Why Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote: Respecting Human Rights

What’s the point? What's the point of sending people to jail in hopes of rehabilitation and then taking away rights that every human has? As if they are less than a human, when after an individual gets out of jail it is already hard enough for them to enter back into society. What's the point of taking a felon's second amendment right away? Why should felons be allowed to vote? These are frequently asked questions in this essay that are argued about when deciding if ex-felons should have the same rights as the general population have. The rights that are typically argued about are suffrage rights (right to vote) and second amendment rights (right to bear arms). Within this paper the rights that ex-felons have in the state of Nevada will be discussed and reform recommendations will be made. Additionally, I believe that there should be some restrictions to ex felons' rights in specific cases, but for the vast majority of cases all rights should be returned to felons after their sentence is complete.

Where is the Line of Human Rights?

This issue is extremely important due to the fact that if an individual's rights are restricted this can not only have safety implications for the general public, but for the mental well-being of the ex-criminal. What I mean by this is if a felon is told he cannot bear arms and not vote for a specified amount of time this will have some sort of mental affect. This will be telling the ex-felon the public does not view you as a citizen and to an extreme extent, lesser than the average citizen. On the other hand, the general public would feel safer knowing certain felons will never be able to bear arms. Now let's take a closer look at the state of Nevada who have very specific views in terms of the second amendment and suffrage rights. Nevada has extremely strict standards for individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms in Nevada. The twelve categories that list people who are prohibited of possessing a firearm range from a domestic violence misdemeanor to undocumented aliens. Obviously, this implies that there is a diverse list that the state of Nevada looked at and tried to determine who could potentially be a threat if they were able to gain access to a gun. But what does this say about felons? Specifically, the statute is as follows “anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in the U.S, Anyone convicted of stalking a family member or current or former intimate partner in the U.S. Anyone convicted of a felony in the U.S. unless the person received a pardon restoring the right to bear arms. Anyone subject to an extended protection against domestic violence, and the order prohibits the person from having firearms.Fugitives.Drug addicts or unlawful users of controlled substances, Anyone prohibited by federal law from having a gun (this also includes people dishonorably discharged from the armed forces as well as people who renounced their American citizenship.”

There is a fair amount of reasons why an individual who resides in Nevada would fully appreciate the stance the state has taken in regard to the second amendment being restricted for felons and specific types of people. For starters in 2005 there was a study by the United States Sentencing Commission of the Percentage of Firearms Offenders and Non-Firearms Offenders released in the year 2005 which tracked 25,000 ex-criminals. 3,446 firearms offenders were tracked among the two groups, the finding was that firearms offenders recidivate at a much higher rate than non-firearms offenders. 68.1 percent of the firearms offenders were arrested once again for a new crime within the eight year period from which they were released, compared to the 46.3 percent recidivated rate of non-firearms offenders.(USSC) Additionally offenders who were sentenced to a term of imprisonment, firearms offenders received longer sentences than non- firearms offenders. Of the firearms offenders sentenced to prison, 14.6 percent received a sentence of 120 months or more compared to 11.8 percent of non-firearms offenders. All this information would go to strengthen the state of Nevada's stance as felons who were convicted of a crime with a firearm are more likely to be back in jail and due to the fact that their sentences are typically longer, they may have a tougher time readjusting to society. As a result, their judgement may be skewed and according to the state of Nevada is not worth the risk in terms of giving them access to guns.

Why Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote?

To the greatest extent anyone can not argue with a number of the statutes the state of Nevada has in place, but there are a few that could be argued against. Specifically, anyone who has an extended protection against domestic violence, should be able to protect themselves as they surely are scared for their life. One should realize that the thinking of the state of Nevada would be that the person who is fearing potential domestic violence could potentially harm someone else, but the playing field needs to be leveled when someone's life is at stake. It should be the potential victims' decision whether or not they want to protect themselves with a gun, not the state. Similarly, as of now anyone convicted of a felony in the U.S. currently cannot bear arms. The Boston University Law review cites “that the law, with practically no exceptions, potentially permanently strips many nonviolent individuals of an enumerated constitutional right to bear arms for their own defense.” This is an important point as there are plenty of nonviolent crimes such as larceny, arson, and burglary. Individuals who have been convicted of a felony are grouped together with all other types of felons. It seems that these nonviolent felons are guilty by association in terms of being a felon, which pretty much tells these individuals they are the same as someone who possibly murdered someone. Simply this is wrong, and the state of Nevada should look to deliver justice to its citizens and aim to get their citizens who may be ex-felons equal rights.

