Southwest Virginia felons applying to get gun rights back after Gov. restores 150k felons voting rights

SOUTHWEST, VIRGINIA (WJHL)- Felons in Southwest Virginia are petitioning to get their gun rights back. Wise County Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp said when Governor Terry McAuliffe restored thousands of felon's voting rights, it opened a legal pathway for felon's gun rights to be restored.

Slemp said two cases are moving through the Circuit Court of Wise County where felons are trying to get their gun rights back. He said both individual petitioners are convicted felons who have had their voting rights recently restored. According to Slemp, one of the petitioners was convicted in 1998 with aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties with a minor. Slemp said the other petitioner was convicted in 1987 for unlawful shooting of a firearm into an occupied dwelling.

If the governor restores a felon's civil rights, including the right to vote and serve on a jury, "you can then petition the circuit court judge to give you a permit to carry a gun. We've been fighting those petitions especially for violent felons and sex offenders," Slemp said.

Slemp said he has seen cases in his county, "In which individuals who have recently been restored by the governor are still committing other crimes," Slemp said.

According to the governor's office, Governor McAuliffe has restored voting right to more than 150,000 Virginians.

His office gave us a statement saying in part, "He believes that building barriers that prevent people from voting are anti-democratic and un-American."

His office also said: "Governor McAuliffe has worked to put an end to a system in (the) Commonwealth that ranks close to the bottom of the nation in felon disenfranchisement."

"If you've been convicted of a very serious crime whether or not it's involving a firearm or not I don't think you should be considered, and certainly without a doubt no one that has used a firearm in the commission of a serious crime should ever be allowed to have their gun rights restored," Washington County, Va. Sheriff Fred Newman said.

The governor's office also said Governor McAuliffe has introduced a new process that restores rights on a case-by-case basis.

But still, Slemp said safety concerns and stress this places on victims makes his office opposed to the petitions.

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