Saturday, November 07, 2009

Question of the Day

Should convicted felons, having completed their sentences, have the right to keep and bear arms? Why or why not?

UPDATE: James Rummel kindly links and shares his own thoughts on the subject.

25 comments:

Rev. Jeremy Smith said...

Of course. In the summertime, long sleeves would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Kenny said...

I don't have a problem with requiring someone not to own guns as a term of parole, and I don't have a problem with very long parole for people who use guns to commit crimes, but I don't think they should forever be prohibited from owning guns, for two reasons:

(1) This signals that they haven't been fully integrated back into society. If we don't think they can ever be fully integrated - fully trusted - again, they shouldn't have been let out of prison in the first place. In fact, if there is any crime where we actually believe that offenders will ALWAYS be a danger to society NO MATTER WHAT, then we should execute anyone who commits that crime. I don't think there is any crime like this.

(2) Enforcing a prohibition as part of parole has much less effect on law abiding citizens who want to own guns than having to take down an SSN and pull a criminal record every time someone tries to purchase a weapon.

bob said...

Felons should not be allowed to own guns. Prison is not the only price for commiting a felony. These are people who have already shown they lack the judgement to follow rules.

Kenny said In fact, if there is any crime where we actually believe that offenders will ALWAYS be a danger to society NO MATTER WHAT, then we should execute anyone who commits that crime. I don't think there is any crime like this. The problem is there are criminals that admit they can't be rehabilitated especially sexual oriented criminals. Here in the Cleveland area we are reading every day about the guy the parole board thought could rejoin society. So far they have identified 7 of his 11 victims.

This question brought another question to mind. Should convicted felons ever regain the right to vote?

Yrro said...

Of course, it could be noted that the Cleveland killer didn't need a gun to commit his crimes, or that the police apparently ignored a lot of suspicious behavior before they finally caught him.
http://www.truecrimereport.com/2009/11/anthony_sowell_case_did_lazy_c.php

I think there's a good scientific argument for not giving them guns... but what are they supposed to do if they are attacked? Aren't they as likely (perhaps more likely) than anyone else to need to defend themselves?

Similarly with the voting issue - there have been some serious consequences to felons not being able to vote - such as the systematic disenfranchisement caused by drug felonies, or the camps of sexual criminals in Florida because there is no where they can legally live.

Combine this with the expansion of what a "felony" means - you can get one for downloading a hand-drawn picture of a naked child, for having sex with your sixteen-year-old girlfrield while you're 18, or for driving a bicycle while drunk - and you have a lot of fairly normal people who are now defenseless mixed in with the really nasty folk.

I don't know the answer... but it's more complicated than "they're all dangerous, take their guns."

Maybe some period where if they've been out of prison and clean for so long they get their rights restored.

Kenny said...

Bob - The rehabilitation rate for certain types of sex offenders is abysmal, it's true. In fact, I do support the death penalty for the most serious sex offenses. I stand by my point that if we don't think they can be fully reintegrated into society, we shouldn't let them out of prison. (However, as I indicated earlier, we can reintegrate them slowly - that's what parole conditions are for.)

bob said...

Yrro, I would argue disenfranchising is part of the penalty for not being able to follow the rules in the first place. My other point would be that a person that commits a felony shouldn't be helping to make the rules. Kind of like the lunatics running the asylum.

I do agree that the way we reintegrate those who have paid their debt to society needs to be addressed and modified.

One step may to be more stringent in who we allow on parole boards to better protect society from people not yet ready to be released.

John said...

If I had to choose, I'd say that convicted felons, having completed their sentences, should be able to vote but not own firearms.

My distinction is based on public safety. People are not placed in danger by a felon voting, but they can be readily harmed by felons wielding firearms -- by people who have demonstrated that society cannot fully trust them.

Kenny makes an interesting point: if a person isn't ready to be fully integrated into society, then s/he isn't shouldn't be released from prison. This is a notion that I need to mull over. But for the moment, I would say that a society may be obligated to release a person who has paid for his/her crime even if the person lacks a sense of social responsibility. For example, let's say that Person A whacks Person B over the head with a tire iron. Person A is sentenced to five years in prison, is denied parole, and serves his five years. At the end of five years, as he walks out of prison, he says "I'm glad that I did it. Person B got what was coming to him."

Should Person A be released from prison? Yes. Should Person A be trusted to own a firearm? I would say 'no'.

That a person has paid for his crime does not mean that his moral character has changed and that he can be trusted.

Yrro brings up something important: there is a trend toward the criminalization of everything, which I wrote about here. This trend has the potential to strip away the civil rights (such as voting and owning firearms) from people who have harmed no one and committed no act with criminal intent.

Kenny said...

