A Minnesota felony doesn’t always impair gun rights. But many still believe that “any Minnesota felony conviction will mean a lifetime loss of gun rights.” That’s wrong.
When felony probation ends, Minnesota law automatically restores gun rights, with other civil rights. At least, this is the general rule of Minnesota law.
We discuss exceptions to that general rule below.
The Right to Firearms
The right to self-defense and firearms is a natural, human right. It belongs to you because you were born a human being. The United States was born in revolution and violent struggle to force government to respect our natural rights. The United States Constitution makes this respect clear.
Our rights don’t originate in the Constitution. But the Constitution, the highest law of the land, is our covenant to respect each of our rights.
As the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled:
“The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570 (2008).
The law, however, does limit our rights under some circumstances. Even so, the courts give strict scrutiny to any law limiting our fundamental rights. We are skeptical of legal limitations of our rights.
Certain pending criminal charges or convictions historically have limited our civil rights to firearms.
As criminal defense attorneys, part of our job representing people is to understand how to protect civil rights.
Will any felony conviction cause a lifetime loss of civil rights to firearms?
A common misconception holds that “any felony conviction will destroy your civil rights to firearms forever.”
But a Minnesota felony doesn’t always impair gun rights.
We have heard that wrong statement of the law (that a felony always means lifetime loss of gun rights). And we’ve heard that from people who should know better.
Is there any explanation for that widespread misconception about the law? The two main reasons for this common misunderstanding of the laws are:
- Gun laws are complex – short of in-depth study.
- The laws have changed – many have failed to update their knowledge.
Solution: This article will walk you through the law. And it explains why “a felony conviction” doesn’t always impair Minnesota gun rights indefinitely. Two common exceptions to that general rule are: 1) “felony crimes of violence” and 2) “misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.” If lost, these rights may either be automatically be restored by operation of law; or, their restoration may be possible through a court order or pardon.
Loss of gun rights upon certain pending criminal charges and convictions
Civil rights to firearms can be temporarily suspended while certain criminal charges are pending before the Minnesota court.
They can be also be temporarily or indefinitely lost upon conviction of certain crimes under Minnesota law. For example, Minnesota Statutes §624.713, subd. 1 (10) (i), says:
Subdivision 1. Ineligible persons. The following persons shall not be entitled to possess ammunition or a pistol or semiautomatic military-style assault weapon or, except for clause (1), any other firearm:
(10) a person who:
(i) has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year [felony];
The above excerpt, alone, could mislead a person who has not studied the web of Minnesota gun laws. It seems to say that a felony conviction will result in an indefinite loss of civil rights to firearms. But below we discuss the other, specific Minnesota statutes to the contrary.
Every conviction for a Minnesota felony strips civil rights to firearms from the moment of adjudication or conviction until the moment the person is discharged from probation or sentence. Minnesota Statutes §624.713, subd. 1 (10) (i).
Unless their conviction was for a “felony” “crime of violence” or other exception; Minnesota law automatically restores civil gun rights upon completion of sentence (e.g., probation).
Why a Minnesota felony conviction doesn’t trigger loss of gun rights
The general rule: Following a Minnesota conviction, a statute restores civil rights to firearms at the completion of, or discharge from sentence “the same as if such conviction had not taken place.” Minnesota Statutes §609.165:
“RESTORATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS; POSSESSION OF FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION, Subdivision 1. Restoration. When a person has been deprived of civil rights by reason of conviction of a crime and is thereafter discharged, such discharge shall restore the person to all civil rights and to full citizenship, with full right to vote and hold office, the same as if such conviction had not taken place, and the order of discharge shall so provide.”
Note that it doesn’t matter what level the conviction was – felony or misdemeanor. This general rule statute restores gun rights upon discharge from sentence. Clearly, a Minnesota felony doesn’t always impair gun rights.
But a Minnesota “felony crime of violence” conviction now causes a default lifetime ban
One of the two major exceptions to the general rule, above, is Minnesota’s “felony crime of violence” statute. It strips civil rights to firearms for life for a “felony crime of violence” conviction. Minnesota Statutes §609.165 RESTORATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS; POSSESSION OF FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION:
“Subd. 1a. Certain convicted felons ineligible to possess firearms or ammunition. The order of discharge must provide that a person who has been convicted of a crime of violence, as defined in section 624.712, subdivision 5, is not entitled to ship, transport, possess, or receive a firearm or ammunition for the remainder of the person’s lifetime. Any person who has received such a discharge … whose ability to possess firearms and ammunition has been restored under subdivision 1d, shall not be subject to the restrictions of this subdivision.“
The specific list of crimes defined as “felony crimes of violence” is in Minnesota Statutes §624.712, subdivision 5. A listed crime triggers a lifetime loss of civil rights. Otherwise, discharge from felony probation or sentence will generally restore gun rights by law. It’s important to check the list. Because despite the “crimes of violence” label, many listed convictions are factually non-violent and technicalities, notably marijuana crimes.
Exception to the exception: restoration of gun rights after a Minnesota “felony crime of violence” indefinite ban
What if a “felony crime of violence” conviction does indefinitely impair civil rights to firearms? A court order or a pardon can restore them. For more on that, see our page: Restoration of Civil Rights to Firearms in Minnesota
What about a federal statute saying a felony conviction triggers a loss of gun rights?
Federal laws are in need of some housecleaning, to convey clear meaning. But bottom line – federal law says that state laws that take away, can restore civil rights to guns.
