The illegal possession of a gun is a crime under different circumstances that vary based on state and federal law. Some states prevent certain individuals from possessing guns and also place restrictions on where and how a gun may be possessed, and the types of guns that can be legally possessed.

If these laws are broken, an individual may be criminally charged with the illegal possession of a firearm even if they did not intend to commit a crime.

What are the Individual Restrictions on Gun Possession?

Depending on state and federal laws, certain individuals may be restricted from possessing a firearm for a variety of reasons. Common restrictions may be based on an individual’s:

  • Age: Under federal law, it is illegal for any individual under the age of eighteen to possess a handgun. There is no federal law regarding a minimum age requirement for the possession of a rifle or shotgun.
    • Many states impose laws that are stricter than the federal laws that govern the minimum age requirements for firearm possession.
    • As of 2019, Illinois and Hawaii require individuals to be twenty-one years old to legally possess any type of firearm;
  • High-Risk Category: Domestic violence offenders, convicted felons, and individuals with severe mental illness are prohibited under federal law from legally possessing a firearm because they are considered high-risk.
    • Some states prohibit gun possession by juvenile offenders, individuals with a history of alcohol or drug abuse, those convicted of hate crimes, and persons convicted of violent misdemeanors such as battery, stalking or child endangerment;
  • Lack of a proper gun license and failure to follow gun registration procedures; and
  • Failure to pass a required firearm background check.

Some states require that individuals charged with violent crimes such as domestic violence relinquish their firearms to a state law enforcement agency, making their possession of a firearm illegal while their charges are pending in court.

What are the Location Restrictions on Gun Possession?

Depending on state and federal law, it is illegal to possess a gun in certain locations, both private and public. These locations typically include:

  • Federal buildings, including post offices and federal courthouses;
  • Private and public schools and surrounding zones within 1,000 feet;
  • Airports and onboard airplanes;
  • Polling or voting places;
  • State offices;
  • Locations of state and local government meetings;
  • Courthouses and courtrooms;
  • Places of public transportation, including buses, subways, and trains;
  • State parks and state wildlife preserves and refuges;
  • Establishments that serve alcohol including bars and restaurants;
  • Childcare facilities;
  • Mental health facilities;
  • Religious institutions; and
  • Entertainment facilities such as theaters, casinos, sports stadiums, concert venues, and amusement parks.

Owners of private businesses have a right to ban the possession of firearms while on their premises. Many states require business owners to post notifications stating that gun possession is not allowed on the property.

What are the Restrictions on Specific Types of Firearms?

An individual may be charged with illegal possession of a firearm if they possess a certain type of gun that is illegal under state law. As of 2019, assault weapons are banned in seven states. There is no federal law that prohibits the possession of assault weapons, but federal law does prohibit the possession of machine guns.

What are the Restrictions on Gun Possession Type?

Gun possession may be open or concealed. Many states require residents to have a special license to carry a concealed firearm. Some states, like California, New York, and New Jersey, have discretion in issuing concealed firearm licenses and will only do so if an individual can show a specific need for concealed carry. States may also require an individual to prove that they are of good moral character, and knowledgeable about gun safety before issuing a concealed firearm license.

Open carry possession is illegal in several states for both handguns and rifles. Some states require that only unloaded guns can be carried openly and restricts open carry in areas of high population density.

What is the Punishment for an Illegal Firearm Possession Conviction?

The sentence for a conviction of the illegal possession of a firearm varies based on the state and the severity of the crime. In many cases, sentences involve jail time, fines, and firearm license revocation. Illegal firearm possession may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and a criminal conviction can stay on a defendant's criminal record for life.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?

If you are charged with illegal possession of a firearm, you may be able to defend yourself against the charges. However, the criminal court system is complicated and the laws that govern gun possession are frequently changing. For the best outcome in your case, you should consider contacting a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can help you understand your legal rights, charges, and defenses and can represent you in court.