Exporting munitions probably sounds like an odd title for a crime.  However, you are likely to be aware of this crime but have called it exporting firearms. While very similar, exporting firearms is included in the many acts that are prohibited by the federal regulation of exporting munitions.  

What is “Exporting Munitions?”

Even though a person can own a firearm in the United States, that does not mean they can give or sell their firearm to a person in another county. In order to export munitions, an individual must get a license to do so. Part of this rule is to regulate who can export munitions, and for the government to be informed of who is receiving firearms from this country.

With this being said, you might be at risk for exporting munitions if you have taken certain types of firearm-related items across national borders, or have mailed them to others in another country.

If you are being accused of exporting munitions, we are here to help.  Call us now.

Why is “Exporting Munitions” Regulated?

The exportation of munitions is a concern, and the federal government wants to limit possible negative impacts that it could have on the country and the world as a whole. The government is concerned who the munition is going to and how it might be used.

As a result, it is required that you get a license to export munitions. Government agencies are on the lookout for those who do not follow the required procedures.

Generally, law enforcement agencies from around the world take this crime seriously. Many of them are concerned about the safety of society. These countries fear that allowing the exportation of munitions without any kind of regulations or supervision can result in dangerous persons getting a hold of weapons.

Exporting Munitions Under Federal Law – 22 U.S.C § 2778

The statute that regulates the exporting of munitions includes an explanation that certain items fall under the definition of munitions and that without approval, you cannot export those items.

The Definition of “Munition”

The definition of “munition” is broader than simply meaning a firearm. For example, there are different types of rifles that may not be included. But at the same time, there are parts to guns that are included–even certain kind of oils or chemicals may be included.


In addition to the items you are prohibited from exporting to another country without a license, the statute also explains that you are not allowed to act as a broker in the exporting of munitions. This means that you cannot be the person who sets up the deal and then makes a profit for setting up the deal.

The statute itself and the prohibited acts fall under 22 U.S.C § 2778, control of arms exports and imports. This statute prohibits the exporting of munitions without a license issued by the United States Government; in addition, it also excludes employees of the United States Government acting in an official capacity.

Factors Taken into Consideration When Issuing the License

The statute explains that various factors are taken into consideration when issuing the license to export munition.

These factors include whether the export would:

  • Take part in an arms race,
  • Support terrorism,
  • Help with the development of weapons of mass destruction,
  • Increase conflict, and
  • Have an effect on arms control agreements.

What Does 22 U.S.C § 2778 Actually Prohibit?

1) You from exporting articles.

This means that you have, in some way, transported munitions from the United States to another country. An act that would qualify as exporting articles would be if you packed up a couple of guns into your suitcase and took them to Canada.

2) Specifically that at the time of export, the article(s) is listed on the United States Munitions List.

This second element is a clarification of what needs to have been transported. It means that it would not just be any kind of firearm or related device; it has to be an item that is specifically listed on the United State Munitions List. For example, an antique rifle from 200 years ago may or may not qualify, the barrel of a brand new gun might.

3) You did so without obtaining a license from the Department of State.

The statute requires that you register with the Department of State before they allow you to export the items on the United States Munitions List, this element requires the government to prove that you did not have that license.

4) You knew the license was required and you intended to violate the law.

This is a knowledge and intent element. They related to your state of mind at the time that the alleged crime occurred. This requires the government prove you knew you were not allowed to export the item on the United States Munitions List without having a licence to do so, and also that you did so anyway and that you did so to violate the law.

Important definitions you should know

  • Munition – is the term used for all of the many things that the government regulates when it comes to export (and import). It is comprised of many types of items with their own variations. The list includes Firearms, artillery projectors, ammunition, missiles, vessels of war, military vehicles, aircraft and equipment, toxicological agents and equipment, nuclear weapons, submersible vessels. This is not a full list, and each contains additional descriptions.   
  • Firearm – 27 CFR § 447.11 in part includes “A weapon, and all components and parts, therefore, not over .50 caliber which will or is designed to or may be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, but shall not include BB and pellet guns, and muzzle loading (black powder) firearms…”

The Investigation For Alleged Exporting Munitions

Agencies Involved

The investigation of exporting munitions can is done by a combination of investigating and law enforcement agencies. Usually, it is comprised of the following agencies:

  • Border Protection,
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI),
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF);
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),
  • local law enforcement, and foreign law enforcement.

How the Investigation Takes Place

Investigations of exporting munitions can happen in various ways. A federally licensed dealer could report information to law enforcement due to suspicious activity by a purchaser.


In McAllen Texas, a town south of San Antonio a man went into a firearm store to purchase a grenade launcher. The vendor believed the purchaser was using a fake name. It was later found that the man had used other people to make straw purchases a number of firearms for him. Those guns were later located in Mexico. Not only was the vendor involved, but ICE, HSI, and ATF were involved in the investigation of this case.

Another case involved the help of Dominican Republic officials. In this case, a female and former member of the U.S. Army decided to buy 11 firearms, packed them in her luggage and flew from Colorado to the Dominican Republic. While she did declare the firearms as being in her luggage, she did not have the required export license. When her bags got to the Dominican Republic, the officials there noticed the guns and reported her. This case was investigated by ATF the government of the Dominican Republic, and HSI.

