Article Title

Is it Fair to Criminalize Possession of Firearms by Ex-Felons?

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Washington University Jurisprudence Review


Steven Gomez was being held in the county jail when he learned that he had been acquitted of the charges against him. Upon hearing that Gomez would be released shortly, Imran Mir, a fellow inmate who had been charged with participating in an international drug conspiracy, offered Gomez $10,000 per person to kill the six witnesses who were going to testify against Mir. Gomez reported Mir’s offer to the jail guards. Eventually, the customs agent working on Mir’s case promised anonymity and protection to Gomez in return for his help in gathering evidence against Mir. Gomez then pretended to accept Mir’s offer and, over the next three months, received detailed information about each targeted witness, was promised weapons to carry out the killings, and received a cash down payment from Mir. But, when the government charged Mir with solicitation to commit murder, the Assistant United States Attorney disclosed Gomez’s full name in the indictment.

Shortly after he was released, Gomez was accosted by a man with a gun who accused Gomez of cooperating with law enforcement and insinuated that there was a contract out on Gomez’s life. The federal agents, the county sheriff, and Gomez’s parole officer all refused to take Gomez into protective custody. Gomez then started running for his life, sleeping at friends’ houses and living on the streets. After receiving death threats in several locations and not knowing what else to do, Gomez took possession of a twelve-gauge shotgun that had been stored at a friend’s house even though he was generally prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law due to a prior felony conviction. Federal agents later sought to make contact with Gomez, not to belatedly offer him protection, but to get further help in making their case against Mir. After two days of searching, they found him at a friend’s house, carrying the shotgun.

Gomez was later indicted on two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), one count for the shotgun, the other for the shells in it. Given his dire situation and the government’s refusal to protect him, Gomez sought to introduce evidence tending to prove that his possession of the shotgun was justified, but the district court refused to allow this affirmative defense. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Gomez, the court found that Gomez’s situation fit within the very narrow justification exception to the federal felon-in-possession statute. Therefore, Gomez should have been allowed to present his justification defense to the jury.

Gomez’s case neatly lays out some of the costs and benefits of prohibiting ex-felons from possessing firearms, and the sympathetic defendant helps create an objective perspective and dispel some biases that easily cloud the issue of whether ex felons should be able to arm themselves. This Note will attempt to objectively tally up the ways that prohibiting ex-felons from possessing firearms both helps and harms members of society, using data to support arguments wherever possible. Data are not available on topics such as where ex-felons reside, their experiences as victims of crime, or their perpetration of violent crimes, so the arguments presented here will necessarily only paint a partial picture.