My personal opinion is that they should not. If a person cannot be trusted with a gun, they should not be out of jail in the first place. I will concede that a ban on firearm possession while on probation is acceptable, as probation is basically a “trial period” to see if a person can reintegrate into normal society, during which they not trusted without supervision.
This recent home invasion gives an example of how a convicted felon might legitimately need a firearm.
A Roanoke man and woman were taken to the hospital after someone broke into their northwest Roanoke home and assaulted them Monday afternoon, according to police.
A woman told police that about 12:40 p.m., a male forced entry into her home in the 4200 block of Hershberger Road and assaulted her and a man, according to Roanoke police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson.
Both victims were taken to LewisGale Medical Center. The male victim, [Redacted*], 56, of Roanoke, had “life-threatening injuries,” Johnson said.
Searching his name on the Virginia Courts website for his locality shows a grand larceny conviction in 1989, for which he served a 2 year sentence. There is a burglary charge at the same time which is likely related, but he was found “not guilty” on that charge. It should be noted that Virginia has a fairly low threshold for felony larceny – $5 if it’s “from the person”, or $200 otherwise (or any firearm, regardless of value) – and the potential sentence is anywhere from one to twenty years. He was convicted in a bench trial and did not take a plea deal, so it is very likely this was not a serious crime (on the scale of grand larcenies, anyway), nor does it appear to have involved any violence. There are no indications of any probation violations or any other charges (misdemeanor or felony), either before or after, that I have found in my cursory search.
In other words, this appears to be someone who has one old conviction for a minor and non-violent felony but has, for the past twenty years, been an honest and law-abiding citizen.
One point of interest is that the police are saying that “the incident does not appear to be random,” but publicly available information is still scarce. It’s not clear what the attacker’s motivation was, or whether the male or female victim was the main target, or if he was targeted because he was with the female victim (from the story, it looks like it occurred at her home, not his). I plan to keep an eye on this, but right now it looks like he was an innocent victim of a targeted home invasion.
Now, he is hospitalized with life-threatening injuries inflicted by a violent attacker. Even felons have the Right to protect themselves against aggressors. If he had been allowed to possess a gun for self-defense, would he have been able to protect himself and the (as yet unnamed) female victim? It’s impossible to say. But what can be said is that he would have had a better chance if he had been armed than he did being disarmed by federal law.
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[Source: The Roanoke Times, retrieved 1/4/12]
* I have redacted the male victim’s name because, if he really has turned his life around as it appears, he does not deserve to have his history broadcast across the internet. The information is available to those who have a reason to actively look, but I’m not going to deliberately spread it around without good reason.