AN EXPUNGEMENT IN OKLAHOMA DOES NOT RESTORE THE RIGHT TO POSSESS A FIREARM
Updated: May 18
A pardon in Oklahoma restores the right to possess a firearm if all felony convictions are pardoned and if all felony convictions were for nonviolent crimes. That is not the case for pardoned felony convictions of violent crimes. An expungement under Oklahoma law does not restore your right to possess a firearm. Law enforcement can continue to access records of an expunged conviction. Furthermore, records of an expunged felony conviction can be introduced in court to prove the existence of a prior conviction without a prosecutor having to petition for a court order. Thus, anyone who receives an expungement of a violent felony conviction should be aware that possessing a firearm is still a crime (felony) in Oklahoma. It does not matter whether or not the violent felony conviction was pardoned. Moreover, anyone who receives an expungement of a nonviolent-felony conviction and has not received a pardon should be aware that possessing a firearm is still a crime (felony).
Oklahoma law has historically been confusing as it applies to the legality of possessing a firearm by convicted felons who have had a felony conviction pardoned. In the late 1990s, the law was made a bit clearer. For the first time, a pardon of a nonviolent felony conviction restored the right to possess a firearm. An expungement does not restore said right.
As further explanation, the Legislature added a twist when it amended the expungement laws in 2018 to remove the pardon requirement for nonviolent felony convictions. It did so again a year later. In 2019, it broadened the law even further to allow violent felony convictions to be expunged (for those who did not have a written finding of actual innocence by the Governor). However, the expungement law does nothing to restore the right to possess a firearm for convicted felons.
Federal law provides a little more relief. The federal law that makes it unlawful for convicted felons to possess a firearm provides that an expunged conviction is not a conviction. It states that a conviction that "has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored shall not be considered a conviction." The federal statute operates to treat 1) expunged, 2) set aside, and 3) pardoned as equals. So, a full arrest-records expungement (the type provided by Sections 18 and 19 of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes) of a felony conviction in Oklahoma should prevent it from being a "conviction" under federal law. Oklahoma law, however, does not have a similar provision in its statutes.
Would such a violation of law be prosecuted in Oklahoma? It is possible, which is why individuals should be fully informed about the potential risk of possessing a firearm even with a full arrest-records expungement. It also exemplifies the need, at least for those who have a nonviolent felony conviction and want to lawfully possess a firearm, to seek a pardon of said conviction before seeking an expungement of the records.
In 2019, the Legislature amended the law to permit carrying a firearm without a concealed-carry permit. However, it also made it illegal (a misdemeanor) to carry a gun after having been convicted of certain enumerated crimes. The enumerated offenses include: assault and battery (A&B) causing serious physical injury, aggravated A&B, A&B qualifying as domestic abuse, stalking, violating a victim protection order, and unlawful drug use and possession. Several of the enumerated crimes are misdemeanors and not nonviolent felonies. Said statute fails to provide for the restoration of the right to carry a firearm upon a pardon or expungement. Because Oklahoma law lacks any reference to the restoration of the right to carry a gun after a misdemeanor conviction, the right is not going to be restored by an expungement. If you are considering an expungement of a misdemeanor conviction for one of the enumerated crimes, you should be aware of this recent change in the law.
Enrolled Senate Bill 628 (1997) (Enrolled Senate Bill provided because OSCN.com has only Oklahoma Session Laws since 1998 and the Secretary of State’s website only contains legislation introduced since 2001).