John - I do agree that it would be unjust to keep a person in prison for such a long time that it is disproportionate to the crime they committed, just because we think they will repeat offend. If I'm afraid you will steal a stick of gum from the store again, I can't just lock you up indefinitely. In reality, though, I think that most people who commit violent crimes are punished far less than their crimes deserve. Furthermore, I can't think of a crime that is so minor that it would be unjust to keep holding the perpetrator in prison, yet so major that we would reasonably be afraid to let him have a gun when he gets out.

Bro. Dave said...

John, your question raises a bunch of other questions in my mind:
--Is prison really for the purpose of "rehabilitation"?
--Can a prisoner ever "repay his debt to society"?
--Is it fair to assume that a person will commit another violent crime just because s/he has been in prison?
--If we let ex-cons vote, will they vote Democrat or Republican?

Dan Trabue said...

If the felon were convicted of non-violent crimes - marijuana busts, for instance, I don't see why not. It's not like guns led them or aided them in the direction they chose.

If there were ANY violence connected to their crimes whatsoever, then yeah, probably not.

As to voting rights, I think they should definitely be restored, as I think voting has positive impacts upon one's character. The voter is someone who is saying "I am concerned about my society and want to be an active member thereof."

The notion of not releasing those "who aren't ready" to be released seems to be a scary "mind crime" kind of area. I fully understand the problems of habitual offenders - especially the violent ones - and maybe we need to revisit our penalty ideas as to what length of time is appropriate for what crimes. But in the meantime, if someone has served their time, I'd be opposed to randomly increasing it because they "weren't ready."

Who would make that call and based on what?

Dan Trabue said...

On our penal system in general, I think one of the best things we could do is decriminalize drugs so that we don't have prisons full of these relatively minor offenses (someone who keeps buying pot and getting arrested). There are SO MANY people in prison for these lesser "crimes" that it ties up our resources and prisons for the more serious violent crimes.

If we're not going to decriminalize drug usage, we need to at least remove jail penalties from those crimes and penalize them in other ways that don't cost society so much.

Talk about your Big Gov't!

Dan Trabue said...

That a person has paid for his crime does not mean that his moral character has changed and that he can be trusted.

This is true. But what if guns and violence had nothing to do with their crimes?

Maybe we should have the post-prison penalty be commiserate with the crime. If the person was arrested for embezzlement, they have the additional penalty of not being allowed to work near any monetary responsibilities. But for that person, owning a gun or not would not have anything to do with his crime and whether or not we can trust them with a gun.

James R. Rummel said...

Bro. Dave asked a few questions...

--Is prison really for the purpose of "rehabilitation"?

No, obviously not.

--Can a prisoner ever "repay his debt to society"?

There is no such thing as a "debt to society".

Consider that there is a number of people who have been falsely convicted, only to be exonerated years or decades later due to advances in forensic science. Most of them were jailed for sexual assault and rape, and DNA science freed them.

Since they served time for crimes they did not commit, that means they can now commit the crimes. Right?

I mean, they already paid their "debt to society", although they did nothing to incur that debt. The books must be balanced!

I say they are allowed to victimize the families of people who have this "debt to society" notion.

--Is it fair to assume that a person will commit another violent crime just because s/he has been in prison?

The vast majority of people who have been convicted of felonies keep committing crimes after they get out of jail. The average is 19 arrest charges over their criminal career.

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#recidivism

Keep in mind that these are arrest charges, and it does not represent the number of crimes committed, the number of people victimized, or the number of convictions.

--If we let ex-cons vote, will they vote Democrat or Republican?

I saw a survey earlier this year that I am having trouble finding online now. The findings were that the people who sacrifice and go into harms way for the common good (police, firefighters, those serving in the military) routinely poll about 80% Conservative. Those who end up in jail routinely poll about 80% Liberal.

Make of that as you will.

John said...

--Is prison really for the purpose of "rehabilitation"?


This is a relative question, so I'm not sure how to answer. But if you're asking normatively, then I'd say that the purpose of prison should be both punishment and rehabilitation. We should punish offenders, but for the sake of society at large, we should provide job training and placement to ex-cons to help prevent them from re-offending. The greater emphasis should be on punishment, and the lesser emphasis should be on rehabilitation.

I posit that (for the most part) wicked men are instrinsically wicked, and can only be coerced into behaving themselves.

--Can a prisoner ever "repay his debt to society"?


Yes. Perhaps not earn trust back, but the debt of punishment can be paid.

--Is it fair to assume that a person will commit another violent crime just because s/he has been in prison?


I think that it's past criminal behavior is a good predictor of future criminal behavior, although I don't have any stats to back that up right now. Is non-violent criminal behavior a good predictor of violent criminal behavior? I don't know.

--If we let ex-cons vote, will they vote Democrat or Republican?


