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Gun control is a hotly debated topic in US politics. Both the federal government and every state makes it a felony for a convicted felon (even if non-violent) to possess firearms. For 47 states it is a lifetime ban and for the remaining states (two red, one blue) it is a 10-15 year ban.

The argument against felons owning guns is, obviously, that they can't be trusted with such a dangerous weapon. Despite widespread support, criticism of this law has occasionally come from both sides. From the left, we have the issue of constructive possession: should the felon really be on the hook just because their roommate buys a gun? This concern is in line with "ban the box" laws which aim to ease re-entry into society. From the right, there is concern that minor acts of protest could become "felonies" in order to take guns out of dissident's hands; protection from tyranny was a key motivation behind the 2nd amendment in the first place.

Although felon in possession laws are universal, background checks have been a flashpoint of the gun debate. There is a federal mandate but gunshows are a loophole. As a general rule, "anti-gun" states (California, New York, etc) close this loophole but "pro-gun" states (Texas, Florida, etc) keep it open.

On the books there are/were many "zombie laws" that (for the most) part are gathering dust. For example, out-of-date bans on interracial and same-sex relationships including in liberal states. And many more obscure laws that no one bothers to clean up.

Is the felon in possession law in "red states" turning into a zombie law? It's difficult to prevent or prosecute contraband possession. Background checks are one of the few enforcement tools we have that respect privacy. But given the apathy to mandate such checks in pro-gun states, is there also increasing apathy to prosecute felon-in-possession cases?

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Is the felon in possession law in "red states" turning into a zombie law? It's difficult to prevent or prosecute contraband possession. Background checks are one of the few enforcement tools we have that respect privacy. But given the apathy to mandate such checks in pro-gun states, is there also increasing apathy to prosecute felon-in-possession cases?

While not a complete answer, the most common fact pattern in which someone is charged as a felon-in-possession is when they are arrested for a crime on a non-firearms charge, law enforcement learns of their felony record upon booking the individual, and the felon-in-possession charge (often turned over to federal prosecutors to benefit from mandatory minimum sentence laws for federal felon-in-possession) is added to the other charges that were the basis for the arrest or brought as a separate case in federal court.

In this fact pattern, the desire of both state and federal prosecutors in every state to maximize the likelihood of a conviction and long sentence for someone who has been arrested by law enforcement usually overcomes any political inclination to the contrary.

Also, to add to the background of the question, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, en banc, ruled this week that the Second Amendment makes felon-in-possession statutes at both the state and federal levels unconstitutional for some non-violent offenders, giving rise to a circuit split on this issue.

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    – ohwilleke
    Jun 9, 2023 at 18:14

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