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According to the US Department of Justice, the arrest rate for federal firearms crimes has more than doubled since 1965. There are many different federal firearm charges involving the use, possession, distribution, and sale of firearms and other dangerous weapons. Charges range from unlawful possession of a weapon to more serious importing and exporting weapons. We have listed some of the most commonly charged federal firearm crimes below.

Unlawful Possession of a Weapon

When a defendant possesses a firearm without the appropriate license, he or she can be charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. Convicted felons are also prohibited from the possession of firearms, ammunition, or any other type of contraband related to weapons under federal law. There are some exceptions to this law, including weapons that are disassembled or inoperable. 

Drug users and drug addicts, as defined in the federal Controlled Substances Act, are also not permitted to possess weapons. Similarly, anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the military cannot possess a weapon, along with fugitives from justice and unlawful immigrants.

Defendants who are found in possession of a weapon unlawfully can face criminal charges when subject to a domestic violence restraining order. Those convicted of domestic violence related misdemeanors cannot possess a firearm lawfully. Additionally, military bases have their own rules regarding when people can bring firearms onto the base. When people come onto the federal property or military bases in unlawful possession of a weapon, they can face federal criminal charges. Possession of a stolen firearm is also a violation of federal law. 


Firearms Trafficking

Firearms trafficking is a federal crime that involves smuggling firearms, ammunition, or other weapons into the United States. This is a different federal crime than the unlawful Import and export of weapons. As soon as the defendant brings firearms across the United States border or across state lines, the crime becomes subject to federal jurisdiction. The FBI or ATF will be responsible for investigating the crime. Likewise, federal prosecutors will bring criminal charges. 


Unlawful Import and Export of Weapons

Under federal law, it is illegal for individuals to import firearms across state lines. Only individuals with a special license obtained from the ATF can legally import, manufacture, ordeal, and firearms. Those who engage in a willful violation of this federal requirement can be charged with the unlawful import and export of weapons. This crime carries a five-year prison sentence. Individuals are allowed to sell ammunition without a special license from the ATF, but as soon as they begin selling firearms, they must have the license or face federal criminal charges. 


Violent Crimes Involving the Use or Discharge of a Firearm

Under federal firearm laws, using a firearm while committing a violent crime or a drug-trafficking crime carries serious penalties. Federal law establishes a mandatory minimum prison sentence for those who carry or use a firearm during the commission of these types of crimes. When a defendant has prior convictions, the penalties are even more severe. The specific penalties depend on how the defendant uses the gun during the crime and the type of gun. Sentencing can be broken down in the following way:

  • Mere possession of a gun during the crime carries a minimum five-year sentence
  • “Brandishing” a gun during the crime carries a minimum seven-year sentence
  • Discharging the gun during the crime carries a minimum 10-year sentence
  • When the defendant carries or was in possession of a short-barreled rifle, or shotgun, the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years
  • When the gun is a “destructive device” or a machine gun, the mandatory minimum sentence is 30 years.

When a defendant is convicted for the second time of this offense, the penalty will come with a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in federal prison. If the defendant used a machine gun or a destructive device in the second incident, he or she would receive a minimum sentence of life in prison if convicted. Keep in mind that this type of conviction cannot run concurrently with any other sentences under federal law. This means that a defendant must serve the minimum sentence time and any other prison sentence they have received for another federal crime separately.


Making Fraudulent Statements and Using “Straw Purchasers”

Gun purchasers must be cautious during the process of buying a gun. Federal law makes it a federal crime to buy a gun after making misrepresentations about your identity or false statements to the gun dealer. When purchasing a firearm, buyers need to fill out paperwork so the gun sellers can run a background check on them. They must disclose all relevant information on the form and avoid making any type of fraudulent statements or misrepresentations to the government via the gun dealer.

The consequences of engaging in fraud while obtaining a firearm permit are serious. This federal crime carries a prison sentence of 10 years as well as a fine. When potential buyers know they are prohibited from purchasing a gun, they will try to buy one illegally through the black market or they will have a friend or family member go to the gun salesman and purchase the gun on their behalf. 

Later, the person who is prohibited from buying the gun will pay the friend or family member cash and take the gun. This process is called using a straw purchaser, and it is prohibited by federal law. The penalties for engaging in a straw purchase are similar. Those convicted will face a 10-year prison sentence and significant fines.


Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you are facing federal firearms charges, you need an experienced attorney as soon as possible. At Kenneth N. Cutrer, Attorney at Law, We have a proven track record of successfully representing clients in various federal firearms matters. Contact our Fort Worth criminal defense law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.

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