Eyebrows are naturally raised when even the liberal Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial page criticizes what it labels the “shocking” permissive policies of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles over the growing number of convicted felons who are asking for and receiving permission to again own firearms.

The five-member Board, appointed by the governor, has the power to restore civil rights like gun ownership and voting privileges to felons who have served their prison time. According to an AJC investigation, the panel reinstated the right to buy, sell, keep or hold guns to over 1,400 convicted felons between 2008 and 2014. “Violent offenders are an increasing proportion of these numbers,” the paper reports, and many of them are sex predators.

Consider the reaction of Charles Topetzes, executive director of the Pardons and Paroles Board from 1996 to 2002. “It’s appalling and ridiculous,” he said in a phone interview with this writer. “When I arrived the policy on restoration of gun rights was handled very sensibly. If you committed your offense using a firearm, your request was denied. Period. There was no reconsideration by the board during the time I served.

Topetzes specifically recalls one “ex-offender” who had been denied time and again to have his firearms rights restored. “He called me up throwing the Second Amendment in my face. I told him you have a better chance of having lunch with Elvis then you do getting the right restored to possess any firerams.” The “big question now,” Topetzes asks, “is why was that policy changed in recent years?”

Also appalling for Georgians who believe in accountability and transparency from taxpayer-supported public agencies is the fact that the Pardons and Paroles Board declined the newspaper’s request, in the words of its editorial, “to provide even a broad explanation for this page of thinking behind their decision-making.”

The editorial rightly urges “the General Assembly to quickly begin looking into the parole board’s practices and decision-making. Their goal should be to introduce legislation early in 2015 to correct any problems or excesses that are uncovered.”

In the meantime Board Chairman Terry Barnard, appointed by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, ought to emerge from hiding and give an explanation for the Board’s re-arming of violent felons who are released back into Georgia’s population. Furthermore, Gov. Nathan Deal ought to be urging Barnard and his fellow panelists to return to the sensible policies of the Topetzes era.


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