18 U.S. Code § 922g - Felon with a Firearm
Many states have specific laws restricting or revoking gun ownership or possession rights for people convicted of a felony.
However, the federal criminal code also contains similar and expanded restrictions on firearm possession for convicted felons and other individuals at the federal level. This is commonly referred to as the "felon with a firearm" or "felon in possession of a firearm" law defined under Title 18 U.S.C. 922g.
Violating this law is a felony in itself. Moreover, if convicted, you could face up to 10 years in federal prison—and potentially much more if you qualify for certain sentencing enhancements.
18 U.S.C. 922g says, “It shall be unlawful for any person (1) who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year…. to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”
“Possession” is not the same as ownership. It can also be constructive, which means someone can possess firearms in their home, car, or place of employment.
Simply put, a felon does not have to be physically present at the time of the discovery of the firearms. If law enforcement can prove they have access to and control a firearm, they can be found guilty under this federal law.
Further, possession does not have to be exclusive. Under the law, multiple people can possess the same firearm. For example, it is common for all passengers in a vehicle to be charged with possessing a single firearm. Let's review this federal weapons crime in more detail below.
Who Is Prohibited from Possessing a Firearm?
While 18 U.S.C. 922g is aimed primarily at restricting gun possession by convicted felons, these restrictions extend to numerous other individuals besides those convicted of a felony.
This federal restriction only applies to gun possession or transport that affects "interstate or foreign commerce," such as crossing state or national boundaries.
If felony gun possession is contained within a state—in other words, if that person doesn't ship or receive the firearm from out-of-state or does not cross state lines with the weapon—that state's laws will apply, and it will not be considered a federal crime.
Under 18 U.S.C. 922g, the following people are prohibited from firearms possession under federal law:
- Anyone convicted in any court (not just federal court) of a crime carrying a sentence of imprisonment for more than one year. This is where the term "felon with a firearm" originates since a prison sentence of 1-plus years describes most felonies. However, this law also applies to you if you're convicted of a misdemeanor punishable by more than one year in jail.
- Anyone who is a fugitive from justice, such as they fled to avoid prosecution or give testimony.
- Drug addicts, such as those illegally using and addicted to a controlled substance.
- Anyone judged as a "mentally defective" (mentally ill) and committed to a mental institution.
- Aliens. This includes undocumented and non-permanent resident aliens who are legally in the country, not including green-card-carrying aliens.
- Anyone who has renounced their United States citizenship.
- Dishonorably discharged members of the military.
- Anyone who is under a restraining order related to domestic violence.
- Anyone who is convicted in any court of a domestic violence crime.
Other Important Things to Know About This Law
- As noted, possession refers to control rather than ownership. In other words, it doesn't matter whether that weapon is registered in your name if you have access to a gun. The law applies as long as the weapon is under your immediate control (i.e., on your person) or under your constructive control (e.g., in your car, in your home, in a locker for which you have the key, etc.).
- You don't have to be sentenced to more than a year in jail to be disqualified from firearm possession. Under 18 U.S.C. 922g, you only have to be convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year. So if you're convicted of a crime with a sentence of 2 years, and your sentence is suspended, or you are awarded probation instead, you are still considered a convicted felon under federal law.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 44 Firearms has several federal statutes that are related to 18 U.S. Code 922 Unlawful acts, such as the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 921 - Definitions;
- 18 U.S.C. 923 - Licensing;
- 18 U.S.C. 924 - Penalties;
- 18 U.S.C. 925 - Exceptions: Relief from disabilities;
- 18 U.S.C. 925A - Remedy for erroneous denial of a firearm;
- 18 U.S.C. 925B - Reporting of background check denials;
- 18 U.S.C. 925C - Annual report to Congress;
- 18 U.S.C. 925D - Special assistant U.S. attorneys'
- 18 U.S.C. 926 - Rules and regulations;
- 18 U.S.C. 926A - Interstate transportation of firearms;
- 18 U.S.C. 926B - Carry concealed firearms by law enforcement;
- 18 U.S.C. 926C - Carry of concealed firearms by retired officers;
- 18 U.S.C. 927 - Effect on State law;
- 18 U.S.C. 928 – Separability;
- 18 U.S.C. 929 - Use of restricted ammunition;
- 18 U.S.C. 930 - Possession of firearms in Federal facilities;
- 18 U.S.C. 931 - Possession of body armor by violent felons;
- 18 U.S.C. 932 - Straw purchasing of firearms;
- 18 U.S.C. 933 - Trafficking in firearms;
- 18 U.S.C. 934 - Forfeiture and fines.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 922g?
If you're convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g), the general penalty is a prison sentence of up to 10 years and up to $250,000 in fines.
However, under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) of 1984, defined under 18 U.S.C. 924(e), if you have three or more convictions for certain violent felonies and serious drug offenses, a sentencing enhancement kicks in, which extends the sentence significantly.
For general convictions under 18 U.S.C. 922(g) with no sentencing enhancement. the penalties include the following:
- Up to 10 years in prison;
- Up to three years of supervised release; and
- Up to $250,000 in fines.
With the sentencing enhancement, the penalties include a mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison with no parole.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 922g?
It is possible to be wrongly charged under 18 U.S.C. 922(g). A qualified federal criminal defense attorney may be able to implement several defense strategies to combat the charges or have them dismissed, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you are not disqualified from possessing a firearm under 18 U.S.C. 922(g).
If your attorney can show, for example, that you were not convicted of a qualifying crime, have had your restraining order rescinded, or are not within one of the other disqualified groups, you may be able to have your charges dismissed.
Perhaps we can argue that the firearm did not cross state or national boundaries. This defense takes the crime out of federal jurisdiction and possibly into state jurisdiction, where the penalties are likely less severe.
Perhaps we can argue that the firearm was not under your control. For example, maybe a relative kept the weapon in your home under lock and key, but you could not access it.
Perhaps we can negotiate with the federal prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain if guilt is not in doubt. If you have been charged with felon in possession of a firearm in a federal court, contact our law firm to review the details and legal options.
You can contact us for an initial case consultation by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin is located in Los Angeles, California.