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Appeals court upholds ban on felons possessing guns (UPDATE)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s ban on felons possessing firearms is constitutional and extends to all felons, including nonviolent ones, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday in a case involving a man convicted of forging checks.

Keeping guns out of felons’ hands is a key part of the government’s duty to protect people, the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled, adding that no state law banning felons from possessing firearms has ever been struck down.

The decision stems from a case involving a felon who went hunting with his father’s gun.

Thomas Pocian, 44, of Hartford was convicted of forging checks in 1986. In November 2008, he used his father’s gun to shoot two deer. He registered the deer with the state Department of Natural Resources and was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Pocian asked Washington County Circuit Judge Todd K. Martens to dismiss the case, arguing the ban is unconstitutionally broad and shouldn’t apply to him because he wasn’t a violent felon. Martens refused.

Pocian raised the same arguments to the appeals court. He contended that a pair of U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down handgun bans in Washington, D.C., and Chicago reiterated the right to bear arms and establishing that potential restrictions would have to meet a tougher level of scrutiny.

He noted that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has since used a stricter standard to determine whether weapon restrictions are legal, ruling a law is valid only if it’s substantially related to an important government objective.

The state appeals court noted that it upheld the Wisconsin ban’s constitutionality in a 2004 case, ruling then that the ban was a reasonable extension of the state’s police powers. The court said it applied the new, tougher analysis in Pocian’s case and this time concluded Wisconsin’s ban is substantially related to the government’s responsibility to keep the public safe.

The court also said no state law banning felons from possessing firearms has ever been struck down, and the 7th Circuit ruled in 2010 that categorically banning felons from possessing guns is constitutional.

“If Pocian wants to the change the law, the proper route is through the legislature,” the ruling said.
As for Pocian’s argument that he shouldn’t be subject to the ban because he didn’t commit a violent crime, the court ruled that state lawmakers defined his forgery crime as a felony.

“As such, Pocian has legislatively lost his right to possess a firearm,” the ruling said.

Pocian’s attorney, Craig Powell, said he was disappointed with the state appeals court’s decision and would talk with Pocian about appealing to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, saying Pocian still has a strong case.

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