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Wyoming Gun Case Near Trial

September 16, 2006|From the Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Arguments are scheduled next month in a case in which Wyoming is seeking a federal court ruling affirming its authority to help some people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence regain their right to own a firearm.

Federal law prohibits people with such convictions from owning guns.

The state says that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives acted illegally when it threatened to disallow about 11,000 concealed weapons permits the state issued as a substitute for federal background checks for firearms purchases.

The federal agency threatened to take that step unless the state repealed a 2004 law that allows people to expunge a first conviction for misdemeanor domestic violence.

State Sen. Cale Case said he and former state Rep. Mike Baker, both Republicans, sponsored the Wyoming expungement law after Case heard from a constituent who had lost his right to own firearms because of a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction and then discovered there was no way to appeal.

"I just look at it as constitutional; it is the 2nd Amendment," Case said. "And to me, one of the fundamental rights in society shouldn't be lost for anything less than a felony conviction."

Wyoming Atty. Gen. Pat Crank says the current lawsuit comes down to an issue of states' rights.

"We believe that Congress has very explicitly said that you look to state law to see if someone's firearms rights have been restored," Crank said.

The National Rifle Assn. and the Gun Owners Foundation in Washington, D.C., have both filed briefs supporting the state's position.

Federal officials, however, say the issue is more narrow. They contend the state law fails to meet the legal standard for expungement.

Although the law allows people to petition in court to expunge a first misdemeanor conviction, it specifies that the record of that first conviction remains on the books for purposes of enhancing penalties for any subsequent crime.

U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Oct. 6 in Cheyenne.

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