In a forlorn, rambling note to the judge who sentenced him, Cunningham said he is scheduled for release to a halfway house in December of this year. He begged to have his second amendment rights restored saying, "I will live in a very remote part of Arkansas, and not much threat (sic) from people but they do have a lot of black bears, cougars, and history of rabies."
The letter was first reported by Seth Hettena.
"I asking you (sic) to help restore my second amendment rights so I can earn a little money so I can eat," Cunningham, who said he was a lifetime member of the NRA, wrote. "Pls (sic) help me your honor. I don't have much left but this little thing is a big thing for me."
In his response, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns told Cunningham he had "no authority" to restore his gun rights. He told him his only route, thanks to a federal statute that strips felons of their gun rights, would be to ask the Secretary of the Treasury to grant relief. But, he noted, there's a bit of a catch with the approval process, which the ATF would need to conduct.
"You should be aware, however, that every year since 1992, Congress has refused to provide funding to the ATF to review applications from the federal firearm ban. And the United States Supreme Court has ruled that inaction by ATF does not amount to a 'denial' of the application within the meaning of section 925(c)," Burns wrote. "So unless Congress changes course and decides to fund ATF's review of applications for relief, it appears you are stuck."
Burns did say he personally did not believe that Cunningham's possession of hunting rifles or sport shooting rifles and pistols posed a risk to public safety, but his endorsement "is of no moment at this point given the ATF's continuing inability to conduct background checks on persons applying for relief."
In his time in Congress, Cunningham doesn't appear to have ever gone on-the-record specifically in regards to defunding the ATF gun restoration program, though he did vote for appropriations bills which included the language banning it from being funded. At the time it was passed in 1992, the defunding of the unit was supported mostly by gun control advocates, but there has never been a major effort to give ATF funding to restore the program.
While he is scheduled to be released from the Federal Correctional Complex in Tucson, Arizona on June 4, 2013, Cunningham writes that he is scheduled to go to a halfway house in Little Rock, Arkansas in December 2012. Cunningham has been a prolific writer in prison, endorsing former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and writing a letter to TPM and other media outlets claiming he never should have taken a plea deal.
Read Cunningham's letter:
Read Judge Burns' response: