Felon in possession and business offenses
Decision of the Day reports an 8th Circuit ruling on felon in possession. The defendant had been convicted in 1984 of selling meat in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act. In 1994 he brought a declaratory judgment action to determine that this was not a disability to own guns, but the 9th Circuit ordered dismissal for lack of standing. In 2005, he was charged and convicted of felon in possession.
His defense (and I assume the basis of the dec. action) was that the GCA says certain business offenses are not within its definition of felony conviction:
"The term “crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” does not include—(A) any Federal or State offenses pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices."
His focus was of course on the "or other similar offenses" language. The Eighth Circuit opinion (pdf) goes against him, and affirms his conviction.
Interestingly, Judge Bright's dissent argues that the statute (at least in this context) is void for vagueness. "The similar offenses clause of § 921(a)(20)(A) could be read as the majority determines, or otherwise, as contended by Stanko. Either is a plausible interpretation of the text. Stanko should not be convicted under a statute that is so uncertain as to its meaning, and therefore I respectfully dissent." He also points out that the earlier 9th Circuit ruling underscores his concerns: "our system of laws should not accept a statute so vague that an individual must suffer the harm of a § 922(g) conviction before learning from the courts whether his prior conviction falls within the scope of § 921(a)(20)’s exemptions."
BTW--I remember how this exemption got into the law. It dates from before GCA 68, back when they had the looser Federal Firearms Act. A major company that had an ammo business -- might have been Olin -- got convicted of felony antitrust violations, as I remember. So Senator Dodd, who was always on the lookout for fast influence and cash, got this amendment passed so the corporation wouldn't have to sell off its ammo business.
[UPDATE: Yup, it was Sen. Tom Dodd, father of the present Senator. He set something of an early record for corruption, and got censured by the Senate (for what he got caught at -- there was a lot that he got away with. In those days, you could take a "campaign contribution" and essentially stick it in your pocket if it wasn't used for campaigning, none of the modern idea of campaign contributions are separate from your personal bank account. So he'd announce some big investigation of, oh, insurance companies, gun companies, drug use in professional sports. And after the recipients of legislative attention sent the right contributions, would abandon the inquiry.
So why GCA '68? The answer is that the major domestic gun manufacturers WANTED the legislation. They were getting killed by interstate mail order houses selling cheap military surplus. They wanted something to (1) outlaw imports of surplus -- which GCA 68 did, in a provision later relaxed -- and (2) require people to buy from dealers in their own state, thus ending the mail order houses.]