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When Does Firearm Possession Become a Federal Crime?

August 16, 2023

When Does Firearm Possession Become a Federal Crime?

Navigating the legal landscape surrounding firearms is no simple task. Laws differ dramatically from one jurisdiction to another, and what may be perfectly legal under state law can sometimes become a serious federal offense. In a state like Texas, where gun culture is deeply embedded in society, it’s crucial to understand when your Second Amendment rights may clash with federal statutes. This article aims to clarify the line that separates federal gun crimes from state gun crimes and elaborate on potential penalties and legal defenses.

Understanding The Difference Between Federal and State Laws

Many individuals are unaware that two separate legal frameworks govern gun possession and use in the United States: federal law and state law. While Texas might have its own regulations regarding firearm ownership, sale, and use, federal laws serve as an overlay, complicating matters further.

The most significant point to remember is that federal gun charges often come with harsher penalties than state charges. Thus, if you find yourself entangled in federal firearm charges, it is imperative to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney who can navigate the complexities of the federal legal system.

Types of Federal Gun Charges

The consequences of federal gun charges can be severe. Federal charges are generally more rigid and come with mandatory minimum sentences, which offer little leniency. The federal government can charge you for various types of gun-related offenses. Here are the four main types of federal gun charges to be aware of:

Unlawful Possession

Unlawful possession of a firearm is a common federal gun charge that encompasses a variety of situations. These include possessing a weapon without the appropriate license or being a convicted felon in illegal possession of a weapon, ammunition, or related contraband. The law also prohibits individuals convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or those under a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms. It’s worth noting that this category of unlawful possession also applies to weapons that may be inoperable, dismantled, or securely locked away.

Violent Crimes

When it comes to violent crimes in the context of federal gun charges, any federal offense committed with the unlawful use of a weapon falls under this category. If a federal crime is committed while possessing an unlawful weapon, the individual will not only face charges for the original offense but also additional federal weapons charges. Crimes such as rape, first and second-degree murder, and various forms of assault are categorized as violent crimes under federal law. In essence, if someone commits a felony that results in death while possessing an unlawful weapon, they can be charged under this category as well.

Firearms Trafficking

Firearms trafficking is another serious federal offense that goes beyond merely the illegal sale or transfer of weapons. It involves the conversion of legally acquired firearms into illegal commerce. This can occur either within a state or across state lines, and the crime becomes a federal offense the moment the weapon crosses either state or national borders. Trafficking methods commonly include straw purchases, private secondary sales, or thefts from firearm dealers and individual gun owners. While the term ‘trafficking’ may evoke images of importing or exporting firearms, the scope of the crime extends beyond these actions, although they are also criminalized under federal law.


Fraudulent activities related to firearms may not appear as severe as other categories, but they still carry substantial penalties. Fraudulent firearms crimes involve deceptive practices to acquire a firearm or a weapons permit. This could mean providing false information during a background check for a firearm purchase, illegally obtaining a weapons permit, or even falsifying a weapons permit. Such actions can lead to serious legal consequences, emphasizing the need for complete transparency and honesty in all firearms-related transactions and permit applications.

Navigating the Intersection of Federal and State Gun Charges

It’s essential to understand that federal and state charges often coexist. For instance, the state may allow open carry in specific locales, while federal law may restrict such actions. Consequently, one may face both federal and state charges for a single offense, compounding the legal challenges. An adept criminal defense attorney is vital for negotiating this complex landscape, as they can potentially negotiate plea deals or disprove false charges.

Understanding these categories of federal gun charges is crucial for anyone caught in the crosshairs of a federal gun crime. Each comes with its own set of complexities and requires the expertise of a seasoned criminal defense attorney well-versed in federal law.

Penalties and Sentencing Guidelines for Federal Gun Crimes

Navigating the landscape of federal gun charges is a daunting task that becomes even more critical when considering the harsh penalties and mandatory minimum sentences involved. A conviction in a federal court for firearm-related crimes can lead to severe repercussions, such as extended prison sentences and hefty fines.

