The Unpredictability of Firearm Rights Restoration Litigation

The central analysis in a firearm rights restoration matter is whether the petitioner can demonstrate ‘good cause,’ which is undefined by statute. Previous case law has bestowed upon this vague concept the following definition: “a reason for taking an action that, in legal terms, is legally sufficient, and, in ordinary terms, is justified in the context of surrounding circumstances.” Still left in the dark? You’re not alone. The result is uncertainty and inconsistency in how this is applied by the courts, as demonstrated by a recent Court of Appeals decision.

gun rightsIn applying the non-defining definition, the Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s decision to deny a petition where, by most accounts, the petitioner did a heck of a job in demonstrating good cause. In this case, the petitioner faced a lifetime firearms ban due to three convictions of violent crimes – though, none of them actually involved acts of violence – from 19 years ago. To demonstrate good cause, the petitioner argued:

  1. He needs the restoration in order to hunt with family, inherit family heirloom firearms, be eligible for a position with Federal Cartridge, and for protection reasons;
  2. He does not have a history of actual violence;
  3. The crimes were isolated incidents that occurred 19 years prior;
  4. His criminal record is spotless since these crimes; and
  5. He has made positive changes in his life, most notably being sober for 14 years.

And to support these arguments, ten of the petitioner’s friends, co-workers, and family members submitted affidavits attesting to his good character. Despite what appears to be evidence establishing good cause, the district court denied the petition, claiming it did not outweigh the public safety concerns.

The statute, admittedly, grants wide discretion to a district court – even going so far as making the grant of relief discretionary when a petitioner demonstrates good cause. See Minn. Stat. 609.165, subd. 1d. Because of this, the Court of Appeals was not in a position to overturn the district court’s decision.

The decision can still be instructive on a couple of points. First, the Court of Appeals appears to have given some clarification of the ‘good cause’ definition when it stated: “good cause is more than just a reason, it is a substantial reason.” Second, the Court acknowledges that 19 years is a sufficient period of time to demonstrate rehabilitation. But, it still found that 19 years falls well short when compared to the typical lifetime. And because the legislature recently amended the prohibition from 10 years to a lifetime, 19 years is not justification alone for relief. Third, even though the crimes at issue were not actually violent crimes, the Court still relied upon the fact that the crimes fall under the definition of ‘crimes of violence,’ which carries the day for analysis purposes. Having three such convictions worked against the petitioner. Finally, even though the petitioner sought the restoration for hunting purposes, the Court notes that he was an archer, making the hunting argument less persuasive.

The case further demonstrates the unpredictability of firearm rights restoration litigation. By all accounts, the petitioner did a good job of presenting what appears to be sufficient evidence to demonstrate good cause. Yet, the district court didn’t see it that way. And because of the wide discretion granted district courts, the Court of Appeals had its hands tied.

The biggest takeaway – retain a gun rights restoration attorney to help you through this process. There is a 3-year waiting period if you fail at district court and the Court of Appeals made it clear that it will not overturn any decision. With so much at stake, you should get an experienced attorney to help build the case and fight for your rights to be restored.

And do not be deterred. This is just one judge’s decision. And now we know which district to avoid filing in.