Gun Rights After Felony Conviction: Firearm Restoration Possibilities

Navigating the aftermath of a felony conviction often requires the guidance of a skilled criminal defense attorney. The implications extend beyond incarceration or fines; such a conviction can significantly affect one’s civil rights, including the right to vote, hold public office, and possess firearms. This blog delves into the complexities of these rights and explores avenues for individuals with felony convictions to potentially restore their gun privileges.

Legal Basis of Firearm Rights

Under federal law, those convicted of a felony are prohibited from possessing firearms. This stems from the Gun Control Act of 1968. The intention is to protect public safety, but the ban can be seen as overly restrictive by some.

State law, meanwhile, may differ. Some states might restore your gun rights automatically upon completion of a sentence, while others require a more difficult process.

The Public Safety Argument

Felons are often deemed a potential risk to society, particularly when it comes to possessing a firearm. The logic is straightforward: a person convicted of a felony might be more inclined to misuse a firearm than someone with no criminal record. However, this standpoint doesn’t consider the variety of felonies that exist. Not every felony involves violence or the potential misuse of firearms.

The Second Amendment Argument

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. However, the question that federal courts often grapple with is: Should a person convicted of a felony be permanently stripped of this right? Critics argue that while rights can be limited for public safety, these limitations must be reasonable and not overly punitive.

Firearm Restoration Possibilities

The restoration of gun rights for individuals who have been convicted of a felony is a complex matter. In the U.S., a person convicted of a felony at the federal or state level is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms.

 However, there are possibilities for having these gun rights restored, depending on both federal and state laws. Let’s dive into some of these possibilities:

Federal Law Overview:

  • The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from possessing firearms. Previously, the federal government allowed for the possibility of relief from this federal prohibition, but Congress hasn’t funded this relief program since 1992. This means that a federal felon cannot apply to the federal government to have their firearm rights restored.

State Laws and Restoration:

  • Each state has its own laws regarding the loss and restoration of civil and gun rights for convicted felons.
  • Some states automatically restore gun rights after a certain period has passed or once the individual has completed their sentence, including probation and parole.
  • Other states require the individual to apply for restoration. This application process varies by state and can include waiting periods, proof of rehabilitation, or even a governor’s pardon.
  • It’s crucial to understand that even if a state restores an individual’s gun rights, federal law still prohibits that person from possessing firearms if they were convicted of a felony. However, the federal government generally does not prosecute individuals who have had their rights restored at the state level unless the restoration violates state law.

Governor’s Pardon:

  • In many states, a pardon by the governor can restore an individual’s right to possess a firearm. The process to apply for and receive a pardon is different for each state and is often rigorous.

Expungement or Setting Aside Convictions:

  • Some states allow for felony convictions to be expunged or set aside. Expungement restores rights, and it’s as if the conviction never occurred. If an individual gets their felony conviction expunged, federal firearm rights are generally restored.
  • Setting aside a conviction does not erase it but nullifies its implications. This can also lead to the restoration of gun rights, but it’s essential to check both state and federal regulations.

Legal Aid:

  • Due to the complexity of these laws, it’s often beneficial to seek legal counsel if trying to restore firearm rights. A criminal justice attorney can provide guidance tailored to the specific circumstances and jurisdiction of the convicted individual.

Additional Considerations:

  • Some states have specific provisions for the type of crime. For instance, a person convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, whether or not it’s classified as a felony, might be prohibited from possessing firearms both under federal and state laws.
  • Time since the conviction can play a significant role. Some states or jurisdictions might consider the amount of time that has passed since the felony and if any other crimes have been committed during that period.
  • The nature of the felony can also play a role. Violent felonies or those involving firearms might have stricter restoration criteria than non-violent felonies.

