Clients commonly enquire whether a pardon will, or has, restored their firearm rights in South Carolina. This question however cannot be answered without a bit more information. To provide a worthy answer, I must know where the pardon was issued and for what it was issued. Every jurisdiction has its own rules, and they must each be examined individually.
As my practice is in SC, this is where most pardons I encounter are issued. Fortunately, in SC the law is clear regarding pardons issued by South Carolina and the restoration of firearm rights in South Carolina.
A pardon issued in South Carolina may not restore firearm rights in other states. And pardons-or other means of restoring firearm rights-issued by another state may have no affect here. These are questions to be addressed another day.
Does the pardon itself contain any restrictions or limitations? This can be determined by a simple examination of the pardon document. I have rarely seen such limitations, but they are theoretically possible, and any such restrictions on the face of the pardon are controlling.
If a prospective pardon seeker is asking the question, then such limitations are not yet relevant. And are likely to never be relevant.
We refer to James R. Brunson v. Chief Robert Stewart (547 S.E.2d 504, 345 S.C. 283 (S.C. App., 2001). In Brunson the South Carolina Court of Appeals specifically addressed the issue whether a pardon restores the rights to own and possess firearms.
The facts were simple. Mr. Brunson had been convicted of a violent felony and barred from owning a handgun by S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-30. After completing his sentence, Mr. Brunson sought and received a pardon in accordance with SC law. Subsequently, Mr. Brunson attempted to buy a pistol and pass a background check. The SC State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) then denied Mr. Brunson’s purchase. Mr. Brunson brought this suit.
The Courts determined that pardons, in accordance with S.C. Code Ann. § 24-21-990, “restore all civil rights.” While firearm rights are not specifically listed in the rights restored, the legislature “could have expressly excluded gun possession from those rights restored upon receipt of a pardon of a crime of violence.” Brunson v. Stewart. Because the Legislature did not explicitly exclude firearm rights restoration from a pardon, the restoration of those rights is included in “all civil rights” which are restored.
In reaching this conclusion, the Court noted that “the legislature is charged with knowledge that a pardon relieves the convict of all the consequences of his conviction” (State v. Baucom, 340 S.C. 339, 531 S.E. 2d 922 (2000)) and that the legislature, armed with this knowledge, had created exceptions to the restoration of rights by pardons in previous statutes (S.C. Code Ann. § 24-21-990 and 16-13-210). Since the legislature did not choose to make an exception in this case, said action was purposeful, and the Courts must follow the intent of the legislature.
Further, the Federal Courts have twice recognized that a pardon in SC restores the firearm rights of the individual pardoned. “South Carolina civil rights, including the right to gun possession and/or ownership, are restored via a pardon obtained from the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services.” United States v. Vinson, Criminal No. 3:06-1170-CMC (D.S.C., 2011) and United States v. Wells, Criminal No. 3:10-869-CMC (D.S.C., 2014).
No examination would be complete without an enquiry regarding other known problems. A SC pardon can only restore rights removed by the state of South Carolina for criminal convictions. Therefore it is important to know of any convictions in other jurisdictions. Further, I enquire about other potential firearm disabilities such as involuntary commitments or restraining orders.
If there are no other disabilities, the examination ends. If other disabilities are present, then each must be investigated for what effect they have on firearm rights.
Pardons issued by SC typically restore the firearm rights of the recipient in South Carolina. Exceptions are found on the face of the pardon and are not the norm. It is necessary to enquire about other losses of firearm rights because it is not unheard of for a person to have multiple restrictions on firearm rights. Unfortunately, each of these restrictions must be dealt with individually.
Even though South Carolina has restored a person’s firearm rights, there is no guarantee that other states will recognize this restoration. The affect of a South Carolina pardon on another state’s laws must be answered state by state. Unfortunately, the same is true in reverse.
If you, a loved one, or a friend face a loss of firearm rights know that help can be had. I have helped clients assess their options and restore their firearm rights in South Carolina. With the right arguments and supporting witnesses, the chances of restoring firearm rights are very good. If you face this situation, please feel free to contact my office regarding what I can do to help you restore your rights.