The Supreme Court is taking up a case that pits property rights against firearm regulations, with the justices poised to decide what becomes of a person's guns after they are convicted of a crime.
The case, Henderson v. United States, is among three new cases the high court has agreed to hear this term, according to orders handed down Monday.
It centers on Tony Henderson, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who was charged with selling marijuana in 2006, and later convicted of a felony.
Federal law prohibits felons from possessing firearms, and Henderson turned 15 personal weapons over to the FBI while his case was pending.
Two years later, he submitted a bill of sale to the FBI, indicating that he had sold the guns to another man and asked the FBI to transfer them accordingly. The government refused, reasoning that doing so would amount to granting “constructive possession” of the guns to Henderson.
While lower courts are split on the issue, the government argues that its position is validated by a decision in a federal court decision in a case known as United States v. Howell, which found convicted felons have “unclean hands” and therefore no right to control over previously owned firearms.
“Requiring a court to return firearms to a convicted felon would not only be in violation of a federal law, but would be contrary to the public policy behind the law,” that court argued.
But Henderson says the weapons had nothing to do with his crime.
By denying his sale of the guns, the government is trampling on his property rights, his lawyers argued in a petition seeking Supreme Court review of the case.
“It allows the government — based on a statutory prohibition on mere possession — to bypass formal forfeiture procedures and effectively strip gun owners of their entire ownership interest in significant, lawful household assets following a conviction for an unrelated offense,” petitioners say.
© Greg Nash