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How do I restore my firearm rights under federal law?

A felony conviction or a domestic violence conviction results in a state and federal firearm ban.  To buy a gun, you have to pass a state and federal background check.

Therefore, to fully restore your gun rights, you have to restore your firearm rights under both state and federal law. 

Do I lose my federal gun rights if I was convicted of a felony in Washington state court?

Yes. 

Under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, you cannot possess a firearm under federal law if you have been convicted of a crime “in any court” that carries a maximum punishment in any court that carries a maximum possible punishment of more than one (1) year in prison (18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)). 

In practice, this means that anyone convicted of a felony in state or federal court cannot own a possess a firearm under federal law.

Can I restore my federal gun rights in federal court?

No.

You can restore your state gun rights in state court, so you might naturally assume that you can restore your federal gun rights in federal court.  But the answer is no.  Why?

Under 18 U.S.C. 925(c), you can apply to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms to restore your gun rights.  And if your application is denied, then you can seek judicial review in federal court.

But since 1992, Congress barred ATF from spending money to review and investigate a felon's application to restore gun rights.  Then, later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “no action” does not equal a “denial.”  In other words, no denial equals no right to go to federal court. 

How do I restore my federal gun rights if I have a federal conviction?

Because you can't go to federal court (see above), a presidential pardon is essentially the only way to restore your federal firearm rights if you've been convicted of a federal felony.

In practice, therefore, you have very little chance of ever fully restoring your gun rights with a federal felony.   

Can I restore my federal gun rights in Washington state court?

Yes. 

Under 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20), a felony conviction does not prevent you from possessing a firearm if your civil rights have been restored or your conviction has ben vacated.  To restore your civil rights, however, you don't go to federal court.  You go to state court

A felony conviction three important rights: (1) the right to vote; (2) the right to serve on a jury; and (3) the right to hold public office.

In Washington, felons regain their civil rights after completing their sentence.  This typically requires serving all jail time and paying all court costs.  Once this happens, the court issues a Certificate of Discharge. 

Example: You are convicted of felony drug trafficking in King County Superior Court.  You complete your sentence, and the Court issues you a Certificate of Discharge.  You cannot be federally prosecuted for possessing a firearm.

Keep in mind, however, that under Washington state law, a Certificate of Discharge does not restore your right to possess firearms.  You have to file a separate motion to restore your state gun rights in superior court. 

If I restore my gun rights in Washington, are my federal gun rights automatically restored?

Not necessarily. 

In Washington, you can restore your gun rights without having to fully restore your other civil rights.  In that case, you would be eligible to possess a gun under state law but could still be prosecuted under federal law.

Example: You are convicted of a felony in Vancouver.  In 2019, you restore your state gun rights in Clark County Superior Court, although you still owe fines for the felony.  Because you still owe money, you have not completed your felony sentence, which means you are not entitled to a Certificate of Discharge, which means you have not restored your civil rights in Washington, which means that you can still be prosecuted under federal law. 

Additionally, if you have felony convictions in multiple states, you may have to restore your gun rights in different states to restore your federal gun rights. 

Can I restore my firearm rights if I've been committed to a mental health facility?

No.

Under 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(4), you cannot own or possess a firearm if you have been "adjudicated as a mental defective" or has "been committed to a mental institution."  

Under Washington State law (RCW 9.41.047), you also lose your firearm rights 

You can, however, restore your firearm rights under Washington State law (RCW 9.41.047) for the exact same reason. 

So what does mean in practice?  It means you can possess a firearm under state law (i.e. you cannot be prosecuted under state law for possessing a firearm).  But because you are not eligible under federal law, you will not be able to pass a federal background check or be eligible for concealed pistol license (CPL).  

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made this clear in a recent case in March 2020.  

In Mai v. United States, the Court compared the two applicable statutes--RCW 9.41.047 and 18 U.S.C. 1922(g)(4)--and ruled that the federal law is more strict than the state law.  

For example:  Washington law requires a a judge to find that a person "no longer presents a substantial danger" to others whereas federal law requires a judge to determination that a person "will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety."  

In other words, you could be a danger and be ineligible to possess firearms under federal law but not be a substantial danger and therefore be eligible to possess firearms under Washington law.  

But that's not all.  There's no way for a Washington resident to overcome the federal legal barrier under 1922(g)(4).  Here's why.  

In some states, you can petition the local government to sign an order stating that you have overcome the federal legal barrier.  But the federal government won't recognize the state order unless the state order complies with federal law, and as the Ninth Circuit ruled, Washington's state program doesn't.

Is a courts martial conviction considered a federal conviction?

Yes.  

In the military, courts-martial are trials that try members of the U.S. military for crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The UCMJ is federal law, enacted by Congress, and lists all criminal offenses under military law.  Think of the UCMJ as the equivalent of all the RCWs in Washington State.

For this reason, a courts-martial conviction is effectively a federal conviction, not a state conviction.  A conviction at a general court-martial, for example, is equivalent to a felony conviction in a U.S. federal district court. 

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