Generally speaking, a person who has been convicted of a felony offense is considered a convicted felon. Felony offenses are crimes (violent or not) that are punishable by prison terms of more than a year.
Depending on the state you live in, the terms “felon” and “convicted felon” can have slightly different meanings (depending on how the state defines things), but the basic premise is that a person who has been convicted of a felony loses certain rights or privileges as a result of that conviction. If you have been convicted of a crime, it is important to know whether that crime was a felony, so that you can understand just how that conviction on your record affects your rights.
What are the Rules Regarding a Felon’s Possession of a Firearm?
As a general rule, you cannot possess a firearm if you have been convicted of a felony offense. Most states have laws that prohibit convicted felons from owning or possessing guns. There is also a federal law, known as the Brady Bill or the Brady Law, that makes ownership or possession of a firearm by a convicted felon a federal crime as well.
Under the Brady Bill, however, there is the added element that the firearm in question must have been transported across state lines. (So, mere possession is not necessarily enough under the Brady Bill to support a federal charge. The transport factor must also be involved to be charged with a federal crime.)
To add another layer into the mix, possession of a firearm does not necessarily mean that you physically have a gun on your person. It can also mean that you have constructive possession--where the firearm is in an area that is exclusively under your control, even if not on your person. For example, if the firearm is in your house or car, even if you are not present, this can count as constructive possession.
What is Considered to be a Firearm?
Different states have very specific definitions of what counts as firearms in their statutes. Generally, firearms are exactly what you might expect them to be. In technical speak, a firearm is a barreled, ranged weapon that launches projectiles by small explosions (like by lighting gunpowder). Rifles, pistols, shotguns, and revolvers are considered firearms.
Depending on the state you live in, items like firearm mufflers, silencers, or starter guns may be considered firearms and should not be owned or possessed by convicted felons. Certain antique guns or antique replicas that cannot used fixed ammunition might not count as firearms. An experienced attorney will be able to help you determine whether the specific item in your case counts as a firearm under your state’s laws.
What Penalties Does a Convicted Felon Face For Possession Of A Firearm?
Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon can result in new felony charges, and the punishments for these charges can be severe. Generally, punishments can range between two and ten years in prison.
However, because every person with a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon already has an underlying felony conviction (and thus has a criminal record), the resulting punishment is often harsher than other offenses.
Some states will not allow probation to a defendant who has been convicted of felony possession of a firearm. Other states have “enhancements” for sentences depending on the defendant’s use of the firearm--that is, not only did they have it in their possession, but they also used it in a potentially dangerous manner.
Punishments for federal violations start at five years in prison, but can often result in more prison time depending on the circumstances of the case. If the defendant has three or more prior felony convictions, or has been convicted of drug trafficking, then the minimum sentence is 15 years without parole.
Can My Right to Own a Firearm be Restored?
Maybe, but it depends on your state. Some states do have provisions for restoring a convicted felon’s right to possess a firearm, but there are several very specific rules that must be followed.
For example, the defendant must have only one single nonviolent felony conviction and must have had their civil rights restored after serving their sentence. There is also a time component--in North Carolina, the Felony Firearms Act requires that the defendants must also wait 20 years after serving their sentence before petitioning the court to have their right to possess firearms reinstated.
It’s important to note that a person’s civil rights cannot be reinstated until they have completed all terms of their sentence--that includes elements like fines, restitution, probation, or supervised release.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer If I Am a Felon and Facing Charges for Possessing a Gun?
If you are facing charges of possession of a gun, and you already have a felony on your record, it is in your best interests to talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the subtleties of the court system, advise you regarding your rights, and help you present the best defense in court. Good legal representation is imperative in preserving your rights and your freedom.