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Federal Weapons Charges: An Overview of Gun Laws and Penalties

Federal Weapons Charges: An Overview of Gun Laws and Penalties

Federal weapons charges refer to criminal offenses involving the illegal possession, use, or trafficking of firearms and other weapons under federal statutes. Unlike state gun laws, federal firearms laws apply uniformly across the country and violations often carry severe sentences, including lengthy mandatory minimum prison terms.

This article provides an overview of key federal gun laws, common charges, sentencing, and defenses. With an experienced federal criminal defense attorney’s help, some charges may be reduced or even dismissed.

Key Federal Firearms Laws

The main federal laws regulating firearms include:

  • Gun Control Act – Prohibits certain categories of persons from possessing guns, regulates interstate gun sales, requires serial numbers, etc.
  • National Firearms Act – Heavily restricts machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, and other weapons.
  • Armed Career Criminal Act – Imposes 15-year minimum sentence on felons with 3+ prior convictions caught with a gun.
  • Project Safe Neighborhoods Act – Provides resources for prosecuting gun crimes and creates stiffer penalties.

Violating any of these federal statutes can lead to criminal charges. The laws are complex with many exceptions, so consult an attorney if you have questions.

Common Federal Weapons Charges

Federal prosecutors aggressively pursue charges for weapons offenses. Some of the most common federal gun crimes include:

1. Possession of a Firearm/Ammunition by a Prohibited Person

  • Up to 10 years in prison
  • Prohibited persons include felons, domestic abusers, drug users, and certain mental health patients
  • Requires proof the defendant knowingly possessed the weapon

2. Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime or Crime of Violence

  • 5 year minimum prison sentence, up to life imprisonment
  • If the weapon is brandished or discharged add at least another 7 years)
  • Does not require proof that the weapon was actually used

3. Transfer of a Firearm to a Prohibited Person

  • Up to 10 years imprisonment
  • Includes selling, giving, lending, or otherwise providing a weapon
  • Requires knowledge or “reasonable cause to believe” that the recipient was prohibited

4. Possession of an Unregistered Firearm (Machine Guns, Silencers, etc.)

  • Up to 10 years imprisonment
  • These weapons must be registered under the National Firearms Act

Other charges like selling firearms without a license, making false statements during purchases, possessing stolen weapons, and selling/possessing illegal weapons are commonly prosecuted as well.

Sentencing for Federal Gun Crimes

Due to mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines, and other factors – federal weapons charges often carry lengthy prison sentences. Other potential penalties include:

  • Up to $250,000 in fines per count
  • 3 years supervised release
  • Forfeiture of firearms and ammunition

With multiple charges, sentences can easily exceed 10 or even 20 years in prison. The judge has limited discretion to go below mandatory minimums.

However, an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can argue for the lowest sentence within the guidelines. In some cases charges may be dismissed pre-trial or negotiated down to lesser charges.

Defending Against Federal Weapons Charges

Though the penalties are severe, viable defenses exist in many federal weapons cases. An attorney may argue:

  • 4th Amendment violations – If the search or seizure of weapons lacked probable cause or a warrant when required
  • Invalid prohibition – For example, a prior conviction that no longer prohibits gun possession
  • Duress/Necessity – Possessing a firearm under threat of death or serious injury
  • Lack of knowledge – No proof defendant knew the firearm was prohibited, stolen, etc.
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