Understanding Federal Firearms Trafficking
There is a mistaken belief that it is impossible to face federal charges for firearms trafficking, but the U.S. government does regulate the movement, distribution, and sale of firearms. In fact, the regulation of the licensing and requirements for selling firearms is extensive.
Failure to comply with these federal laws, including the failure to obtain a license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Explosives (ATF), can result in federal criminal charges for the illegal and unlicensed sale of firearms, sometimes referred to as firearms trafficking.
As well, individuals attempting to move or distribute a large number of unregistered or unlawful firearms are frequently charged under other separate offenses, in lieu of a federal statute that clearly and forcefully criminalizes firearms trafficking.
What Federal Laws Make Firearms Trafficking a Crime?
As discussed there is a noticeable absence of specific legislation that criminalizes firearms trafficking under U.S. law. Yet, there are frequently charges for related offenses involving the movement, sale, and distribution of guns and other firearms. Many of these charges are brought under Section 922 of the U.S. Code.
Section 922 of the U.S. Code is lengthy and detailed. The law specifies several actions involving firearms that are illegal and criminal, including:
- Engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms;
- Or shipping, transporting, or receiving any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce;
- Without having the appropriate license from the federal government.
Other Unlawful Actions Involving Firearms and Ammunition
Other subsections of Section 922 of the U.S. Code make it unlawful to import, manufacture, deal, ship, transport, or receive through interstate or foreign commerce any ammunition for a firearm, destructive device, or machine gun, unless the entity or individual is licensed by the ATF to do so.
It is similarly unlawful for any individual or entity, other than a valid licensee to transfer, sell, trade, give, transport, or deliver a firearm to any person or entity who the defendant has reasonable cause to believe:
- Does not reside in the same state as the defendant;
- Is under the legal age to purchase such a firearm or ammunition;
- Is under indictment or has a conviction for a felony offense
- Is a fugitive from justice;
- Is an illegal alien in the U.S.;
- Has been discharged from the U.S. military dishonorably;
- Is subject to a court restraining order for stalking, harassment, sexual assault, or other unlawful action; or
- Was convicted of a misdemeanor offense for domestic violence.
What to Do If You Are Charged with Firearms Trafficking?
Charges for the unlicensed dealing or distribution of firearms, firearms ammunition, and similarly regulated devices is a serious offense. A federal conviction for the unlawful sale or movement of firearms can lead to a felony conviction by a federal court, assessment of a substantial fine, and the inability to ever legally obtain a license from the ATF.
Even if you are merely under investigation for firearms trafficking or other firearms offense under federal law you need to take action in your defense. The first steps towards a strategic and effective defense are:
- Find a firearms trafficking attorney: Not all criminal lawyers represent clients in federal court, and not all federal lawyers take cases involving the illegal sale, distribution, or transportation of firearms. It is important that you find a lawyer that has prior experience with these offenses.
- Terminate the movement of firearms: You need to cease or disengage from any actions that could be interpreted as further illegal actions by terminating any future shipments, transportation, sales, or distribution of firearms, ammunition, or similar product.
- Review your licensing: If you believe you are licensed for interstate or foreign commerce involving firearms, you need to review your license information and locate any relevant documentation.
- Audit your team and recent transactions: If you are involved in the business of moving or selling firearms, you need to review and audit recent transactions for possible unlawful actions on behalf or involving the business.
Hiring a Firearms Trafficking Lawyer
The initial step you take towards a defense to charges of the unlicensed sale, manufacture, or transportation of firearms is the most important because engaging legal counsel will inform all subsequent decisions.
Your firearms trafficking lawyer will identify relevant evidence, assist with conversations and interrogations by federal agents, handle communication with the court and prosecutors, and protect your rights and freedoms.