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A Push to Keep Guns From Foreign-Convicted Felons

Perhaps emboldened by a rare victory over the gun lobby last week, a group of liberal senators introduced legislation Wednesday to prevent people convicted of felonies overseas from owning firearms.

The proposal attempts to close a loophole created by a 2005 Supreme Court decision, which found that the prohibition on gun ownership applies only to felons convicted in U.S. courts. In handing down that decision, Justice Stephen Breyer indicated that if Congress intended the ban to apply also to foreign convictions, it would have to craft legislation saying so.

On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) complied. Her proposal — co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — would force the courts to treat foreign felony convictions the same as domestic convictions for purposes of gun ownership. Exceptions would be made in cases when felons could prove either that their conduct would not have been a crime in the United States or that they were denied due process in the foreign court.

“Foreign felons actually have greater gun rights than Americans convicted of felonies or crimes of domestic violence in our own courts,” Feinstein said in a statement. “In a country filled with senseless gun violence, we cannot continue to give murderers, rapists and other violent criminals convicted in foreign countries an unlimited right to buy firearms and assault weapons in the United States.”

The gun control debate is one that usually falls along predictable lines of ideology. But if the 2005 Supreme Court decision is any indication, this proposal might bring out some surprises. Indeed, the Court’s most conservative justices — Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — voted with the dissent.

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