Federal Firearms Laws: Prohibitions, Sentencing & Punishment, Other Consequences (18 U.S.C. §§ 921 to 931)
The firearm industry and firearm ownership are broadly regulated under Title 18, Chapter 44 of the United States Code as well as by California law. Multiple revisions to federal firearms laws over time have made gun control a complicated subject in the United States.
If you are being accused of committing a federal offense in California involving a firearm, you should speak immediately to one of our experienced federal criminal lawyers. With over 30 years of experience, the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich can guide you through this difficult legal process. Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245, so we can begin to help you.
Firearm Defined under Federal Law
Federal firearms laws define a firearm as any weapon (including a starter gun) which expels a projectile by means of an explosive or is designed or may be readily converted to do so. This includes the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any firearm muffler or silencer or destructive device. Antique firearms are not included in this definition (18 U.S.C. § 921 (3)).
Persons Prohibited from Possessing a Firearm or Ammunition under Federal Law
Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922, federal law prohibits the possession of a firearm by certain persons. To convict you for possession of a firearm or ammunition by a prohibited person, a federal prosecutor must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You were in possession or receipt of a firearm or ammunition;
- The firearm or ammunition was transported across state lines at any time; and
- You are categorized as one or more of the following:
- A convicted felon in any U.S. or state jurisdiction (including defendants awaiting trial on felony charges);
- A fugitive from justice, including witnesses who flee any state to avoid testifying in any criminal proceeding;
- A drug user or addict (often shown where drug paraphernalia is seized, you tested positive for drugs and/or you admit that drugs in your possession are for personal use);
- An alien, including illegal aliens and aliens lawfully admitted under non-immigrant visas (such as student, employment or temporary/travel visas). In other words, any non U.S. citizen without a “green card;”
- A person subject to a domestic violence restraining order, prohibiting contact with an intimate partner or child, upon notice and opportunity to participate in a hearing on the matter. The restraining order must also find that you pose a threat to the physical safety of the intimate partner or child or must prohibit the use, threatened use or attempted use of physical force;
- A person convicted of any misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
- A minor under the age of 18 for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle;
- A persons less than 21 years of age for the purchase of a firearm that is other than a shotgun or rifle;
- A citizen who has renounced his/her U.S. Citizenship; or
- A veteran dishonorably discharged from the United States military.
A conviction is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. Your sentence can increase to a minimum of 15 years if you have three or more prior convictions for a felony crime of violence or a serious drug offense, including but not limited to:
- Possession or use of deadly weapons; and/or
- Drug trafficking.
You can also be prosecuted in federal court and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if you knowingly sell, give or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any prohibited person listed above (18 U.S.C. § 922(d)).
Prohibited Firearms Trade
Federal law also makes it illegal for you to import, produce, or conduct transactions in firearms across state lines if you are not a licensed firearms dealer.
Furthermore, it is unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise distribute a firearm to anyone other than a licensed firearms dealer, manufacturer, importer, or collector (“firearms licensee”) when the person transferring the weapon knows that the acquiring person does not live in the same state. (18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)).
There are exceptions to this, including if you are:
- Delivering a firearm to carry out a lawful bequest; or
- Loaning a firearm to someone for lawful sporting purposes.
In addition to certain persons who are prohibited from possessing a legal firearm or ammunition, there are certain categories of prohibited weapons (18 U.S.C. §§ 922 (a)(4), (k) & (o); 924 (c)(1)(B)). Exceptions apply to a firearms licensee.
Except as authorized by federal law, the following categories of weapons are prohibited:
- Destructive devices, such as:
- Missiles; and/or
- Machineguns and fully automatic firearms, including any part designed or intended exclusively for use in such weapon;
- Any firearm silencer, including any device or part designed to silence, muffle or diminish the report of a firearm;
- Short-barreled (“sawed off”) rifles with a barrel length less than 16 inches and any weapon made from a rifle with an overall length of less than 26 inches;
- Short-barreled (“sawed off”) shotguns with a barrel length less than 18 inches and any weapon made from a shotgun with an overall length of less than 26 inches;
- Semi-automatic assault weapons (manufactured after October 1, 1993);
- Any firearm where the serial number has been changed, removed or destroyed (“filed off”).
Other Federal Firearm Crimes
In addition to possession of an illegal weapon or possession of a legal firearm or ammunition by a prohibited person, there are dozens of firearm-related crimes that may be prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice. These crimes include, but are not limited to the following:
- To receive, possess, conceal, store, or accept as security for a loan, or barter, sell, ship or transport across state lines any stolen firearm, ammunition or explosive;
- To steal or unlawfully take or carry away a firearm from the person or premises of a firearms licensee;
- To acquire a firearm from a dealer by using any false written or oral statements or to present any false identification intended to deceive the dealer about the legality of the transaction or the ultimate owner of the firearm (commonly known as “straw purchasing”);
- To possess, carry or discharge a firearm in a federal facility (a post office or federal court, for example), except as authorized by law; and
- To possess, carry or discharge a firearm in a school zone, except as authorized by law.
