Restore released felons' rights -- all their rights

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted April 16, 2001

The tale is told of the African farmer who complains to his neighbor of all the trouble he's having catching and killing the mice that are eating up the crops in his field.

"Why are they so hard to catch?" the neighbor asks.

"Because they keep hiding between the elephants' legs."

Many of us are susceptible to fixating on those pesky mice, ignoring far larger sources of trouble and destruction simply because we've grown so accustomed to them. This is the case for many of today's political liberals, as the once noble cause of "Civil Rights" falls increasingly into the clutches of political opportunists angling for votes via exercises every bit as arcane as medieval scholastics counting the angels on the head of a pin.

Are "too few" black-owned contractors landing highway subcontracts? Just set up race-based quota and set-aside systems for "black-owned businesses" -- blithely ignoring the number of white entrepreneurs who promptly pay off black "front men" to fill out the required paperwork. (And needless to say, this street only runs one-way -- no federal mandates that professional football or basketball teams contain a percentage of white or Asian players "appropriate to the racial makeup of the metropolitan market they serve.")

Perhaps the silliest of these modern exercises is the recurring demand that the government somehow intervene to fix the "wage gap" between men and women -- a statistical artifact 98 percent explained by the fact that women tend to make different career choices, in part to allow them to take years off to bear and raise children (God bless them).

Meantime, what about our own elephants -- the massively obvious laws still on the books which not only have a de facto racist impact, but which were originally enacted with the specific purpose of keeping American blacks, Asians, and Hispanics in a permanent state of "second-class citizenship"?

Take the War on Drugs ... please. What consciousness-altering drug causes by far the most crime, disease, death (both on and off the highways), family destruction, and general sociopathology in America today?


So why do we lock up hundreds of thousands of our young men in prison for decades -- giving America the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world -- for non-violent trafficking in marijuana, cocaine, and the opiates ... while far more damaging alcohol remains legal?

Because marijuana, cocaine, and opium were inseparably linked to America's Hispanic, black and Asian minorities in the early years of the last century, of course -- yellow journalists like William Randolph Hearst selling plenty of newspapers with blatantly racist tales of black, Mexican and Chinese men seducing white women after plying them with these insidious tools of miscegenational seduction.

To this day, black and Hispanic drug convicts fill our prisons far out of proportion to their numbers in the general population, precisely because there is no such punishment for the irresponsible use of alcohol -- drug of choice for the white majority.

So why don't today's "Civil Rights activists" demand an end to the "War on Drugs"? Could it be because they really constitute nothing but get-out-the-minority-vote auxiliaries to the established parties of Big Government Power? Nor is the "Drug War" the only scheme developed after the Civil War to keep America's minorities disarmed and out of the voting booth.

In postbellum America, while white men were free to carry long guns in their saddle scabbards or later in their pickup racks, a black man walking abroad with such a weapon could be in deep trouble. Therefore, black men "uppity" enough to arm themselves in readiness to defend their families and their property found it necessary to carry more easily concealable handguns.

Taking advantage of this disparity between the way the two races tended to go armed, enter a clever racist scam known as the "concealed weapon permit" -- easy enough to acquire in you played poker with the judge or the sheriff on Friday nights, but likely to be issued to the average black applicant ... right about the time we finish clearing the snow from that big July blizzard.

Now, no matter how well justified his actions, any black man who defended himself against an assault could be charged with "carrying a concealed weapon without a permit." Duly convicted by a (usually all-white) jury, he would not only do time, but -- under an additional set of new enactments -- forever forfeit his right to bear arms or to vote, even after he had "paid his debt to society."

Pretty clever, huh?

To this day, the Sentencing Project and Human Rights Watch tell us 13 percent of black men in this country -- a number way out of whack with the statistics for other races -- can't vote, most of them because they have a felony conviction on their records.

Does anyone believe this facilitates these men landing good jobs, supporting their families, and becoming active in the self-government of their communities?

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and NAACP head Kweisi Mfume appeared at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas April 9, calling for new legislation to re-enfranchise citizens who have paid their debt to society -- allowing former felons to vote.

It's a no-brainer. Let's get it done. All of a convict's civil rights but two are considered to be automatically restored the minute he walks out of prison -- and rightly so -- as it is. (Would anyone contend a former felon can't go to church -- that he doesn't merit another jury trial if accused of a new crime -- because the rights previously guaranteed him by the First and Fourth Amendments of the Bill of Rights were never "restored" to him via some formal written document following his release?)

But having gone that far, why do Messrs. Reid and Mfume stop short? If a convicted felon is still dangerous, he shouldn't be out walking around at all -- he should serve his full sentence. (And we'll have more than enough prison space to allow that, once the Civil Rights folks get busy and end this racist War on Drugs.)

If, on the other hand, we're finally committed to ending this loathsome regime of "permanent second-class citizenship" for men who have "done their time," then let's restore all their Constitutional rights ... including the crucial Right to Keep and Bear Arms, described by our Founding Fathers as "necessary to the security of a free state."

The importance of an armed citizenry for maintaining freedom and order in our communities was once so well understood in this country that virtually all Confederate veterans of the Civil War were allowed to carry their personal weapons home with them after the North accepted their surrender.

These are men who -- from the point of view of the conqueror -- had just spent four years committing treason and armed insurrection. What felonies could be more violent than those?

Yet they went home armed, lived peaceable lives, and rebuilt a nation.

Let's do it again.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter by sending $72 to Privacy Alert, 1475 Terminal Way, Suite E for Easy, Reno, NV 89502. His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at 1-800-244-2224, or via web site

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