[Cross-posted at In a Blog's Stead]
There's been some discussion recently on L&P (see here, here, and here) as to whether ex-felons should have their Second and Fifteenth Amendment rights restored. Let me add a couple of points in favour of this.
a) The most fundamental justification of the right to bear arms is self-defense. To the extent that the right to vote can be justified, it is likewise primarily on self-defense grounds. To say that ex-felons should be denied these rights is to say that they should be forever denied the right of self-defense. Anyone who cannot be trusted with that right cannot be allowed safely on the streets in any case. If someone can't be trusted with a gun or a ballot, how can they be trusted with knives, baseball bats, chainsaws, or any of the other tools to which they will have access once they get out of prison? (Indeed, as I've argued elsewhere, the right to vote should be extended to currently incarcerated prisoners as well, to"prevent ... those in power from automatically disenfranchising their opponents simply by incarcerating them." For obvious reasons this doesn’t apply to the right to bear arms, however.)
b) In the particular case of the Second Amendment, there is no effective way of enforcing a ban on gun ownership by ex-felons without interfering with the rights of non-felons. How, for example, would one prevent an ex-felon from obtaining a gun except by requiring every gun owner to be licensed, registered, etc.? Such prior restraint is incompatible with both natural justice and the Constitution.
The conduct of ex-felons can be specially regulated in a society that is itself generally regulated, but not in a free society, for in a free society there is no effective way to police their conduct or enforce the required restrictions. Anyone who is not a candidate for exile or perpetual imprisonment must be granted full liberty of action.
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Kevin Carson - 1/20/2004
Probably half the people in prison are in there for stuff that shouldn't be a crime in the first place. At a hospital where I once worked, we had a patient who'd done ten years for murdering his wife. Someone remarked, "Too bad they didn't find a marijuana seed in his pocket; he'd still be in there."
It's interesting that the two demographic groups most surveilled and harassed by the drug war, and controlled by the criminal justice system, are also the two demographic groups least socialized to respect authority, or to take direction in a docile manner from men in suits sitting behind desks--inner city blacks and rural white rednecks. If a genuinely libertarian movement is ever to succeed in dismantling the centralized state and the apparatus of corporatism, it will have to be a coalition of a wide variety of libertarian, decentralist, and populist tendencies on left and right. It will probably include militia people, constitutionalists, homeschoolers, gun rights activists, organic farmers, human scale technology enthusiasts, Black Panthers, and Muslims.
Inner city blacks will necessarily be a large part of such a coalition. And the effect of the drug war is to keep close to a third of them tied up in some stage of the criminal justice system--under constant surveillance, disfranchised, and disarmed.