Jan 11, 2004 1:03 pm


Steven Horwitz and Kevin Drum at Calpundit, via email, have responded to my post yesterday arguing that ex-felons should have both their second and fifteenth amendment rights restored.

In my view, Horwitz goes to the crux of the matter when he suggests that laws denying full legal and constitutional rights to ex-felons are more likely to arise in a punishment-based legal system. Under a restitution approach, by contrast, “someone who has paid their debt either literally or in time served, has made full restitution, and should start from a clean slate.” Horwitz raises a possible “hard case” objection, however. He asks whether crimes that are likely to be repeated, such as child molestation, deserve a clean slate?

Kevin Drum also puts forward a hard case argument. Although he agrees that there is “something to” my general argument that the second and fifteenth amendment rights of ex-felons should be restored, he adds: “Of course, denying guns to people who have use a gun to commit crimes in the past probably strikes most people as pretty reasonable. However, denying guns to some schmoe who was a drug addict ten years ago might not.”

It seems to me, as Horwitz indicates, that the best solution is a general one: a shift to a restitution-based legal system. Should such a system make exceptions for hard cases? I do not think so. In my view, the principle of the full restoration of rights should trump the possible exceptions mentioned by Drum and Horwitz.

Having said that, these and many other hard cases are really not really so problematic after all. A restitution-based legal system, which emphasizes full transparency, offers several possible solutions. Most importantly, it would facilitate the development of an information market on criminals and their crimes. Such a market would enable landlords, homeowners associations, creditors, schools, and potential crime victims to identify, and take precautions against, possible hard cases.

There is certainly precedent. Currently many states and localities release the new addresses of convicted child molesters who have been released. Why couldn’t this service be performed by the private sector? Of course, no system is perfect but it seems to me that one that enables the full restoration of rights is worth the relatively small price that must be paid in exchange.

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mark a magas - 1/12/2005

I thank you for exploring this very important topic. I am one of several people currently organizing a group called Full Citizen. Our mission is to lobby for the full restoration of rights to felons who have successfully completed their time under government supervision. We will begin with voting rights because voting is the right from which all others stem in a democracy but we will move on to economic and 2nd Amendment Rights. Our guiding principle is that it should be possible for a person to aspire to full citizenship.

As you may know the free market already engages in information sharing regarding felons. Employers and landlords routinely conduct background checks and this fact further impacts the felon who has 'paid his debt'.

Do you feel it would be unreasonable to have a sunset on reporting felonies. Perhaps five years after completing probation. In this way 3% of the population could re-enter the market place and regain their right to "the pursue happiness"

BTW I am actively seeking to network with people who are concerned about this issue.Please feel free to share my email,