Federal Gun Laws for Convicted Felons

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Federal gun laws prohibit felons from having any contact with firearms and ammunition. The laws specifically criminalize the possession, shipment, transportation and receipt of firearms or ammunition by a felon in interstate or foreign commerce. Federal law also prohibits a person charged with a felony from shipping, transporting or receiving a firearm or ammunition in a manner that affects interstate and foreign commerce.


The law defines a felony as a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year. As far as federal gun laws are concerned, the length of a person’s actual prison sentence is irrelevant. The law also applies to individuals who were previously convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.


Under the law, the term “firearm” means any weapon that will or is designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive, the frame or receiver of any such weapon, a firearm silencer or muffler or any destructive explosive device including a bomb, grenade or missile. The term "ammunition" means bullets, primers, cartridge cases or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm.

No Exceptions

There are no exceptions in the law, even for possession of a firearm in the home or business or based on the purpose of ownership such as ownership for self-defense. There also are no exceptions for situations in which the felon’s home state would permit gun ownership.

Punishment for Violation

A felon’s violation of the federal gun laws carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years. In determining the appropriate sentence, the sentencing judge will consult the United States Sentencing Guidelines to arrive at a sentencing range. The length of that sentencing depends on a number of factors, including the severity of the prior felony, the number of prior convictions, the type of firearm and other factors relating to it, such as whether it was stolen or had an obliterated serial number.

Why Interstate or Foreign Commerce?

The United States Constitution limits Congress’ authority to enact laws affecting purely local matters. Congress therefore limited the reach of the firearms statute to guns having some effect, no matter how small, on interstate or foreign commerce. Despite this limitation, the law applies when the gun was manufactured in one state and possessed, received or shipped by the felon in another state, even if the felon is ignorant as to the state of manufacture.

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