Britt v. North Carolina, 363 N.C. 546 (Aug. 28, 2009)

The court held that G.S. 14-415.1 (felon in possession), as applied to the plaintiff, was unconstitutional. In 1979, the plaintiff was convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and deliver, a nonviolent crime that did not involve the use of a firearm. He completed his sentence in 1982 and in 1987, his civil rights were fully restored, including his right to possess a firearm. The then-existing felon in possession statute did not bar the plaintiff from possessing a firearm. In 2004, G.S. 14-415.1 was amended to extend the prohibition to all firearms by anyone convicted of a felony and to remove the exceptions for possession within the felon’s own home and place of business. Thereafter, the plaintiff spoke with his local sheriff about whether he could lawfully possess a firearm and divested himself of all firearms, including sporting rifles and shotguns that he used for game hunting on his land. Plaintiff, who had never been charged with another crime, filed a civil action against the State, alleging that G.S. 14-415.1 violated his constitutional rights. The North Carolina Supreme Court held that as applied to him, G.S. 14-415.1, which contains no exceptions, violated the plaintiff’s right to keep and bear arms protected by Article I, Section 30 of the North Carolina Constitution. Specifically, the court held that as applied, G.S. 14-451.1 was not a reasonable regulation. The court held: “Plaintiff, through his uncontested lifelong nonviolence towards other citizens, his thirty years of law-abiding conduct since his crime, his seventeen years of responsible, lawful firearm possession between 1987 and 2004, and his assiduous and proactive compliance with the 2004 amendment, has affirmatively demonstrated that he is not among the class of citizens who pose a threat to public peace and safety.” It concluded: “[I]t is unreasonable to assert that a nonviolent citizen who has responsibly, safely, and legally owned and used firearms for seventeen years is in reality so dangerous that any possession at all of a firearm would pose a significant threat to public safety.”