Federal prosecutors take firearms charges seriously. Defendants convicted of federal gun crimes face significant jail time and other penalties. Under federal law, certain people are prohibited from possessing firearms. Those convicted face lengthy jail times, especially when they have other gun-related convictions on their records.
Federal firearm laws are complex and provide prosecutors with all the tools they need to prosecute Texas residents. Prosecution for federal firearms crimes has increased in recent years. If you are a Texas resident who owns or would like to own firearms, understanding federal firearm laws can be beneficial.
The Federal Crime of Selling Guns Without a License
Federal law prohibits the sale of firearms without a license. An individual cannot sell guns across state lines without the appropriate license. Those convicted of selling guns without a license face five-year jail sentences. Licensed gun dealers can still face federal prosecution. Federal law criminalizes certain firearm sales. Properly licensed firearm dealers cannot legally sell guns to any of the following:
- Any person the dealer has a reason to believe is not a resident of the same state as the dealer
- Anyone prohibited by state or federal law who is prohibited from owning a firearm, such as undocumented immigrants and convicted felons
- Minors under 18 years old for the sale of shotguns and rifles
- Adults under the age of 21 for other firearm sales
Federal law also prohibits licensed firearm dealers from destructive devices. Defendants convicted of selling destructive devices face a prison sentence of between five to 10 years.
Destructive devices include all of the following types of weapons:
- Machine guns
Removing or Altering the Serial Number of a Firearm
Licensed firearm dealers are legally prohibited from selling a firearm with an altered or removed serial number. It is unlawful for anyone to possess or purchase a firearm with a removed or altered manufacturer’s serial number. In order for the federal law to apply, the firearm in question must have purchased from a foreign country or transported between state lines. What defenses to those charged with removing or altering the serial of a firearm have? First, they can argue that the firearm they purchased never crossed state lines and that they did not buy it through foreign commerce.
Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
Convicted felons cannot possess firearms. Federal gun laws prohibit certain people from gun ownership. Those convicted of a felony and those indicted for a felony who possess a firearm face serious federal criminal charges. Federal law prohibits the following people from owning a gun:
- Any person convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor
- Any person who was dishonorably discharged from a branch of the Armed Forces
- Undocumented immigrants
- Anyone committed to a mental institution
- Anyone who is seriously mentally ill
- Drug users and drug addicts, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act
- Fugitives who have fled any state to avoid prosecution for a crime
What does being “in possession” of a firearm mean? The Supreme Court has decided that someone can be “in possession” of a firearm even when not physically carrying a firearm on his or her person. Possession means having the ability and the intent to control a firearm. The prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intent to control a firearm. A common defense strategy is to argue that the defendant did not intend to control the firearm and did not have the ability to access the firearm.
Carrying or Using a Firearm During Certain Crimes
Using a firearm in the commission of certain crimes can greatly increase the penalties for a conviction. Federal law requires judges to give convicted defendants mandatory minimum sentences for carrying a firearm during violent crimes or drug trafficking crimes. When a statute requires a mandatory minimum sentence, judges must impose at least the minimum listed penalty on the convicted defendant.
When a defendant has multiple convictions on his or her record, federal sentencing guidelines are particularly severe. The minimum sentence for a second conviction of carrying a gun during a violent crime is 25 years. If the defendant used a machine gun or another destructive device for a second time is life in prison.
Sentencing for a conviction that includes carrying or using a firearm during a violent crime or drug trafficking crime cannot happen concurrently. In other words, a convicted individual must serve the mandatory minimum sentence in addition to any sentence he or she might already be serving.
Federal Gun Charge Defenses
Federal prosecutors must prove every element of federal gun crime in order to receive a conviction. When a prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to prove an element, they cannot secure a conviction. Duress and necessity are also defenses to federal gun crimes. When the defendant possessed or used a firearm under duress, he or she cannot be guilty of a federal unlawful gun possession crime. Duress occurs when the defendant was under an imminent and unlawful threat of death or serious injury.
Defendants may be able to raise a constitutional defense. Law enforcement officers often seize the firearm in question as part of the search process. The Fourth Amendment of the constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. When law enforcement conducted an unconstitutional search and seizure, the evidence of the gun must be thrown out.
Finally, many federal gun crime laws require that the defendant knowingly break the law. To secure a conviction for purchasing a gun with an altered serial number, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew that the gun had an altered serial number while he or she possessed the gun.
Our Federal Criminal Firearms Lawyers Can Help
Those charged with the crime of possession of a prohibited weapon should speak with a Texas criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The penalties for a federal gun conviction are incredibly serious and life-altering. Contact our Fort Worth federal criminal defense law firm to schedule your initial consultation and learn how we can help you today.