I've seen studies indicating that ex-cons would trend Democratic, although electoral outcomes should play no role in social justice public policymaking.

Dan Trabue said...

But if you're asking normatively, then I'd say that the purpose of prison should be both punishment and rehabilitation.

I'd agree. The thinking is: MOST felons WILL be out on the streets again. We hear anecdotally (and there may be studies to back this up, I don't know) that prison often changes people for the worse - if they went in merely for drug charges, they come out having learned some new criminal tricks of the trade.

If we know that they're going to be back on the streets, would we rather they have learned something positive rather than only negative? Would it not behoove us and make pure self-interested sense that they have a chance of rehabilitation? Yes, absolutely, seems to me.

Study after study shows that various educational and drug rehab programs pay their own way - that criminals with no rehab or education while in jail have a (let's say) 75% recidivism rate but those with rehab and/or education while incarcerated have a (let's say) 35% recidivism rate, well, it only makes financial sense to get them that education, seems to me. The rates differ from program to program and study to study, but they are all (that I have seen) consistent in noting a dramatic drop in recidivism.

It would be fiscal and moral foolishness, it seems to me, to not strive to educate/rehabilitate in some manner.

John said...

I've seen studies indicating that ex-cons would trend Democratic...

Could it be that this has significantly less to do with their criminal history and more to do with the fact that the poor and minorities (which are disproportionately represented in our penal systems) tend to vote Democrat and that prison doesn't change that? I'd suggest this is so.

James R. Rummel said...

"I think that it's past criminal behavior is a good predictor of future criminal behavior, although I don't have any stats to back that up right now."

John, are you nuts? I keep leaving a URL which leads to statistics on the DOJ website which proves that the majority will be back in jail in less than three years!

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/crimoff.htm#recidivism

Copy 'n paste, John.

John said...

James wrote:

John, are you nuts? I keep leaving a URL which leads to statistics on the DOJ website which proves that the majority will be back in jail in less than three years!


Do you see me arguing against this perspective?

John said...

Dan wrote:

On our penal system in general, I think one of the best things we could do is decriminalize drugs so that we don't have prisons full of these relatively minor offenses (someone who keeps buying pot and getting arrested).


Yup. We could make a lot more room for child molesters and whatnot if we legalized consensual 'crimes' among adults.

John said...

Dan wrote:

Could it be that this has significantly less to do with their criminal history and more to do with the fact that the poor and minorities (which are disproportionately represented in our penal systems) tend to vote Democrat and that prison doesn't change that? I'd suggest this is so.


Or I could be grossly unfair and irrational and suggest that voting Democratic induces criminal moral impulses.

James R. Rummel said...

"Do you see me arguing against this perspective?"

No, but you do very clearly state that there is no hard facts to support your views. This is risible.

The data is very clear. The majority of felons continue to pursue a life of crime every time they have the chance. They cause misery, social disruption, and burden the justice system and taxpayers far out of proportion to their numbers. Even lengthy jail sentences fail to deter them.

This is more than just a matter of opinion, John.

bob said...

Or it could be that felons tend to vote Democrat because Democrats tend to be easier on crime.

This is why I think returning the right to vote would be a mistake.
A high percentage return to crime.
This percentage also tends to vote in a way that makes crimes easier to get away with.

Dan Trabue said...

I don't think you can support that last line, Bob. Democrats vote in such a way that makes CRIME easier to get away with? Such as?

Clearly, the obvious answer is that felons were probably mostly voting democrat long before they were felons.

Now the felons may eventually realize that the Dems (and Libertarians) are the ones who would come closest to fighting drug criminalization and therefore might be MORE inclined to vote for them, if they are of that sort of criminal - but that would be true of all TRUE small gov't conservatives, too.

Or maybe they're of the sort that realizes that the GOP is the party that's softest on white collar crimes and THOSE criminals would tend to vote for the GOP - if we're going to make wild guesses, I'd guess that.

John said...

James wrote:

No, but you do very clearly state that there is no hard facts to support your views.


Wrong. What I said was "...although I don't have any stats to back that up right now." I didn't deny that there was such evidence. I just stated up front that I had not yet done any research to test my hypothesis.

bob said...

Dan, I will grant that it may not have been the best choice of words. However my perception is that Dems a re soft on crime. When ever I hear somebody wanting to curtail the death penalty they tend to be Dem not always but the majority of the time. The same way with those willing to push for early parole it tends to be the Dem's. It also seems to me that there is more of a willingness to advocate for the criminals rights to the detriment of the victim.

Granted I don't have hard evidence just perception.

Dan Trabue said...

Fair enough.

I'd posit that you may be right that Dems tend to be against the death penalty, but I would not equate that as being soft on crime so much as being strong on justice.