A federal appeals court on Tuesday weakened a federal law prohibiting firearm possession by individuals convicted of serious crimes, ruling that a Pennsylvania man convicted of food-stamp fraud has a constitutional right to arm himself. The decision of the Philadelphia-based Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed an earlier decision upholding a lifetime gun ban against the man. It marked the first time since the Supreme Court expanded Second Amendment rights last year that a U.S. appeals court held that people convicted of fraud and other nonviolent crimes don’t automatically lose their constitutional right to bear arms, the Wall Street Journal reports. The plaintiff, Bryan David Range, pleaded guilty in 1995 to concealing his income to obtain about $2,500 in food stamps. Other than that offense, he has had a clean criminal history apart from minor traffic, parking and fishing infractions, his lawyers said.
He served no time behind bars, but because the food-stamp offense carried a maximum punishment of five years of imprisonment, it permanently disqualified him from possessing firearms under a decades-old federal law. Range argued in a lawsuit supported by gun-rights advocates that the lifetime ban violated his rights, preventing him from buying a deer-hunting rifle and a shotgun to defend himself. The Third Circuit, rehearing the case with an expanded roster of judges participating, agreed with him. The court in an 11-4 ruling said the federal government failed to show the ban was consistent with Founding-era treatment of people convicted of such nonviolent offenses. Several dissenting judges said the decision runs counter to the Supreme Court’s prior suggestions that the felon gun ban is presumptively lawful.