Gun possession is limited by gun control laws in an effort to ensure the safety of the gun owner and of those around them. Whether it is illegal to possess a gun depends on a few different factors like a person’s age, their background, the type of gun possessed, and whether they are in violation of concealed carry laws.
What are the Individual Restrictions on Gun Possession?
Gun possession may be restricted based on various factors, including:
- Age/Type of Gun: Federal law prohibits the sale of a handgun to anyone under age 18. The same restriction does not apply for long guns like rifles and shotguns. However, each state has the ability to implement more strict age requirements, so the law differs by state and the minimum age to purchase a handgun in many states is 21 years old.
- Background: A person’s background can also make it illegal for them to possess a gun. Federal law prevents the sale of a gun to anyone who:
- Has been convicted of or charged with a crime in federal court that carries a possible sentence of over a year in jail (generally these are felonies)
- Has been convicted of or charged with a crime in state court that is a felony or is a misdemeanor punishable by more than 2 years in prison.
- Is a fugitive
- Is known to be addicted to controlled substances (this requires that the person has “lost the power of self-control with reference to the use of controlled substance” and is sometimes inferred from multiple recent drug convictions)
- Has been found by a court or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others; or who has been involuntarily committed for drug/alcohol abuse or mental health issues.
- Has been convicted of certain crimes or is subject to a court order related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition.
- Is in the U.S. illegally
- Was dishonorably discharged from U.S. Military Service.
Like the age requirement, each state also has the ability to be more strict than federal law regarding who can possess a gun based on their background.
What are the Location Restrictions on Gun Possession?
There are some locations where gun possession is prohibited, even by someone who can legally possess a gun elsewhere. Again, there is federal law and state law, giving the states the ability to be more strict. Federal law prohibits gun possession at:
- Federal Facilities
- Post Offices
- Airports and on Airplanes (except when the weapon is unloaded, is in a checked bag, and the airline was made aware of the weapon)
- School Zones, K-12 (except someone having a state-issued concealed carry permit)
Most states prohibit guns in courthouses and other government owned buildings, however the laws are often different for those that have an open carry permit. Some other areas where guns are commonly prohibited by states include:
- Bars or Restaurants that serve alcohol
- Polling Places
- Daycare Facility
If you’re unsure of the law in your state, a firearms lawyer can provide clarity on local restrictions.
What are the Restrictions on Specific Types of Firearms?
Some states prohibit specific types of firearms completely. Depending on the state you are in, it may be illegal to possess:
- Assault Weapons:These are semi-automatic guns with detachable magazines (e.g. AK-47, M-16)
- “Ghost Guns”: These are firearms assembled from kits or made with 3D printers, that are untraceable by law enforcement and often undetectable by metal detectors
- Large Capacity Magazines: Generally, magazines containing more than 10 rounds.
- Machine Guns: These are fully automatic firearms that keep firing bullets as long as the trigger is held down
- 50 Caliber Weapons: Only a few states prohibit these
- Silencers: These are used to prevent someone from hearing the sound of gunfire or from seeing the muzzle flash.
What are the Restrictions on Gun Possession Type?
Restrictions may also be based on the way the gun is being held or carried by its owner:
Concealed Carry: Carrying a concealed gun while in public can be a crime depending on which state you are in. About 15 states do not prohibit concealed carry, but the rest require you to first obtain a concealed carry permit. Obtaining the permit can be very difficult in some states.
Open Carry: Carrying an openly visible gun in public can pose a problem by intimidating those nearby. About 5 states prohibit open carry entirely, 15 states require some form of permit or license in order to do so, and open carry is allowed without a permit in around 30 states.
What is the Punishment for an Illegal Firearm Possession Conviction?
While the Second Amendment grants the right to bear arms, that right is not absolute. Carrying a firearm in violation of one of the above mentioned restrictions can mean serious legal consequences.Carrying a gun while committing another crime will frequently mean harsher punishment, as well.
Someone who has been convicted of a felony is almost always prohibited from carrying a gun, and being a felon in possession of a firearm carries stiff penalties. However, most states allow a felon to restore their gun possession rights, so long as the applicant is not deemed dangerous to public safety and restoring the rights is not contrary to the public interest.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Gun Possession Charges?
If you’re unsure of the gun laws specific to your state, if you’ve been charged with illegally possessing a firearm, or if you want to try and get your gun possession rights restored, speaking with a criminal lawyer is usually a good idea. The penalties and possible consequences of violating gun laws makes gun possession or gun charges especially serious and not something you want to take a chance on.