A unanimous Supreme Court on Monday sided with a Florida ex-convict who wants a say in what happens to his seized firearms.
In a high-level but small-bore clash over gun control, the court in a decision by liberal Justice Elena Kagan gave former Jacksonville, Fla.-area Border Patrol Agent Tony Henderson another shot at determining who gets his weapons seized more than eight years ago following his arrest.
Henderson was busted in 2006 arrest on drug charges, and eventually pleaded guilty to a single count of distributing marijuana. He served a six-month term of incarceration as well as a period of supervised release.
Once free, Henderson sought return of his collection, which included included three old M1 Garand rifles, a group of .22-caliber rifles and pistols, two shotguns, a carbine and several revolvers. Federal law prohibits felons from possessing firearms.
As an alternative, Henderson has variously proposed that the weapons be returned to another individual, such as his mother, his next-door neighbor or his wife. The court Monday concluded such a transfer could be allowed, rejecting Obama administration arguments to the contrary.
“We hold that (federal law) does not bar such a transfer unless it would allow the felon to later control the guns, so that he could either use them or direct their use,” Kagan wrote.
Kagan stressed that a felon cannot evade the law by “arranging a sham transfer that leaves him in effective control of his guns. And because that is so, a court may no more approve such a transfer than order the return of the firearms to the felon himself.”
Technically, Henderson still owns the firearms, which he initially surrendered while released on bond before his guilty plea. They haven’t been forfeited to the government. In its eight-page decision, the court said Henderson and others in his position should be able to transfer the firearms to a dealer, or to a designated person, so long as he does not retain actual control.
“What matters here is not whether a felon plays a role in deciding where his firearms should go next,” Kagan wrote. “What matters instead is whether the felon will have the ability to use or direct the use of his firearms after the transfer.
After starting off his challenge representing himself, Henderson eventually had his case taken up by attorney John P. Elwood and the University of Virginia School of Law Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.