State Law vs Federal Law

  • State Laws:
  • A person convicted of a crime typically loses the right to vote and the right to hold public office.
  • Upon conviction of a felony, the individual often loses state gun rights, which means they cannot possess a gun.
  • Many states offer to restore your civil rights, including voting rights, and the right to possess firearms upon completion of sentences, parole, or probation.
  • In some states, rights are restored automatically upon the end of a sentence or probation period.
  • Some states allow the restoration of firearm rights through a pardon or restoration of rights process.
  • Jurisdiction of conviction matters; each state has its own process and criteria for rights restoration.
  • Persons with state felony convictions might need to apply for an expungement to have rights restored sooner.
  • Those convicted of certain crimes at the state level, especially violent felonies, might face longer or more complex processes to restore gun rights.
  • Federal Laws:
  • Under federal law, anyone convicted of a federal felony loses the right to possess firearms.
  • The right may only be restored for persons with federal convictions through a presidential pardon.
  • Persons incarcerated in a federal facility, even for state crimes, might face complexities in rights restoration.
  • Federal convictions require an understanding of both state and federal law, especially when trying to restore gun rights.
  • People convicted in federal court or incarcerated in a federal facility often have frequently asked questions about the distinction between their rights under state vs. federal law.
  • Federal gun restrictions are stringent; even with state rights restored, federal law can still ban the person from owning firearms.
  • For those with federal and out-of-state convictions, restoring the right to possess firearms can be more challenging.
  • Some nuances include the fact that a person’s “civil rights” might be restored at the state level, but firearms rights are lost under federal regulations unless specific steps are taken.

Critiques of Current Restoration Processes

There’s significant debate over the fairness and consistency of restoration processes. Some argue that the restoration of gun rights, like the restoration of voting rights or the right to hold public office, should be automatic.

 Currently, the process varies, and the rights of a felon might be restored sooner in one state than in another, especially concerning state gun rights versus federal gun rights.

Restoration of Civil Rights / Voting Rights

A person convicted of a felony often confronts several challenges after serving their time. Beyond the societal and employment obstacles, the aftermath of a felony conviction may carry significant legal restrictions. For instance, anyone convicted of such an offense frequently loses the right to hold public office and vote. This can be daunting, as the individual’s voice and participation in the democratic process become silenced. The good news is that there are pathways for the restoration of rights.

The process and guidelines for rights restoration vary depending on the jurisdiction of the conviction. Whether a conviction is from a state or federal court plays a significant role in determining the route to regaining rights. For those with a federal conviction, the journey can be more intricate, especially when it concerns the restoration of firearm rights.

When an individual with a felony loses the right to vote, hold office, or possess a firearm, they may feel a fundamental part of their identity and citizenship has been stripped away. But the silver lining is that these rights may be restored upon completion of sentences, parole, or probation, depending on the state laws.

Many states have recognized the importance of integrating ex-felons back into society. As a result, in some jurisdictions, rights are restored automatically upon fulfilling certain conditions. For example, the right to vote and hold public office may be restored automatically for some, while others might have to undergo a more rigorous process involving applications or petitions.

The legal maze becomes even more complex for those with federal and out-of-state convictions. For instance, if a person’s “civil rights” have been restored in one state, it may not directly translate to a restoration of firearm rights, especially if the conviction was a federal one.

International Perspective on Restoration of Firearm Rights

Globally, policies vary. While some countries restore gun rights soon after release, others are more stringent. The U.S. can potentially learn from these systems.


While the path to restoring one’s rights after a felony conviction can be arduous, it is not impossible. The balance between public safety and individual rights is a delicate one, and it is crucial to navigate the complexities of state and federal laws meticulously. The restoration of gun rights, in particular, can be a labyrinth of legal challenges, but with proper guidance, the process can become more transparent. If you or someone you know is navigating this challenging terrain, seeking the counsel of a knowledgeable legal firm, like Whalen Law Office, can make a significant difference. Their expertise can illuminate the intricacies of the legal system, ensuring that those seeking restoration have the best possible chance to reclaim their rights.


If I Am Convicted of a Misdemeanor, Are my Rights Restored Automatically After state or Federal prison?

When convicted of a misdemeanor, most jurisdictions don’t revoke civil rights, so there’s usually no need for restoration. However, some rights, like firearm possession, might be affected. The process varies by jurisdiction and misdemeanor type. Always consult local or federal regulations.

Do Felony Convictions Affect Long Gun and Hunting Rifle Rights?

Yes, felony convictions typically affect the rights to own or possess all firearms, including long guns and hunting rifles. In many jurisdictions, individuals with felony convictions are prohibited from purchasing or possessing any type of firearm. However, specific laws and restoration processes vary by state and the nature of the felony.

Which Criminal Convictions Restrict Me From Buying a Gun?

Losing the right to own firearms can happen due to felony or certain misdemeanor convictions, drug-related offenses, or mental health adjudications. Always check local, state, and federal laws for specific restrictions, as they can vary by jurisdiction.