New ruling says Montana felons can't own firearms


KALISPELL, Mont. - The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a convicted felon, who completed his sentence, isn't allowed to own firearms.

The decision stems from a Deer Lodge County man convicted of rape. Frank Van Der Hule spent 25 years in prison, but he couldn't buy a gun when he got out.

Here's the problem, Montana's Constitution restores offenders' civil rights once they're out and off probation. But there's a separate state law that states offenders can't get a concealed weapon permit if they spent more than a year in prison, or committed certain crimes.

The appeals panel says the concealed weapons law triggers a broader federal ban on felons owning guns leaving Van Der Hule out of luck.

"When people serve their sentence, they pay their penalty to society, and I believe that society should not hold that against them for the rest of their life," said criminal defense attorney Tim Baldwin.

He disagrees with the recent appeals court ruling that said a federal law trumped Montana's constitution and sided with a state law that felons out of prison and off probation can't own firearms if they can't get a concealed carry license.

"If you look at the federal law, it's a blanket law that strips away several rights for every person who's convicted of a felony. I think that is very over broad and unnecessary," Baldwin said.

We looked through documents and former cases to get a better understanding for what the history behind the ruling is.

We found that Montana has restorative justice laws, meaning once a criminal completes their sentence, their civil rights are restored.

Federal Judge Don Malloy decided a federal ban on felons with weapons applies, because of a state law limiting offenders' access to concealed carry permits.

We also spoke with pawn shop owners in the Flathead who wished to remain anonymous but told us they're happy with the ruling. They say they don't want to have to sell to a convicted felon who may repeat an offense, feeling responsible for having sold that person a firearm.

Baldwin thinks the ruling could affect felons who won't repeat since they aren't violent.

"From a matter of moral conviction, a lot of people don't pay taxes, yet you see a lot of these individuals who are tried and convicted of tax evasion, so should those individuals, if they are found guilty or if they plead to those charges, are sentenced and they served that sentence, should they lose their civil rights for the rest of their life? I would say no," said Baldwin.

There could still be appeals in the case, leaving the door open for changes.

But for now, convicted felons in Montana, like Van Der Hule, will not be able to own a firearm.