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Is Gun Trafficking a Federal Crime?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

August 19, 2020

Gun trafficking is when firearms are introduced to illegal markets, meaning guns that were once legally manufactured or purchased land in the hands of unauthorized people.

Trafficking guns can be achieved in numerous ways, including but not limited to:

  • A person legitimately purchases guns and sells them to individuals otherwise prohibited from having them;
  • A person steals firearms and sells them in illegal markets;
  • An unlicensed dealer distributes firearms to unauthorized people; or
  • A licensed firearms dealer makes sales without conducting proper background checks

You might be surprised to learn that the U.S. does not have a specific law that prohibits gun trafficking. But that’s not to say a person who engages in related conduct can’t or won’t face federal charges. For instance, in 2018, a Broward County man, who was a convicted felon, allegedly unlawfully obtained two firearms. He sold them to others known to be involved in gun trafficking. And while the man was not charged with firearm trafficking, he was prosecuted for being a felon in possession. Just this year, a federal judge sentenced him to 9 years in prison for having a firearm under disability.

The above is just one way a person involved in illegally transferring or selling firearms may face federal penalties. There are several other ways charges can arise in firearm trafficking-related cases.

Federal statutes that prohibit unlawful conduct with guns include, but are not limited to:

  • Possession of firearm or ammunition by a prohibited person: This is the law referenced earlier. It applies to more than just convicted felons. Others barred from possessing guns include:
    • Drug addicts
    • Undocumented immigrants or those with non-immigrant visas
    • Individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders
    • Individuals convicted of domestic violence – including misdemeanor offenses
    • Fugitives from justice
    • Dishonorably discharged military members
  • Straw purchasing firearms: The law states that people are prohibited from buying a firearm using their information and then later giving or selling it to a person prohibited from having a gun.
  • Stolen firearms: A couple of federal statutes forbid people from taking, receiving, selling, or conducting any type of transaction with firearms known to be stolen.
  • Dealing in firearms without a license: For the most part, if a person is in the business of selling firearms, they must have a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to do so. Otherwise, they may be committing a federal offense. The law is a bit complex because the license requirement applies to people who sell firearms on a regular basis and make a profit. However, if they’re a private seller and only occasionally make sales, they do not need a license. Additionally, they do not need to conduct the same level of background checks as a licensed dealer.

The conviction penalties for federal firearm offenses vary. Some carry maximum prison terms of 1 year; others, up to 10 years.

If you’re facing weapons charges or have been accused of a federal crime, our Miami attorneys are ready to help fight the accusation. Call Hager & Schwartz, P.A. at (305) 330-1360 or submit an online contact form today.