By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that convicted felons may be able to transfer their guns to someone else rather than surrendering them to authorities, siding with a former U.S. Border Patrol agent from Florida convicted on marijuana charges.
Writing for the court in the 9-0 ruling, Justice Elena Kagan said a federal law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms did not prevent ownership of guns from being transferred to another person.
Kagan said a transfer could take place as long as the judge overseeing the case ensures that the felon cannot retain control over the use of the weapons.
The case involved Tony Henderson, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to distributing marijuana and other drug offenses and was sentenced to six months in prison. He voluntarily surrendered 19 firearms to the FBI after he was arrested on drug charges. But after he was convicted, Henderson sought to sell the guns either to a friend or to transfer ownership to his wife.
"What matters here is not whether a felon plays a role in deciding where his firearms should go next," Kagan wrote. Rather, the question is "whether the felon will have the ability to use or direct the use of his firearms after the transfer," she added.
The case will return to lower courts to determine if Henderson's request to transfer the guns will be granted.
A federal judge had refused Henderson's request that he be able to sell the guns, as did the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling this past January.
The case is Henderson v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1487.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)