Federal Gun Laws for Felons

Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

U.S. citizens have the right to possess firearms. However, if convicted of a felony, this right is taken away. This lesson will explore the federal gun laws for convicted felons, including the history and restoration of rights.

The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the right to bear arms. In 1791, the government thought it necessary for people to have the right to possess firearms for self-defense and in the event a militia (people's army) needed to be formed. Even though we were given the right to own firearms, the government decided there are specific individuals who should be prohibited from this right. One of those types of individuals is a convicted felon.

Case study: Jake is a law-abiding citizen and enjoys collecting firearms. He has never committed a crime and owns 15 guns. Because so, he is permitted to have these guns in his possession. He's also permitted to carry a handgun as he has been approved for his concealed carry license. He uses his guns for target shooting, hunting, and self-defense if needed.

Felony Conviction

The federal law states that anyone convicted of a felony cannot possess a firearm. A felony punishment is typically incarceration for more than 12 months. For most states, the minimum punishment for a fourth-degree felony (the lowest level of felony) is 12 months.

According to the federal law, as long as the felony can be punishable for 12 months the person is a felon and must abide by the gun control law.

  • What if a person serves 6 months in prison and finishes the remaining 6 months on probation? Is that person exempt since they never served the whole 12 months in prison? No.
  • Can convicted felons hunt with a shotgun? No. The federal law defines a firearm as 'any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.'

The federal law's definition of a firearm includes shotguns used for hunting, however, the federal law does not consider a crossbow a firearm. Therefore, convicted felons can hunt with a compound bow or crossbow.

Case study: Andy gets involved with the wrong people and finds himself using drugs. Desperate for money to feed his drug habit, he steals money from his employer's cash register. Andy's employer informs law enforcement of what he has done, and he is convicted of a felony-level burglary offense and sentenced to 14 months in prison. Andy is mandated to turn his guns over to law enforcement. Because of Andy's otherwise clean record and good behavior while incarcerated, he only serves 4 months in prison. Even though he is released early, he is still prohibited from owning a firearm.

Misdemeanor Conviction

As previously mentioned, the only misdemeanor that is banned from gun possession is domestic violence, or assault and battery in some cases. There are some subsequent misdemeanors (e.g. two DUI convictions) that can carry a sentence of more than 12 months; however, people in this situation are exempt from the law due to the original offense being a misdemeanor.

Case study: Ben and his wife have marital issues. After she finds text messages on his phone, she confronts him. He begins yelling at her and then she slaps him. He pushes her and she falls over and hits her face on the counter. She calls the police, and Ben gets charged and convicted of domestic violence. His right to bear arms is taken away.

Gun Control Act of 1968

Prior to 1968, anyone could possess or purchase a firearm. The assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. initiated law makers to develop the Gun Control Act of 1968. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited any convicted felon from purchasing or owning a firearm and ammunition.

Until the year 1996, The Gun Control Act of 1968 only prohibited those with felonies from owning a firearm. An amendment, specific to those convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense (including assault and battery), was added to the act. Even though domestic violence is not considered a felony offense, policy makers believed that anyone who exhibited violence against a significant other should not be allowed access to a firearm. When the amendment took effect, anyone with a domestic violence charge, even those convicted 10 years prior, fell under the ban.

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