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18 Sep 23

Federal Firearms Charges: What You Need to Know

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Last Updated on: 29th September 2023, 12:14 pm

Federal Firearms Charges: What You Need to Know

Dealing with federal firearms charges can be scary. I get it — the federal criminal justice system is complex and intimidating. But having an empathetic guide can make all the difference. I’m here to walk you through the key things you need to know, in simple, conversational language. Let’s break this down together, step-by-step.

The Difference Between Federal and State Gun Laws

First things first: federal gun laws are enforced by federal prosecutors, while state gun laws are enforced by state prosecutors. Make sense? The key is which set of laws you’re accused of violating — federal or state. If the feds are after you, it’s big league time.

Federal gun laws tend to be broader and carry stiffer penalties than state laws. For example, someone convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm typically faces 5-10 years in federal prison. But state sentences for similar crimes may cap out at just a year or two.

4 Common Types of Federal Firearms Charges

Here are some of the most common federal gun crimes:

  • Possession of a firearm/ammunition by a convicted felon – It’s illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) for someone convicted of a felony to possess a gun or ammo. Penalties include up to 10 years in prison.
  • Possession of a firearm in a school zone – Carrying a gun within 1,000 feet of a school is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 922(q). Punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
  • Possession of an unregistered firearm – The National Firearms Act requires registration of certain guns like machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers. Violations under 26 U.S.C. § 5861 mean up to 10 years behind bars.
  • Lying on ATF firearm transaction forms – Providing false info when buying a gun from a licensed dealer is charged under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a). Punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Sentencing and Mandatory Minimums

Unlike state courts, federal judges must impose sentences within ranges set by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Where you fall on the range depends on things like your criminal history. But some federal gun crimes also carry mandatory minimum sentences – that is, a floor below which the judge cannot go. For instance, being a felon in possession under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) has a mandatory minimum of 15 years if you have three or more prior convictions for violent felonies or serious drug offenses. Otherwise the mandatory minimum is 5 years.

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Defenses to Federal Firearms Charges

Just because you’ve been charged doesn’t mean you’re guilty. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can evaluate potential defenses to federal gun crimes, including:

  • You didn’t knowingly possess the gun – For most federal firearms crimes, prosecutors must prove you knowingly possessed the weapon. If it was found in your house but actually belonged 100% to someone else, that could undermine the charges.
  • No interstate nexus – The feds’ power to regulate guns rests on the Commerce Clause. So federal charges often require proving the gun traveled across state lines. If there’s no evidence of interstate activity, the case may belong in state court instead.
  • Invalid predicate conviction – A “predicate” is a prior crime that gives rise to the current charges. For instance, felon in possession charges require a prior felony. If that predicate conviction was invalid or is otherwise challengeable, it could knock out the new case too.

Collateral Consequences

If convicted of a federal firearms offense, you face penalties beyond just prison time. You’ll lose your right to legally own or possess guns in the future. And because federal gun crimes are felonies, you may also lose voting rights, access to government benefits, professional licenses, and more. Understanding these civil “collateral consequences” is critical when weighing options like plea bargains.

Take These Charges Seriously

I hope this overview gives you a better handle on the federal firearms charges landscape. The bottom line — these are extremely serious accusations that call for experienced legal guidance. Don’t go it alone. With an attorney knowledgeable in federal criminal defense by your side, you’ll be in the best position to protect your rights, future, and freedom. Wishing you all the best. We’ll get through this.