By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether a Florida man convicted on drug charges and forced to give up his firearms under federal law could sell the guns or transfer ownership to his wife or a friend.
The court agreed to hear an appeal filed by Tony Henderson, a former U.S. Border Patrol agent who was convicted of distributing marijuana and other drug offenses in 2007 and sentenced to six months in prison.
Upon his arrest, Henderson voluntarily gave the FBI his 19 firearms. As federal felons cannot possess firearms, Henderson later sought either to sell the guns to an interested buyer or to transfer ownership to his wife.
A federal judge refused his request, as did the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling this past January.
The legal question is whether the federal prohibition on felons possessing firearms terminates all ownership rights. Lower courts are divided on the issue.
John Elwood, Henderson's attorney, said in court filings that if the appeals court ruling against him were to be left intact, it would allow the government to "effectively strip gun owners of their entire ownership interest in significant, lawful household assets following a conviction for an unrelated offense."
U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, representing the government, said in court papers there was no need for the Supreme Court to hear the case, in part because Henderson could have sold the guns prior to his conviction.
Furthermore, Henderson's proposals would have put the guns in the hands of either his wife or a friend, which "created a significant risk" that he would still retain access to them, Verrilli wrote.
A ruling is due by the end of June. The case is Henderson v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1487.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)