The Missouri Supreme Court is considering a case challenging a gun law and its constitutionality as applied to a man convicted of felony charges in the 1970’s.
A Missouri legislative measure that’s been in the books since 2008 bars convicted felons from having guns.
65-year-old Jack Alpert of western Missouri’s Johnson County has been without firearms since being prevented from renewing his federal firearm dealer’s license in 2010, in keeping with the 2008 statute.
After two felony drug convictions in 1970 and 1975, Alpert was able to regain his Second Amendment rights in 1983 by completing a special program through the federal Gun Control Act. At the time, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms determined that he would not be a danger to society if allowed to have firearms.
Between 1983 and 2008, he not only legally possessed firearms, but became a business owner in the industry. After becoming an arms dealer, Alpert started Missouri Bullet Company (MBC) in 2007, which has grown rapidly to become the largest manufacturer of bullets in the U.S.
According to court documents, he decided to expand the business to include manufacturing explosives and spent $62,000 on necessary equipment before losing his gun dealer’s license and his ability to legally bear arms.
Alpert complains that he can’t test the bullets his own company produces. He also says he would be putting himself in legal jeopardy if he manufactured explosives that he couldn’t test. “You cannot combine explosives with customers without having reasonable certainty that you’re not going to harm the customer,” said Alpert.
Before the Supreme Court in Jefferson City, Alpert’s attorney Ronald Ribaudo, cited a 2014 amendment to the Missouri Constitution. It calls for any restriction on gun rights to be subject to “strict scrutiny”.
Ribaudo contends that risk is the key issue and says Alpert poses none. “25 years from 1983 to 2008 he possessed firearms without any incidents, no arrests, no convictions,” said Ribaudo.
The main thrust of the state’s argument is that Alpert has no case because he doesn’t own any guns he could fight in court to keep. Before the high court judges, Ribaudo said that would mean his client would have to commit a felony just to bring his case before a court.
“Mr. Alpert is not going to go out and commit a crime. He’s just not. That would be perverse. That would mean he would have to show that he has no right to bear arms, in order to vindicate his right to bear arms. That’s absurd.”
Assistant Attorney General Gregory Goodwin represented the state before the high court. He said there’s no way to argue that the law violates his rights prior in advance of the law being enforced against him. “Someone can’t vindicate their rights, unless there is first a violation of those rights,” said Goodwin.
The state claims Alpert has not placed sufficient facts in the record to create a fully developed claim or demonstrated that an immediate, concrete dispute exists.
In addition to the claim that Alpert would pose no risk if in possession of firearms, Ribaudo said there were legitimate reasons for his gun rights to be restored.
“Mr. Alpert is an old man, dying of renal (kidney) cancer. He needs the firearm for self-defense. He can’t use his arms to protect himself. He lives out in the country. There’s not much police presence out there. If there’s an intruder, he’s not going to be able to do much.”
Goodwin noted those conditions could change. “What if Mr. Alpert moves five minutes from the police station. What if Mr. Alpert makes a recovery.”
Ultimately, Goodwin said Alpert should not be given a waiver to have firearms because federal and state laws are clear about the status of felons. “Mr. Alpert has committed felonies, and that has categorically removed him from the class of people allowed to possess firearms.”
The Supreme Court, as is usual, did not render a judgement in Alpert’s case directly after arguments on Wednesday. It can issue a decision at any time.