Montana’s Constitution + Federal Law = No Guns for Most Felons

Montana Constitution restores the civil rights of convicted felons after they have served their time. At least most of them; a decision by a federal appellate court in Montana recently held the former felons can’t own a gun. The reason is because of the federal gun law; it accepts the Montana Constitution, but there is a small hitch.

Frank Van der hule was convicted of rape in 1983, he served a 25 year prison sentence. He got out, believed his rights were restored, and tried to buy a gun in 2003. He also applied for a concealed weapons permit. He was denied for both. The denial of the concealed weapons permit was by the state of Montana; although they restore your ability to own a gun they restrict your ability to carry a gun if you are convicted of certain crimes. Van der hule’s rape and quarter century prison term landed him in that category. As a result, Montana sheriffs may refuse to issue a concealed weapons permit. The circuit court asked the state supreme court for guidance on the issue and they directed the circuit court to a 2009 decision where they held that it was prohibited for a sheriff to issue the permit. So, Van der hule was denied the concealed weapons permit.

Why did the federal law deny his right entirely? The federal law that recognizes his restored civil rights reads “unless it comes with conditions that restrict the person from shipping, transporting, possessing or receiving firearms.” Since his gun permit will come with a restriction on concealed carry, the federal law no longer recognizes his restored right.

The decision of the circuit court is binding on all convicted felons in Montana. The Montana statute and 2009 decision prohibits issuing concealed weapons permits to any felon whose sentence lasted more than a year or if the crime was violent.