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What It Means to Be a Felon in Possession: Understanding Federal Law

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

January 13, 2023

A felony conviction, whether rendered in state or federal court, can come with more than imprisonment and a fine. Under a federal statute, it is illegal for any person found guilty of an offense punishable by more than 1 year in prison to possess a firearm or ammunition. The law applies not only to those convicted of felonies but also to people with other adverse findings or actions in their criminal history. For instance, a person under a domestic violence protective order may be subject to the same prohibition against owning a firearm as a convicted felon. The penalties for unlawful possession of a gun are steep.

If you have been charged with a federal crime, schedule a consultation with one of our Fort Lauderdale attorneys at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. to discuss your case. Call (954) 840-8713 or submit an online contact form today.

Federal Statute 18 U.S.C. § 922(G)

Felon in possession of a firearm is a serious criminal offense in the United States. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), it is unlawful for a person convicted of a felony to ship, transport, receive, or possess a firearm or ammunition. The means of the transaction must have somehow affected interstate or foreign commerce for an act to violate the law.

Subsection 922(g) does not specifically state that a felony conviction leads to a ban on gun possession. Instead, it says that anyone convicted of “a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is subject to the prohibition. Generally, felonies carry prison terms of 1 year or more. Under federal law, a Class E felonies and above can be penalized by more than 1 year. In contrast, Class A misdemeanors (the highest classification of federal misdemeanors) are punishable by 1 year or less.

The felony convictions referred to in 922(g) are not only those rendered in federal court. The statute says a conviction “in any court” qualifies. That means guilty findings in state court could cause someone to be ineligible for firearm possession under federal law.

In Florida, third-degree felonies and above are punishable by more than 1 year. Thus, a conviction for crimes such as aggravated assault, cyberstalking involving a credible threat, and selling certain controlled substances can lead to a loss of gun rights.

The Law Applies to More than Convicted Felons

Subsection 922(g) is often referred to as felon in possession because people with prior felony convictions commonly violate it. However, the law applies to more than just these individuals.

Also prohibited from possessing guns and ammunition are the following:

  • Fugitives
  • Controlled substances abusers or addicts
  • Those found mentally defective or committed to a mental institution
  • Foreign nationals in the U.S. illegally or admitted to the country on a non-immigrant visa
  • Those dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces
  • Those who have renounced their citizenship.

Even a domestic violence matter – whether a conviction has been rendered or the offense was only a misdemeanor – can lead to a firearm prohibition. Subsection 922(g) provides that individuals under a domestic violence protective order cannot possess guns. The protective order must have been issued after a hearing was held. Additionally, it must restrain the individual “from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner” and state that the person poses a credible threat to the intimate partner.

Intimate partners include:

  • Current and former spouses,
  • Parents or guardians,
  • People who have a child together, and
  • People who live or have lived together as spouses, parents, or guardians.

A person convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense may also be subject to the provisions of 922(g). An eligible domestic violence offense includes acts involving the use or attempted use of force or a deadly weapon. Again, the act must have been committed against an intimate partner.

The Penalties for Felon in Possession

Possessing a firearm or ammunition when prohibited by federal law – whether as a convicted felony or meeting other criteria – can lead to serious consequences. The crime is punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 years and/or a fine. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in 2020, nearly 97% of those found guilty of unlawful possession were sentenced to prison, with the average term of imprisonment being just over 5 years.

The penalties for unlawful gun possession can be severe, but the consequences go beyond imprisonment. Having the offense on a criminal record can make it difficult to find employment, housing, or education opportunities. It can also impact a person’s ability to obtain government benefits or professional licensure.

Contact an Attorney Today

If you have been charged with felon in possession or any other federal crime, speak with a criminal defense lawyer about your case. Although this is a serious matter, you are not without options. Your attorney can help you explore legal avenues for challenging the accusations against you and pursuing a favorable outcome.

Get started on your Fort Lauderdale case by contacting a member of the Hager & Schwartz, P.A. team at (954) 840-8713.