The United States Supreme Court explains
This United States Supreme Court case offers a succinct explanation:
A federal statute forbids possession of firearms by those convicted of serious offenses. An abbreviated version of the statute is as follows:
“It shall be unlawful for any person—
“(1) who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year; …
“to … possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition …” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). …
Until 1986, federal law alone determined whether a state conviction counted, regardless of whether the State had expunged the conviction. Dickerson v. New Banner Institute, Inc., 460 U.S. 103, 119—122 (1983). Congress modified this aspect of Dickerson by adopting the following language:
“What constitutes a conviction of such a crime shall be determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held. Any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction for purposes of this chapter, …” §921(a)(20).
The first sentence and the first clause of the second sentence define convictions, pardons, expungements, and restorations of civil rights by reference to the law of the convicting jurisdiction. See Beecham v. United States, 511 U.S. 368, 371 (1994). …
We note these preliminary points. First, Massachusetts restored petitioner’s civil rights by operation of law rather than by pardon or the like. This fact makes no difference. Nothing in the text of §921(a)(20) requires a case-by-case decision to restore civil rights to this particular offender. While the term “pardon” connotes a case-by-case determination, “restoration of civil rights” does not.Caron v. United States, 524 U.S. 308 (1998)
Minnesota law controls
Therefore, Minnesota law, not federal law determines whether a Minnesota felony conviction makes a person ineligible to possess a firearm. See, also 18 U.S. Code § 921, (a) (20) The term “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;” and, 27 CFR 478.11.
This is Black Letter Law. The law is clear and unambiguous.
Minnesota law, not federal law, determines whether a person loses their civil rights to firearms for a felony conviction. And Minnesota law determines how those rights can be restored.
If you hear anyone repeating the old misinformation, send them this article for a simple explanation of the law. At minimum, know that a Minnesota felony conviction doesn’t always impair gun rights.
“What if I had a felony conviction reduced to a gross misdemeanor after successful completion of a Stay of Imposition?”
Short answer: When it comes to gun rights, it doesn’t matter.
The law automatically restores rights upon discharge from probation or sentence; if the Minnesota felony conviction was not on the list in Minn. Stat. 624.712, subdivision 5. That statute lists the mislabeled Minnesota “felony crimes of violence.”
If the law later reduced conviction level to a non-felony under Minnesota Statutes § 609.13, Subdivision 1; and if the conviction was for a “felony” charge on the “crime of violence” list; then the person convicted is banned for life from possessing firearms under Minnesota Statutes §724.713, Subd. 1 (10), because the charge was “punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.”
What about juvenile adjudications for felony crimes?
For purposes of gun rights, a Minnesota juvenile adjudication triggers the same gun rights disabilities as an adult conviction. A juvenile “adjudication” is the functional equivalent to an adult “conviction.” See, Minnesota Statutes §242.31, RESTORATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS; POSSESSION OF FIREARMS. And so, for juveniles, a Minnesota felony adjudication doesn’t always impair gun rights indefinitely.
What about civil rights to firearms after a Minnesota “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” conviction?
See our recent article: Civil Rights to Firearms after a Minnesota “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” conviction.
Significant events along a criminal law & gun rights timeline
Let’s consider a timeline in a person’s life with the effect of criminal law events on their civil rights. The person is born in the U.S.A. with their natural rights to firearms subject to mild regulation for age, etc.
Then, a felony or selected misdemeanor charge may temporarily suspend your gun rights; pending the outcome. Dismissal, a not-guilty verdict, or a conviction could result.
If convicted of a felony and selected misdemeanor crimes, the person loses their civil rights to firearms. This includes any probation period.
After that, the general rule Minnesota statute restores their civil rights to firearms upon completion of sentence, with exceptions. But for some felony and selected misdemeanor crimes, the Minnesota law exceptions trigger an indefinite or lifetime ban. Later gun rights restoration might be possible, for example by court order or pardon for people so affected.
The key event periods along the timeline are:
- Pending criminal charge
- Pending sentence (after conviction, before completion of probation, sentence)
- After discharge from sentence, before restoration of civil rights to firearms
The legal grey area between the black letter law
Gun laws are more complex than they need to be. And we have both Minnesota and federal laws to review – statutes and case-law. Grey areas of ambiguity exist between the clear, unambiguous areas of gun laws on either side.
And looking forward, no one wants to be on the wrong side of the law; or even in a legal grey area.
But once already charged with a crime, no one can change the past.
In criminal defense, the legal grey area usually means “not guilty.”
When defending against a criminal charge like “Ineligible Person in Possession of Firearm,” that grey area can be “reasonable doubt.” (A person with a pending criminal charge should be sure their defense lawyer is capable of protecting their civil rights, as part of the defense objective.)
Some prosecutors and some defense attorneys fail to understand gun laws. And this can result in a wrongful conviction for felony “ineligible person in possession of a firearm,” based on a non-listed past Minnesota felony conviction.
So be sure to to retain a criminal defense attorney who knows not only criminal law, but gun law. One basic test: does the attorney know that a Minnesota felony doesn’t always impair gun rights? Be sure your defense attorney knows the law.
But a person with a past conviction, does not want to risk being on the wrong side of the law. Especially as some random law enforcement officer or prosecutor may interpret it.
The law may have fully restored their civil rights. But they may still have trouble with someone who fails to understand that a Minnesota felony doesn’t always impair gun rights. To avoid grey-area trouble, that person may wish legal help to ensure recognition of their full civil rights as a citizen.
So if someone tells you that a felony conviction always means a loss of civil rights to firearms; remember that a Minnesota felony conviction doesn’t always impair gun rights indefinitely. And recommend that they read this article for the map of the law.
About the Author:
Thomas C. Gallagher is a Minnesota Defense Attorney who handles criminal cases involving self-defense, and gun crimes cases.
Check our article: Restoring Gun Rights after a Minnesota Misdemeanor Domestic Conviction.