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Remedies for Convicted Felons to Carry Firearms Limited

Considered a public safety move, convicted felons in Wisconsin have very little leeway in hunting or otherwise exercising any second amendment rights.

Having just gone through yet another year of deer hunting, there have been a number of questions with regard to convicted felons possessing weapons. To begin, the law is pretty clear on this — anyone who has been convicted of a felony may not possess a firearm in the state of Wisconsin, outside of some very limited exceptions, including military service and work as a peace officer.

This means that a convicted felon may not hunt with a rifle ever in his lifetime — at least while the felony remains on his record. 

The law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms was enacted in 1981. According to the courts, the law was enacted to protect public safety by regulating firearms. By the letter of the law, someone who was acquitted of a felony by reason of mental disease or defect would also be prohibited from possessing any firearm during the period of his disability. Based upon these understandings, the courts have upheld the prohibition — even on felons whose only felony was committed prior to 1981.

Only where the felon has shown an imminent, impending and unlawful threat of death or great bodily harm relating to his possession of the firearm have the courts recognized any exception other than those specifically listed in the statute. And even that privilege is extremely limited.

To be clear, statutes such as this can be very definition intensive. First, when is the person “possessing” a firearm? Second, what, exactly, constitutes a firearm? In this case, the definitions have been very sweeping and generally disfavor any possession of anything resembling a firearm by a felon.

A person is said to be in possession of a firearm if he knowingly has any control over a firearm for any minimal length of time. If, for example, someone convicted of a felony is at home and there are firearms in the house that the person knows about, he could be convicted of possessing a firearm. If a convicted felon joins a hunting party and even one gun is left unlocked in the lodge with him, the felon could be charged with possession. If he hands a firearm from one person to another — unloaded, uncased or disassembled — he could be charged with possession.

When courts consider the definition of “firearm,” things again get tricky. By statutory definition, a firearm is considered any “weapon that acts by force of gunpowder.” While that seems clear, it gets to be tricky when discussing dissembled weapons or weapons that are incapable of firing. Both, under the courts, have been considered firearms and subject felons to criminal charges for possession. Even collectors firearms that are capable of being repaired and fired are included in the ban.

The long and short of it is that a felon is in true jeopardy of criminal charges if he is even around firearms or anything that could become a firearm. Which means any participation in a hunting trip (other than bow-hunting) is likely out of the question. It also means that families of felons may have limitations on their ability to have and keep weapons, just to protect the felon from additional criminal charges.

In Wisconsin, we have a number of ways for someone to catch a felony conviction. Felonies exist for failure to report to jail, possession of controlled substances, failure to pay child support, even adultery. Although these are generally more serious crimes — all punishable by the possibility of more than one year in jail — they are surprisingly frequent.  Ozaukee County, for example, had issued 238 felony charges this year as of Friday.  Washington County has charged double that many and Sheboygan, nearly triple.

Given the strong tradition of deer hunting in this state, this time of year frequently brings questions as to the proper course to restore the civil right to carry firearms — now recognized in more contexts in Wisconsin than mere hunting (thanks to the ).

The answer, unfortunately, is very limited. Effectively, the only way to remove the restriction on possessing firearms is to remove the felony. Removing any old or settled felony frequently involves an act of great mercy on the part of someone with the authority to do so. Either the prosecuting authority must agree to reopen and amend the case to something other than a felony, or the felony must be removed through a governor's pardon. Both are very difficult roads that are usually met with failure — even if the felon has had no further criminal conduct in several decades.

The law, as it stands, limits felons' ability to hunt, and families of felons should be very aware of the possibility that their conduct could, hypothetically, get their convicted relatives in further trouble.  At this time there is very little recourse. However, anyone with a conviction can find information on gubernatorial pardons at the Governor's website.

Rik Kluessendorf December 08, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Just to clarify the difficulty in obtaining a pardon (again, extremely limited remedy available) - the Milwaukee Journal just did a story that Governor Walker has yet to issue a single pardon as governor.
Timothy Schumann March 05, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Non-violent felons should've had thier 2nd amendment right restored at the same time as with the right to vote, once they have completed thier court obligations. There needs to be a way to restore the right. Felonies are soooooo easy to get and the punishment last for life. We must have been sleeping while the liberals made thier move. Time to fight back Gov. Walker, let's strike back and give us the opportunity to defend ourselves and our families. Do It NOW!!!!!!
jeremy April 05, 2013 at 05:05 PM
I couldn't agree more mr. schumann. We've recently won a major battle with the defeat of the assault weapons ban, but now its time to take the fight to them. We must demand that congress act to restore the rights to these individuals. It makes me sick that the world rejoices in the plight of the gays, yet when it comes to the actual constitutional rights of people who have already served punishment for their crimes, Americans proudly turn their backs.
Keith May 17, 2013 at 01:13 AM
Thank u. U r right! There. Is a lot of work getting a bill that far, and since it goes against their liberal agendao it wii just get pushed around buried in forgot about we need more powerful friends on our side for sure . Something needs to be done I couldn't even get a job at Walmart for a 93 drug conviction. My email is. never enough36@gmail.com. I would be happy to put in a lot of time Evert
Patrick May 30, 2014 at 07:06 AM
All I hear is the tears of the far right leaning republinuts and teabagger moron. Your almighty gov Skank Walker should be steam rolling out your pardons 1000 at a time but he isn't. I wonder why? Maybe if you didn't get a felony in the first place. You can still wear your nutty second amendment rights while being your poorly educated, inbreeding, right wing crazy, tea party following, bible humping selves. You still have a right to bare arms, just nothing with gun powder. Bows, crossbows, knives, swords etc. Hell even nitrogen triiodide filled paintballs and a paintball would be legal. Just because you hicks can't have that howitzer you wanted or those 300 count stockpile of military grade rifles and weaponry doesn't mean your 2nd amendment rights have totally been taken away. Use those underdeveloped incest brains of yours and realize the there are wespons you can have that doesn't require gun powder. I know you republinut teabagging bible humpers at least have a 5th grade knowledge, go find some weapons you can still use. I doubt your fellow republinut gov. Will listen t8 your whining, begging letters crying like little twat waffle babies barely able to compose a sentance. One last final tip for you Inbred hicks, and this one is a big one....SOPE IS YOUR FRIEND. Lol

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