Supreme Court injustice?

By Jon Dougherty

A noted gun-rights group says the U.S. Supreme Court has committed an “injustice” by failing to uphold the “right to self-defense” of an American jailed for months in Mexico for possessing ammunition.

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a 300,000-strong gun-rights group based in Springfield, Va., criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft, Solicitor General Ted Olson and the high court for upholding the Mexican conviction of Texas resident and gun-show operator Tom Bean.

According to GOA, Bean, 63, attempted to enter Mexico for dinner March 14, 1998, after sponsoring a gun show in Laredo. He was arrested by Mexican border authorities when they spotted approximately 200 rounds of ammunition lying on his car seat; possession of ammunition is a felony south of the border.

Bean, who also co-owns a used-car dealership in Port Arthur, Texas, was subsequently convicted and spent four months in a Mexican jail before he was released to U.S. custody under a prisoner-exchange program. He spent another month in prison before being released on supervised parole. Ten months later, a federal court eliminated those restrictions as well.

Though he was convicted in Mexico for an act that is legal in the U.S., because he spent time in jail on a felony conviction he effectively lost his right to own firearms – a loss that also puts him out of the gun-show business.

Bean took his case to court, and in 2000 a federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas restored his gun rights, a ruling that was upheld on appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. But Olson’s office appealed further to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that lower courts did not have the authority to restore gun rights to convicted felons.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court – in a ruling authored by Justice Clarence Thomas – unanimously agreed.

“This is a tremendous injustice,” Pratt said. “The attorney general and Supreme Court have conspired to take away a man’s right to self-defense based on actions that are not a crime anywhere in the United States.”

Bean was represented by attorneys Larry C. Hunter, of Vidor, Texas, as well as Thomas Goldstein and Amy Howe of Washington, D.C. Hunter could not be reached; Goldstein and Howe did not return calls seeking comment.

According to documents filed by his lawyers, Bean hinted that he was duped into signing documents admitting his guilt because they were in Spanish.

“Knowing that respondent could not read, speak or understand the Spanish language, Mexican officials required him to sign a document in Spanish that he only later learned amounted to a confession,” the document said. “As a result, and without a trial, respondent was convicted and sentenced to the term of five years in Mexico.”

Once out of jail, the former gun-show operator filed an application with the Treasury Department – home to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – but it was returned unprocessed. Officials explained that the agency’s “annual appropriations law forbade it from expending any funds to investigate or act upon such applications,” court papers said.

Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for the BATF told WorldNetDaily she couldn’t comment on the case because it was under review.

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin S. Kneedler argued the case on behalf of the Justice Department, but officials there did not return phone calls.

“Amazingly,” Pratt said, “[Ashcroft and Olson] decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Had they let the Fifth Circuit’s decision [stand], Bean’s right to own firearms would have been restored, and he would have been able to resume his career.

“This horrendous move by the attorney general and the unjust decision by the Supreme Court means that Bean must rely on the BATF to restore his rights – an obvious ‘Catch-22’ since the BATF is prohibited by law from spending money for such purposes,” Pratt said, calling on lawmakers to restore funding to the program so “injustices like this one can be reversed.”

Funding for the program has been frozen since 1992, court records said.

The case is United States v. Bean, No. 01-704.

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