Additionally, it is a federal offense for a firearm licensee to sell or deliver:
- Any firearm to a minor under the age of 18;
- A handgun or handgun ammunition to a person under the age of 21; or
- Any firearm in violation of existing state law or local ordinance.
Defenses to Federal Firearms Crimes
Possible defenses to a charge under 18 U.S.C. § 922 that your federal criminal defense attorney may be able to raise include, but are not limited to the following:
- Not a Prohibited Person: You are lawfully permitted to possess, carry or use a firearm;
- Firearm Licensee: You are licensed to sell, manufacturer, import or collect a firearm, or carry a concealed weapon;
- Not a Prohibited Weapon: The weapon in your possession was legal for you to possess;
- No Interstate Commerce: The firearm, ammunition or weapon in your possession did not travel across state lines;
- No Knowledge: You did not know that the person acquiring the gun from you was prohibited from possessing a gun, deceived you into selling a gun under false pretenses or was from another state;
- Illegal Search and Seizure: Evidence against you was obtained without probable cause and/or without a valid search warrant.
- Exception: Your conduct was expressly authorized under an exception articulated under the law.
Sentencing and Punishment for Federal Firearms Crimes
Most federal firearm crimes are charged as a felony by a U.S. prosecuting attorney. Generally, if you are convicted of a felony pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 922, you can be sentenced to serve up to either 5 or 10 years in federal prison, as well as being ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000 ($500, 000 for an organization), or by both imprisonment and fine (18 U.S.C. § 924).
A misdemeanor conviction in a United States court is punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 ($200,000 for an organization), or by both imprisonment and fine.
Juveniles who unlawfully possess a firearm and persons who unlawfully sell or transfer a firearm to a juvenile generally face a misdemeanor charge. However, if the person who transfers the firearm to a juvenile had a reason to believe he or she intended to commit a violent crime with the gun or ammunition, that person could be charged with a felony.
Firearms Involved in Federal Crimes of Violence or Drug Trafficking
Federal sentencing guidelines authorize mandatory minimum sentencing when a firearm or certain ammunition is involved in relation to or in furtherance of a federal crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime. (18 U.S.C. § 924 (c)). These mandatory minimum sentences are as follows:
- Five years for carrying or possessing a firearm;
- Seven years for brandishing a firearm;
- 10 years if the firearm is discharged;
- 10 years for possession of a sawed-off rifle or shotgun or semiautomatic assault weapon;
- 15 years for possession of armor piercing ammunition;
- 30 years for possession of a machine gun, a destructive devise, or if the firearm was equipped with a silencer.
Mandatory minimum sentencing as described above must be served in addition to and consecutive to any sentence imposed upon conviction for the underlying violent or drug trafficking crime.
Firearms Involved in a Federal Crime of Murder or Manslaughter
If you kill someone as a result of using a firearm or ammunition to commit a federal offense, you can be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter in addition to any other crime committed resulting in death. If you are convicted, you can be sentenced as follows:
- First degree murder – death penalty or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole;
- Second degree murder – life imprisonment with the possibility of parole;
- Involuntary – up to 8 years in prison;
- Voluntary – up to 15 years in prison.
Other Consequences of a Federal Firearms Conviction
In addition to the penalties described above, other consequences you may face for a federal conviction involving a firearm may include the following:
- Loss of your professional license (doctor, stockbroker, attorney, etc.);
- Loss of your 2nd Amendment right to possess a firearm;
- Deportation out of the country if you are not a United States citizen;
- Restitution paid to any victims;
- Three or more years of supervised probation upon your release from custody; and/or
- Liability for monetary damages if you are sued civilly by any of your victims.
Additionally, federal law requires that you serve a minimum of 85 percent of your sentence before you are eligible for release from custody.
Contact Wallin & Klarich today if you are facing federal charges involving a firearm
If you or a loved one has been accused of a federal crime involving a firearm, you should to speak to a Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney experienced in federal court. Federal firearms laws are complex and a violation could lead to serious consequences. Additionally, using a gun to commit any other federal crime may significantly add to your sentence if you are convicted.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients charged with federal crimes. We will explain all of the charges against you and make certain all of your constitutional rights are protected. We will employ every strategy available to ensure that you get the best result possible in your case.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.