Range, who pleaded guilty in 1995 to welfare fraud in Pennsylvania to obtain $2,458 of food stamps, invoked the high court's ruling in his appeal.

He said the ban on felons buying guns adopted in the Gun Control Act of 1968 had prevented him from buying a hunting rifle because his attempted purchases were flagged by a federal background check system and that, but for the prohibition, he might also buy a handgun for self-defense.

The three-judge panel, in an unsigned opinion, cited "history and tradition" in finding that individuals constitutionally entitled to bear arms are the “law-abiding, responsible citizens."

That category, the panel held, "properly excludes those who have demonstrated disregard for the rule of law through the commission of felony and felony-equivalent offenses, whether or not those crimes are violent."

The panel included U.S. Circuit Judges Patty Shwartz and Cheryl Ann Krause, both appointees of former Democratic President Barack Obama, and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Richards Roth, an appointee of former Republican President George H.W. Bush.

The case is Range v. Attorney General of the United States, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-2835.

For Range: David Thompson of Cooper & Kirk

For the United States: Kevin Soter of the U.S. Department of Justice

(NOTE: This story has been updated with a comment from Range's lawyer.)

Read more:

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Americans under felony indictment have a right to buy guns, judge rules

U.S. Supreme Court expands gun rights, strikes down New York law

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.