Federal Firearms Offenses – 18 U.S.C. §§ 922, 924

An Overview of Federal Firearm Laws

Federal law regulates the purchase, sale, possession, and use of firearms. Multiple federal law enforcement agencies, such as the ATF, the FBI, and the DEA, are involved in the investigation of federal firearm offenses. Violations can entail heavy penalties such as prison time and fines. While there are dozens of different federal firearm offenses, a few are frequently used by federal prosecutors.  Below, we will provide an overview of some of the most commonly prosecuted federal firearm crimes.

Unlawful Possession of a Firearm – 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)

Certain classes of people are prohibited from possessing firearms.  As most people know, people with felony records cannot possess guns.  Federal law also prohibits gun possession by people who: 1) are fugitives from justice, 2) are addicted to controlled substances, 3) have been adjudicated as a mental defective 4) have been committed to a mental institution, 5) are in the US illegally, 6) were dishonorably discharged from the military, 7) have renounced US citizenship, 8) are the subject of certain types of protective orders, or 9) have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Sale of a Firearm to a Prohibited Person – 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)

Just as certain classes of people are prohibited from possessing firearms, federal law also prohibits the sale or disposition of firearms to individuals whom the seller knows or believes to be prohibited from possessing a firearm.

False Statement on Record of Gun Purchase – 18 U.S.C. § 924(A)

Buyers and sellers of firearms are required to fill out and retain records of firearm transactions. For example, a firearm purchaser typically needs to fill out a form entitled “ATF Form 4473.” The Seller is required to retain that form. Knowingly making a false statement on these records is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

One common way in which a criminal charge under this section can arise is through the “straw purchaser” scenario. For example, ATF Form 4473 asks the buyer whether he or she is the “actual buyer” of the firearm. If the buyer checks the answer as “yes,” but was in fact purchasing the firearm for someone else, then the buyer has just committed a federal felony. This is true even if that “someone else” can legally own a firearm.

Use of a Firearm in Connection with a Crime of Violence or Drug Trafficking Crime – 18 USC § 924(c)

Federal law provides stiff mandatory minimum sentences when a gun is used (or possessed) in connection with a violent crime or drug-trafficking crime. The mandatory minimum sentences start at 5 years, but go up to life imprisonment depending on factors like the type of gun involved, how the gun was used, and the number of prior convictions that the defendant.

Defenses to Federal Firearm Charges

Depending on the crime that is charged, many potential defenses are possible:

  • If one is charged for unlawful possession of firearm, one area to explore is the interpretation of the categories of persons that are prohibited from possessing guns. For example, what is a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence”? Would a person who is convicted of simple assault, in a case where the victim happens to be a family member, be subject to § 922(g)? An experienced attorney can review the facts of a case and determine whether the statue is applicable.
  • As for a charge of making a false statement on gun purchase records, potential defenses include showing that there was no false statement, or that any false statements made were unintentional.
  • As to the use or possession of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, it is important to consider possible defenses such as whether there is evidence that the firearm is used for a legitimate purpose (such as hunting), or whether the crime involved is a “crime of violence” or “drug trafficking crime.”
  • If the evidence is overwhelming, it is possible to negotiate with the government. For example, it is not uncommon for federal prosecutors to agree to drop a potential federal firearms charge in exchange for a plea bargain to another crime.

Experienced Federal Firearm Attorneys

At Burnham and Gorokhov, PLLC, we regularly accept cases involving federal firearm offenses.  If you are under investigation for a federal firearm offense, or facing federal firearm charges, please contact us today for a free consultation.