Firearms Crimes at the Federal Level

Owning a gun in America is a serious responsibility, and it’s important to know your rights and your obligations, as well as what to do if you are charged with a federal crime. It’s also important to think about your responsibilities if you are a federally licensed firearms dealer, importer, manufacturer, or pawnbroker.  

There are a number of different crimes at the federal level that relate to firearm possession, use, and sales. Federal laws set out severe and serious penalties for these crimes, particularly if the person has already been convicted of a federal crime in the past or fits into certain other categories such as drug users or those convicted of domestic violence.  

What Does the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution Allow?

When considering federal firearms use, it’s important to know what you are allowed to do under the 2nd Amendment. The language of the 2nd Amendment has been widely interpreted.  

In 2008 it was decided that while states could regulate gun ownership, individuals did have rights to bear arms for “traditionally lawful purposes” such as “self-defense within the home.” (District of Columbia v. Heller 2008). This case was later upheld in 2010. However, these cases “technically ruled only that government may not ban the possession of handguns by civilians in their homes.” Despite the 2nd Amendment, there are some guns that are illegal to own in any circumstances unless you have a special license (such as if you are a police officer or in the military). 

If you are under investigation for firearms crimes, criminal defense attorney, Ben Stechschulte, can help defend your case. Call our South Tampa law firm today at 813-280-1244.

Federal Firearms Crimes 

If you are a firearms owner or seller, it is vital to be aware of some key federal firearms crimes, and what you should do if you are charged with one. The federal charges that you should be aware of are: 

  • Felon in possession of a firearm 
  • Armed career criminal charges 
  • Sales to prohibited people 
  • Trafficking in firearms

Title 18, Chapter 44 of the United States Code is where the criminal firearms laws at a federal level are set out. Section 922 and 924 set out most of the federal laws and crimes relating to firearms.

Felon in Possession of a Firearm 

Under these laws, possession or receipt of a firearm by a felon, drug user or addict, or an illegal alien, is prohibited. People who have been subject to a domestic restraining order, or people who have prior convictions for domestic assault are also prohibited from possessing firearms. You can be determined to be “in possession” of a firearm even if you aren’t actually carrying the gun with you. 

There is no minimum mandatory sentence, and the maximum sentence can be up to 10 years in jail. The penalties will be much higher (i.e. 30 years added to the sentence) if the weapon involved is a semi-automatic firearm that is capable of accepting a large-capacity magazine, or is a short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, modified rifle, machinegun, a weapon using a silencer, or a bomb, grenade, rocket, or similar device. 

These weapons are illegal for any civilian to possess, and the penalties can also be much higher if more than one weapon is used or found, or if the weapon has been used during a violent crime or while trafficking drugs. Penalties will also be higher if any of the firearms were stolen, or if any had their serial numbers altered or removed.

Federal Criminal defense lawyer, Ben Stechschulte, is a former Florida Prosecutor who can help defend your gun-related charges. Call our legal team today at 813-280-1244.

Armed Career Criminal

If someone is convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm under Title 18 section 922(g) and has three prior convictions at the state or federal level for violent felonies or serious drug offenses, they will also be considered to be what is called an “Armed Career Criminal.”  

If convicted under this charge, a minimum of 15 years in prison is required for sentencing. There is no maximum sentence set for this crime, which means that if additional factors are present such as drugs, violence, or multiple guns, the highest penalty can be life imprisonment or death. This is a very serious crime. 

Sales to Prohibited People 

Under the same law it is unlawful to sell a firearm to people prohibited under federal law or state law from owning a firearm. This includes people who are underage, convicted felons, drug users or addicts, people who have been committed to mental institutions, those subject to domestic protection orders, or people convicted of domestic violence crimes.

Selling semi-automatic firearms with large-capacity magazines, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, modified rifles, machinegun, weapons using a silencer, or explosive devices to prohibited people (or even at all) will carry much higher penalties. 

Trafficking in Firearms 

In the sentencing process for a prohibited person in possession of a firearm, greater penalties will apply if the person has also been trafficking in firearms. Trafficking is when someone: 

“transported [or] transferred … two or more firearms to another individual, or received two or more firearms with the intent to transport [or] transfer…” and “knew or had reason to believe that [it] would result in the transport [or] transfer… to an individual … whose possession or receipt of the firearm would be unlawful” or someone “who intended to use or dispose of the firearm unlawfully.” 

People whose possession of the firearm would be unlawful include, for example, felons and people convicted of domestic violence charges. In addition, straw purchasing is illegal. Straw purchasing is when someone purchases a firearm on someone else’s behalf, such as purchasing a firearm for a felon. 

In addition, it is also illegal for anyone who has been charged with a crime punishable for more than 1 year in prison to ship or transport or to receive any firearm. Essentially, if a firearm is transferred across state lines by a felon, or is received across state lines by a felon, this is also a federal crime.

ATF Investigations

ATF stands for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and ATF is in charge of investigating whether federal laws or regulations have been violated. ATF investigations include inspections of individuals or businesses that have applied for firearms licenses, and they also look into whether those applying for firearms licenses meet the legal requirements for obtaining a firearm. Their task is to identify and collect evidence on criminal violations such as sales to underage individuals or the occurrence of straw purchases.

What Should You Do if ATF Contacts You About one of These Crimes? 

If you have been contacted by ATF or another federal agency about one of the above crimes, you should follow the below steps: 

  1. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible. A federal agent might approach you alongside your state or local police force. 
  2. Don’t speak to ATF without your lawyer present, as statements that you make can be used against you in court. 
  3. Begin to collect information with your lawyer that you can use to show you didn’t or couldn’t have committed the crime you are being charged with. This can include information such as an alibi, any firearms permit you have, records that show you have no protection orders against you, or records that show you have not been convicted of a felony. This could also be, for example, that you were forced to take the gun or needed it out of necessity. If you have sold firearms to someone else, you will need information to show that you believed or determined that their purchase was legal. 
  4. The investigation will be conducted by ATF in combination with other federal law enforcement agencies, as well as state law enforcement agencies. 
  5. The trial has multiple stages: initial appearance, a chance to enter a plea (such as not guilty), a pre-trial period to collect and examine evidence, and then the trial and sentencing. If you want to dispute the decision, you can file a request to appeal it.  
  6. You can be found guilty for crimes at both the federal and state level and sentencing penalties can be combined.

Key Takeaways

Firearms ownership and possession is a serious responsibility, that while protected under the 2nd Amendment is still subject to restrictions and rules.

If you are approached by a federal agent with respect to a firearms crime, it’s vital to take the investigation seriously and approach it with due care. The penalties can be extremely high, including life imprisonment, and it is critical to speak to a lawyer to guide you through the process. 

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