There are laws at the Federal and State levels that prohibit certain people from possessing a firearm. These laws can be rather complex, and a person who is charged with unlawfully possessing a gun generally cannot avoid criminal liability by saying that they did not know they were prohibited. This article discusses the general categories of people who are barred from possessing guns, and some of the related situations that often arise.
In general, anyone in any of the following categories is banned from possessing a firearm.
- Under indictment or information in any court for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- A fugitive from justice;
- An unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution;
- Who is an illegal alien;
- Has been discharged from the military under dishonorable conditions;
- Who has renounced his or her United States citizenship;
- Subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner; or
- Convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
The interplay between State and Federal law can complicate matters. I offer the following examples to illustrate that point.
- I had a client whose Iowa criminal history included a Deferred Judgment, for which he was still on probation. He was then charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after police allegedly found a handgun in his possession. The Iowa state court correctly dismissed the charge against him, as he was not properly considered to be a felon under Iowa law. Unfortunately for the client, the Federal prosecutors then charged him with being a felon in possession in Federal court. Well-established Federal law took the opposite view compared to Iowa law, and allowed the prosecution to proceed on the theory that an Iowa Deferred Judgment while on probation does qualify as a “felony conviction” for the sake of Federal gun laws.
- Another client of mine was charged in Illinois state court with being a felon in possession of a firearm. That client had an Iowa Permit to Carry Weapons, as Iowa did not consider his Deferred Judgments to be convictions that made him ineligible to possess a firearm. The judge in the state of Illinois, applying Illinois law to determine how to treat the client’s out-of-state criminal history, reached the opposite conclusion and the prosecution was allowed to proceed.
A person who believes they may be ineligible to possess a firearm for any reason is well advised to seek an attorney’s advice before obtaining or even attempting to obtain a gun. The penalties imposed upon people found to be in unlawful possession of a gun are quite stiff, especially at the Federal level.
Those who are prohibited may be able to obtain a restoration of their gun rights. Since the process of seeking a restoration of gun rights is rather involved, I recommend that interested individuals seek counsel who are familiar with gun laws. My law firm does handle such cases for people whose criminal conviction or other disqualifying event occurred in either Iowa or Illinois.