Mandatory Minimums in Federal Firearm Crimes

In the United States, there are federal laws that require judges to give a minimum sentence for crimes involving firearms. These sentencing guidelines, which cannot be changed, can have a big impact on someone’s life. They can make it harder to get parole and affect future legal actions.

Two main federal laws that are often used for firearm crimes and have minimum sentences that must be imposed include:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 924(c): Firearms in Connection with Drug or Violent Crimes
  • 18 U.S.C. § 924(e): Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)

Let’s delve into the particulars of these statutes.

Firearms and Their Association with Drug or Violent Crimes: 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)

This law focuses on the use of guns to commit drug-related or violent offenses. If a person is found guilty under Section 924(c), the court must give them an extra prison sentence that is added on top of the sentence for the original crime. These are the sentences that must be given at a minimum under this section:

  • The punishment for having a gun while committing a crime is 5 years.
  • A person can be sentenced to 7 years in prison for showing a gun during the crime.
  • If you discharge a firearm or possess certain types of firearms during an offense, you could face a sentence of 10 years.
  • If you are convicted a second time, you may face a sentence of 25 years.
  • If someone is found guilty of having a machine gun, destructive device, or firearm with a silencer during a crime, they could be sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • Certain repeat offenses involving machine guns or other destructive devices can result in a sentence of life imprisonment.

Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA): 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)

The ACCA is activated when someone has been convicted of three or more violent felonies or drug-related crimes that meet the requirements. The law mostly applies to crimes related to the possession of firearms by people who are not allowed to have them, as stated in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g).

The following people are barred from engaging in firearm-related activities:

  • Felons who have been convicted
  • Addicts or consumers of drugs
  • Individuals who have been certified mentally deficient
  • Fugitives of the law
  • Military members who were dishonorably discharged
  • Individuals living in the United States illegally
  • Citizens of the United States who have renounced their citizenship
  • Individuals who have been served with a domestic violence protection order or who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor

These offenders face a minimum sentence of 15 years in jail if convicted.

Relief from Mandatory Minimum Sentences

There is a chance to avoid mandatory minimum sentences under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(e). This rule lets the court give a sentence that is less than the minimum required if the defendant has helped the government in investigating or prosecuting another crime. However, the prosecutor must file a motion to invoke this relief.

It is important for anyone facing federal gun charges to understand the complicated nature of these charges, the harsh punishments that come with them, and the strict minimum sentences that apply. Having an experienced lawyer is very important when dealing with the complicated legal system and possibly obtaining relief from mandatory sentencing.

Legal Defenses and Next Steps

A seasoned attorney can present multiple defenses, depending on the specifics of your case. From challenging the legitimacy of the firearm’s discovery to questioning whether the defendant knew they were in possession of the weapon, various strategies can be employed to counter federal gun charges.

If you’re facing federal gun charges, proactive legal consultation is not just recommended—it’s essential. A federal defense lawyer experienced in gun laws can guide you through the intricate web of statutes, offering the best possible defense against potentially life-altering penalties.

Contact Chernoff Law Today For a Free Consultation About Your Federal Weapons Offense

Understanding the differences between state and federal gun laws can be challenging, especially in a state like Texas, where the right to own guns is highly valued in the local culture. Knowing when and how federal laws apply can help law-abiding citizens avoid unintentional legal problems. If you are charged with a federal gun offense, it is very important to quickly find a skilled lawyer to help you. Your freedom and future could be greatly affected by it.

For a consultation on your specific situation, contact Chernoff Law. Attorney Ed Chernoff has years of experience dealing with federal firearm cases and can assist you in understanding your rights and plotting a course of action.

Contact us today for a free consultation, and let us help you navigate these complicated legal waters.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. For any personal legal matters, please consult an attorney.

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