Last week, Florida began to consider House Bill 903, titled the “Economic Redemption and Restoration of Constitutional Rights Act” which would benefit felons seeking clemency beginning on July 1, 2018. Representative Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach filed the bill on December 6 to help relieve felons from legal disability in a more timely manner than the current state law. Restoration of Rights in Florida includes possessing a firearm, voting, holding public office, or serving on a jury. Though, of course, Democrats are focusing only on the Second Amendment debate.
Under the bill, felons would have their rights restored immediately after serving an incarceration sentence, applicable probation time, and successfully petitioning to a county court. This is a drastic change for Florida considering that under the current law when a prisoner is released, he has limited constitutional rights. Felons are required to wait nine to eleven years to have their rights restored after maintaining “five to seven years of a clean record,” however, it can take up to fourteen. Reportedly, many released felons do not bother applying for their rights again because the process takes so long.
The thinking behind a waiting period is that if an individual can stay out of legal trouble for that amount of time, he is unlikely a danger to society. This makes sense considering that a large portion of the prison population is composed of repeat offenders. For this reason, Restoration of Rights debates are not a widely discussed topic.
Florida has frequently amended its state law under different governors, making the topic a relevant debate. Advocating for all Florida citizen’s rights, law-abiding or not, Byrd believes the system is unfair, saying, “Over 22,000 applications are pending, with only a few hundred being processed each year. Clearly, the system is broken.” The state is admittedly not friendly towards felons, and Florida governor Rick Scott was even sued by the Fair Elections Network in March for intentionally and unconstitutionally making it difficult for felons to have rights restored.
Liberals are causing a frenzy over the issue pertaining to the firearm aspect, NBC Miami titling its headline “New Bill Would Allow Florida Felons to Own Guns,” completely neglecting to even mention voting rights, which are of course also important. Conservatives, however, argue that once an individual has served his prison sentence he has “paid his debt to society” and that jail sentences can be useful in their objective of rehabilitating troubled individuals.
It is arguably hypocritical to deny others basic rights that one expects for himself. Also, the bill would not necessarily be automatic to all convicted felons. There would be requirements and exceptions, and any denied persons would have to wait one year before re-applying. They would open to cross-examination and the law would not free sex offenders of any specific requirements, including being on a state registry. There are also different levels of rights restoration, some of which do not protect the right to bear arms.
Following the belief that prison works in many cases, if a person is not deemed fit to have his rights restored, including the ability to own a firearm, then he should not have been released from prison. Felons have served their incarceration term but there are other less talked about post-prison punishments one can encounter in the real world; being released without the most basic rights is not actual freedom.
Democrats are calling this a gun safety issue, however, felons lose more than just the ability to own a gun when they are released without all of their Constitutional rights. Not being able to contribute to state and country-wide issues on the ballot is dehumanizing. Additionally, the legal repercussions faced when released from prison do not include the social stigma associated with being a felon and the issues faced when seeking employment.
Though some see this as a crazy gun advocation trying to put firearms in just anybody’s hands, it is in the best interest of the community. Under the bill, a court cannot restore the rights of an individual who “is contrary to public interest.” Most importantly though, it provides hope for incarcerated individuals that starting a new life after prison is possible and supported by the community and legislatures, which could increase rehabilitation success rates and decrease repeat offenders.
Arguably, people who have committed heinous acts which warranted life or death sentences have lost basic rights, but these individuals are intentionally kept away from the general public. Every other free American is protected under the Constitution though, whether it makes others uncomfortable or not.