Then there is Las Vegas’s views on suffrage rights which have gone under an immense amount of change recently. On July 1, 2019, Assembly Bill 431 of the 2019 Legislative Session took effect. Which will allow for any Nevada resident who previously was convicted of a felony to immediately have their ability to vote reinstated. Nevada prior to this year had been one of the few remaining states (Iowa, Kentucky, Virginia) to disenfranchise felons post their release. So, for the first time this year 2020 Ex-felons in Las Vegas who Were discharged from parole or probation before July 1, 2019 voted in the election that just passed. One aspect of this Bill that is extremely pivotal in terms of the message it sends to felons is that they are. For an ex-felon there is no waiting period or action required by the individual to retain these rights and this is a process that goes into effect immediately upon the individual’s release from prison. In the majority of other states restitution and fee payments are still required for an ex-felon to restore their ability to vote. For individuals who are ex-felons or have family members this decision by the state of Nevada is an immense step in the right direction.

An argument could be made that immediate enfranchisement is wrong due to the fact that felons should have to prove that mentally they are able to make the “right” judgement when they vote. When an individual goes to jail, they are losing some of their constitutional rights and their freedom. Ex-felons should be able to show after their time in prison that they desire to have their rights restored through the action of abiding by the law. In other words the time they spend out of prison would also be viewed as a part of the rehabilitation process. Lastly they could further show that their voting rights should be restored by being in good financial standing felons would do this by paying restitution and fee payments to reimpose the ability to vote.

In my opinion the state of Nevada is doing a fantastic job with the bill they just passed in regard to ex criminals regaining their ability to vote. I believe this shows that the government officials in Nevada trust that their jails rehabilitate ex criminals to the fullest extent. Additionally, this furthers the notion that the state of Nevada still has faith in these individuals regardless of their past. And that the state is willing to give them a second chance and reintegrate them back into society with limited restrictions. Furthermore, poll taxes in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections was deemed unconstitutional. These legal financial obligations ex-felons were previously required to pay are extremely similar to poll taxes. The finding of the Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections cases were that the ex-felons already had limited economic resources, their ability to secure employment was damaged and had a challenging time just trying to pay bills. So once again, for the state of Nevada to eliminate something such as this, I wholeheartedly support.

Nevada could make some reforms to their control of the second amendment rights that apply to ex-felons. Generally, their twelve categories of individuals who are prohibited of possessing a firearm are sound for the most part. The state of Nevada prohibits gun use from people who are mentally unfit, whether the individual was actually diagnosed with a mental condition or they did something that shows their decision-making skills are impaired. I agree with this for the most part, but I believe Nevada does individuals who could be victims to domestic violence a disservice. While I understand that these individuals are scared for their lives and could make a questionable decision, I believe that for their well-being and protection, they should be able to arm themselves if they see fit. This would be on the grounds that the best law enforcement and laws can protect an individual against crime but that does not stop crime itself. The first line of defense for a potential victim of domestic violence would be themselves and a gun, and they are granted that right by the constitution. Lastly, I think the state could look to have a mental evaluation of these individuals if they want to become armed, to better serve them as individuals and not group them together with people in similar situations.

Specificity is something that the state should take pride in, they should look to evaluate every case and treat every person like an individual. With that being said they should reform their statutes that restrict felons from bearing arms. There is no reason that the rules that apply to an ex murderer should apply to someone who committed burglary. The state should look to review a felon's case if they want to own a gun, because it is not always black or white and sometimes a detailed look should be taken to determine if someone is fit to own a gun not just based on the fact that they are a felon. This would be on grounds similar to that of what the state of California has done. In 2015 the house voted to let ex-felons apply for permission to own firearms, this only would take place if the felon was able to convince a judge to reduce their felony charge to a misdemeanor or pardon them. I think this would be the right approach as someone should not be punished for something, they did years ago, and should be able to be given to opportunity to have their second amendment right reinstate.


In totality the state of Nevada in my opinion is doing an adequate job of giving felons the ability to regain their rights while keeping the general public safe. This is no easy task as these issues are heavily argued upon state to state. But as Nevada has shown in their recent decisions, they believe in their criminal reform system and the long-term effects that very system has on ex criminals. While they could potentially make some reforms, establishing change in regard to issues that are heavily criticized takes time. Every individual regardless of their prior convictions should be given a second chance and every individual case is different and should be reviewed multiple times to give felons/ex-felons the best chance of integrating successfully back into society. 

03 July 2023
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