Restoration of Rights: A case study on why the Ohio House should hold a vote and pass SB247 this week

by J.A.W.

There are decisions we face as humans that can and will define our lives. For me, that decision took place in March of 1999. I allowed another person to talk me into signing for a package of marijuana delivered to my apartment. Now, I knew exactly what was going to be in the package, and I also knew that it was against the law. For reasons that still to this day I do not understand, I allowed this event to take place, and I signed for the marijuana.

The entire thing was a setup. I was immediately arrested and taken to jail. I sat there alone and scared. I had never been in trouble before. Thoughts raced through my head, what was I going to tell my family? They would be so hurt and ashamed. I was embarrassed at what I had done, but I was still yet to fully understand the magnitude of one poor decision.

Five months later, I pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana, a felony of the third degree. Because I was a first offender, I was given 30 days in jail, a 5,000 dollar fine, and my driver's license was suspended for three years. I was also placed on three year probation. Being naïve and still not fully understanding the predicament I was in, I was taken to jail to serve my time.

Then it hit me. It was a nightmare. I still remember the first time I met my probation officer, which was about my second week in. He was preparing me for the rules of probation, and for what life would be like as a convicted criminal. I will never forget when he told me that I would have to give up my guns. At first I thought that this was only while on probation, but my stomach became sick, and I felt like crying when he reiterated that this was permanent.

As a convicted criminal, my rights were gone. What had I done? I was an honor student in high school, a varsity athlete in three sports. I was from a small Ohio town, brought up with solid family values and two loving parents. I grew up shooting and enjoying the outdoors with my grandfather. Now those were distant memories. I knew I had made a severe error in judgment, but I was not some horrific danger to society. That did not matter. I was now labeled a convicted criminal, and that is how I would be seen by anyone who did not know me.

After my short stint in the county jail, I moved back to my little home town to be with my family. I had no idea what I was going to do, or what if any future I might have. I saw that my life could go one of two ways. I could work hard, and go back to how I was raised, or I could sit around and make excuses for myself and go nowhere in life. I decided to go back to college, finish my degree, and make a future for myself. I may have had this conviction, but I knew it was out of character for me, and that I could rise above it. It would not define me as a person.

A few years later, I graduated from college. I then decided to move back to the city and begin studying engineering at another school. While I was taking classes I started working on campus as an IT analyst. I began to read everything I could about Ohio law. I was determined to find a way to get my gun rights back.

I knew that I lived in a great country and a great state and that if I worked hard enough, there must be away to get my rights back. America is the land of opportunity, and a place for second chances. Because of where I worked, I had access to legal professionals and all sorts of legal research documents. It had been eight years since my conviction; I was no longer on probation. I could drive, but I still could not own guns.

After a crash course in legal research from some coworkers, I found Ohio Revised Code section 2923.14, which outlined the procedure for getting my firearm rights back. It gives a judge and a prosecutor the authority to either grant or refuse a request for reinstatement of firearms rights. I checked around and saw that this does not happen very often - only in cases where it was truly warranted. I felt like I had a solid chance and that my judge and the prosecutor would look on my petition favorably based on what I had done since my conviction.

I took this to a criminal defense attorney who had never heard of this the procedure, but was more than happy to help me. I petitioned the court, and with the concurrence of the prosecutor, I was granted relief from disability pursuant to O.R.C 2923.14. I was elated. The judge even told me that the reason Ohio had laws like this on the books was for people like me: people who had made a mistake, but had proven it was a one-time event and had taken great strides to move past it. Like I stated before, receiving an Ohio restoration of firearms rights is not easy. It must be earned. And I had earned it. After so long, I finally had my rights back. Or so I thought.

I went to buy my first gun, and I was immediately denied by NICS. I was embarrassed and confused. I had done everything Ohio said I needed to do! I called NICS and was informed that due to a Supreme Court decision (US vs. Caron, 1998) firearm rights must be completely restored for the federal government to recognize a state's restoration. Because Ohio's law did not apply to "dangerous ordinance" (items that all citizens have been prohibited from owning since 1939 without a special license from the ATF), my restoration was not worth the paper it was printed on.

I began to search and talk to legal professionals and read everything I could about this topic and the Supreme Court case. At times I was frustrated and it looked like it was never going to happen. I talked to several pro-gun groups to try and get someone to listen. No one did, until I came to Buckeye Firearms Association. They listened and understood the problem with the law. Finally, I had help!

I was tired of living under the cloud of my mistake. In December of 2008, I was contacted by Buckeye Firearms and asked to come and testify about the need for a fix in Ohio's restoration law. I gladly accepted, and I spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice. They listened. They understood the problem, and they promised me that they would fix it soon. With no other irons in the fire, I waited and waited for a bill to address my issue.

Finally, in May of 2010, I was once again contacted by Buckeye Firearms. I was told that a bill had been introduced by Senator Jason Wilson. It was Senate Bill 247, and would completely fix Ohio's restoration of firearm rights. I was thrilled. It passed the Senate and headed to the House in June. I was that much closer!

Throughout the fall, the bill was sitting in the House. As the elections came and went, it appeared that once again, the efforts of myself and Buckeye Firearms would be delayed again. I called and had friends call, and emailed, and written letters trying to get the House to move on this bill. I know a lot of you reading this have also, and I thank you. For all the other people out there in my situation, it is a travesty that Ohio has still not corrected the flawed law.

In the meantime, in the winter of 2008, I applied for a pardon from the Governor of Ohio. Even though it was a long shot, I poured my heart and soul into it. I asked people to write letters of recommendation for me. The parole board unanimously recommended that I be granted a pardon. I had everything going for me, but a pardon still seemed like dream to me.

I was notified on November 23rd that Governor Ted Strickland had granted me a full pardon. I was beside myself. I cried for almost an hour. My criminal record was gone. I was no longer a "bad guy." I felt such a sense of relief, and I will forever be indebted to Governor Strickland. He gave me my rights back and lifted a huge burden that I had carried for over a decade. I had worked hard to overcome one big mistake, and someone finally noticed.

Folks, never take your rights for granted, especially your right to keep and bear arms. I know what it is like to lose them and have to fight with everything I have for many years to get them back. It is a right that I cherish, and will never lose again. I was granted a pardon. However, there are many others in Ohio in the same position I was and they deserve a chance to get their gun rights back. Senate Bill 247 is very important. The House needs to act on this bill and fix an Ohio law that has worked for decades.

They need to act now, so that others do not have to go through what I did.

Please call your Representative immediately and ask that they sign the discharge petitions for Senate Bill 239 and Senate Bill 247. Ask your representative to make the extra effort to get together with Rep. Bubp in his office at 10:00 a.m. today, Tuesday, December 6, to sign the petition.

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