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North Carolina Supreme Court Upholds Felon’s Right to Possess Firearm

On August 28, 2009, the Supreme Court of North Carolina concluded that a 2004 law prohibiting felons from possessing a firearm violated the North Carolina constitution in an as-applied challenge to the law.

Barney Britt was convicted in 1979 of possession with the intent to distribute a controlled substance. After his release in 1982, Britt had his right to possess firearms restored in 1987, and thereafter used and possessed his guns without incident, living as a law-abiding citizen.

In 2004, though, the North Carolina legislature enacted N.C.G.S. § 14-415.1, which makes it “unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony to purchase, own, possess, or have in his custody, care, or control any firearm.”

After the law’s passage, Britt visited his local sheriff inquiring whether he could continue to keep his guns. The sheriff told him that he could not, and Britt promptly divested himself of all his firearms.

Britt brought an as-applied challenge to the law. The trial court and the court of appeals denied relief. The Supreme Court, however, agreed to hear the case and reversed.

“We conclude that N.C.G.S. § 14-415.1 is…unconstitutional…as applied to this plaintiff,” the court wrote. “It is unreasonable to assert that a nonviolent citizen who has responsibly, safely, and legally owned and used firearms for seventeen years is in reality so dangerous that any possession at all of a firearm would pose a significant threat to public safety.” See: Britt v. State of North Carolina, 363 N.C. 546, 681 S.E.2d 32 (Sup. Ct. NC, 2009).

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Related legal case

Britt v. State of North Carolina