As you can see from these examples, instances of investigation often stem from various activities. This includes, but is not limited to, suspicious activities or being found with the munitions or firearms. Further, these examples explain that various type of agencies get involved when it comes to these types of investigations.

Could There Be A Bad Investigation?

Unfortunately, with these types of cases, there may not be many issues with the investigation–at least not up front. While you may feel that law enforcement should not have checked the items you are shipping, this is actually an act that you agree to when you send an item in the mail or check your bags at the airport.

However, there could be other issues with the investigation, such as obtaining certain types of evidence without a warrant, or not providing you with a lawyer when you have requested one. Read further for an explanation of these issues.

The Legal Process After Arrest

Once law enforcement has completed its investigation and has selected you as the alleged offender of a crime, the case must be indicted. Generally, the indictment process happens with a Grand Jury.

What is the “Grand Jury?”

A Grand Jury is made up people who listen to the charges against you, then hear testimony from a number of witnesses. While you may also give your side of the story to the Grand Jury, it will be important to consult with a defense attorney prior to making that decision.

The difference between a grand jury and a trial jury is that at the grand jury level they are only trying to find probable cause that you committed a crime. This is a very low standard. A trial jury, the jury that is sworn in at trial, they must find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed; which is a higher standard.

If indicted, the case will be set for trial and in the meantime attorneys will work on the case by reviewing the evidence, filing motions, and discussing outcomes until the case either gets dismissed, pleads, or goes to trial.

Penalties For Exporting Munitions under 22 U.S.C § 2778

If the case pleas or goes to trial and you are found guilty, there are penalties for these crimes. The basic penalty for exporting munitions is up to 20 years in prison, and a $1 million fine or twice the amount of the criminal derived proceeds, whichever is greater.

You will likely be facing additional charges

  • False information on firearm-purchase forms
  • Money laundering
  • Felon in possession of a firearm
  • Illegal firearms dealing
  • Smuggling goods from the United States

Additional Consequences

A big difference in federal cases versus state cases is the possibility of being held in custody while your case is pending. This is called a detention hearing. It is where the US Attorney files a detention motion claiming that you are a danger to the community.

Factors Considered During Sentencing

The Court will look at your charges and criminal history to determine whether you should be held pending trial.  While some states are beginning to follow this method, it is often more difficult to prove. Regardless, if the court finds that you are a danger, you will not be released until your case is completed.

Federal v. State

When you are being accused of a federal crime, it is a lot different than being accused of a state crime. Federally the process is different because of many federal regulations provide more exceptions for law enforcement due to the applicable law (federal rather than state). Additionally, the consequences of being found guilty of a federal crime are a lot harsher than state consequences.

Example – Federal Punishments Often Have Higher Fines.

The basic sentences for being found guilty of a crime at the federal level are more severe than state crimes. Additionally, for sentencing after being found guilty, there is a specific guideline that is followed in the federal system to determine what sentence you should receive.

This takes away a lot of discretion that the government could use in a state case. Often that discretion is used to lower sentences. That being said, the likelihood of incarceration is higher in the federal system.

Establishing a Defense

The Fourth Amendment

As with all cases, you have a constitutional right that protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. This requires the government to get a warrant before any search or seizure. That warrant must be sworn under oath and based on probable cause.

For example, if a law enforcement agency was investigating you for exporting munitions and they assumed you were communicating over email, they would need to get those emails with a warrant or by your approval. If law enforcement used someone with computer skills to get into your email without the warrant or your permission, then this could be a violation of your constitutional right.

Additionally, the arrest itself may be a violation of your Fourth Amendment right. The arrest itself must come with a warrant that is based on probable cause. It may be your case that officers did not get a warrant before your arrest. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement such as urgency or if law enforcement sees the crime take place. It will be important that you speak with a defense attorney to determine whether one of the exceptions.

Fifth and Sixth Amendments

Other rights that are protected in criminal cases include the right to remain silent and the protection against self-incriminating statements. That means, if officers place you under arrest, they need to read you your Miranda rights. This is to inform you of this right.

If you then tell law enforcement that you want a lawyer and that you do not want to answer any questions, then the must stop asking questions. If law enforcement continues to ask questions and you end up answering, those statements could possibly be suppressed. Meaning those statements cannot be used in a trial.

Lack of Knowledge

One of your strongest defenses in this type of case relates to the knowledge requirement in the elements. The state has to prove that you have you knew a license was required to export the munition. If you, in fact, did not know that a license was required, it could be difficult for the government to prove the case.

Lack of Intent

Another defense is a lack of intent to commit the crime. In combination with that knowledge requirement, the government must show that you intended to break the law. If you did not know the law existed, it might be the case that you had no intent to break the law.

For example, it could be that you were going on an international trip and did not know that the license required to take a firearm, so you simply packed a firearm in your bag. Here you would not have the intent to purposely break the law; rather it would be the intent to take the gun with you.

There could be basic factual defenses that could help your case. This could include the knowledge that you were in possession of these munitions.  

Call Us Now If You Have Been Charged With “Exporting Munitions”

If you have been charged with a crime, it will be important to seek assistance and hire a criminal defense attorney. Criminal defense attorneys have the skills to spot issues in your case based on analyzing your facts and the statues you are being alleged of violating.

Attorneys also know the specific motions that should be filed in your case. These motions can relate to constitutional violations, evidence, and procedure. A criminal defense attorney will have the ability to represent you along the way for the entire case.