Federal Gun Laws
Prohibited Persons and 924(c)
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution has recently been interpreted by the Supreme Court as a “central component of the right” to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense which is the right’s “core lawful purpose,” and includes the “right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 599 (2008). Federal law however contains a number of limitations on the right to possess or use a firearm, including the right to possess ammunition, and imposes severe consequences on individuals who find themselves convicted of violating these laws.
Under 18 U.S.C. §922(g) and (n) possession of a firearm or ammunition by a prohibited person carries a range of punishment up to 10 years in prison. However, if a person has three or more prior convictions for a felony considered a “crime of violence” or a “drug trafficking” offense, the range of punishment for violating §922(g) can increase to a minimum of 15 years. “Possession” does not have to be just sole possession but can be joint possession with another person, or it can be constructive possession (that is that the individual knew the firearm was there and had sufficient control over that area to be deemed to have been in possession), but the prosecutor always has to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant “knowingly” possessed the firearm or ammunition. A lack of knowledge as to the presence of a firearm or ammunition is a common defense against these kinds of charges.
Prohibited persons include anyone who has been convicted of a felony (a person who is charged with a felony but not yet convicted is prohibited from receiving firearms). A drug user or addict is prohibited under federal law from possessing a firearm and/or ammunition. Illegal aliens and aliens lawfully admitted under non-immigrant visas i.e. those aliens not admitted for permanent residence. Under certain circumstances individuals subject to domestic restraining orders of protection and those having been convicted of domestic assault are considered prohibited persons, as are fugitives from justice or anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the military, and it is a federal felony to knowingly sell, give, or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person who falls within any one of the above categories, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 18 U.S.C. §922(d)
It is also a federal crime to knowingly possess a stolen firearm (18 U.S.C. §842(h) and §922(i), (j), and (u)); to possess or discharge a firearm in a school zone (18 U.S.C. §922(q)(2)(A)); and to knowingly possess or manufacture a machine gun or fully automatic firearm, silencer, sawed off shotgun or rifle, certain semi-automatic assault rifles manufactured after October 1, 1993, a destructive device, or a firearm that lacks a serial number or contains an altered or obliterated serial number. (18 U.S.C. §922(k), (o), (v), and 26 U.S.C. §5861)
A federal law widely used by federal prosecutors to increase the sentence imposed and to use as leverage in plea negotiations is 18 U.S.C. §924(c) which make it illegal to “use, carry or possess” a firearm “in relation to or in furtherance of” a drug felony or a federal crime of violence. The range of punishment upon conviction under 924(c) is not less than 5 years up to a maximum of life in prison. Any sentence imposed on the 924(c) charge must be served consecutive to any other sentence. Also, the minimum sentence of 5 years increases depending on the type of firearm involved, whether more than one 924(c) offense was committed, and whether the gun was merely possessed or was brandished or discharged.
Although federal prosecutors charge a 924(c) crime in virtually every drug distribution case where a firearm is found the “in furtherance” element is satisfied only if the government provides “evidence from which a reasonable [trier of fact] could find a nexus between the defendant’s possession of the charged firearm and the drug crime, such that this possession had the effect of furthering, advancing or helping forward the drug crime.” As Neve points out, the “simultaneous possession of drugs and a firearm, standing alone, is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” (United States v. Hilliard, 490 F.3d 635, 640 (8th Cir.2007)). “[T]here must be evidence that … the firearm was used for protection, was kept near the drugs, or was in close proximity to the defendant during drug transactions. The jury may infer the requisite nexus between the firearm and the crime ‘when [the firearm] is kept in close proximity to the drugs, it is quickly accessible, and there is expert testimony regarding the use of firearms in connection with drug trafficking.” United States v. Fetters, 698 F.3d 653, 658 (8th Cir.2012) (alteration in original) (quoting Close, 518 F.3d at 619). United States v. Neve, 496 F. App’x 699, 701 (8th Cir. 2013)
With over 30 years of legal experience we have defended many individuals charged in serious federal firearms cases in federal courts throughout the Western District of Missouri and have the experience to help you navigate the complexities of these laws. We are always here to help.