In the United States there are various crimes that individuals can commit that fall under a gun charge. Gun charges can be brought against individuals who improperly use, possess, buy, or sell firearms. There are a number of federal gun laws that all states must follow, but states also have the right to enforce gun laws of their own. So, what are the different types of gun laws?
There are three major federal gun laws that all states must follow including possession of prohibited firearms, possession of firearms by prohibited persons, and firearms used in drug trafficking or to commit a crime of violence. All United States citizens must adhere to these gun laws in addition to the ones established by their residential state. Many state laws revolve around whether individuals must register their firearms, have a permit to carry a firearm, a permit to purchase a firearm, and the ability to legally carry an open or concealed weapon.
Federal Gun Charges
Possession of Prohibited Firearms
There are different types of guns that are illegal for any citizen of the United States to own. Short barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and any machine guns that were manufactured after May 19, 1986, are prohibited. Short barreled, known as ‘sawed-off’, shotguns must have a barrel length longer than 18” or be more than 26” in overall length. For sawed-off rifles, the overall length requirements are the same as the shotguns, but the barrel length must be longer than 16”.
Any firearms with an illegible or obliterated serial number is also prohibited. If an individual were to be caught with any of the firearms listed above, or have a firearm with an illegible serial number, then the individual could face federal gun charges that are punishable by up to ten years in prison depending on the situation. For example, if one were to possess a sawed-off shotgun that did not meet the federal length requirements, they could land themselves in prison for a maximum of ten years and a possible $10,000 fine.
Possession of Firearms by a Prohibited Person
Gun charges can be brought upon an individual if they are unlawfully in possession of a firearm. According to the United States Department of Justice, there are nine categories of prohibited persons which include the following:
- Unlawful users of or addicts to a controlled substance
- Persons who have been adjudicated as mentally “defective” or who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution
- Illegal aliens and non-immigrant aliens
- Person dishonorably charged from the armed forces
- Persons who have renounced their U.S. citizenship
- Persons who are the subject of a qualifying domestic protection order
- Persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
If a person is a felon or was convicted of a crime that is punishable by more than a year in prison, they are prohibited from receiving a firearm. The unlawful users of or addicts to a controlled substance is a tricky one because it is difficult to determine if an individual uses controlled substances unless it is recent enough to be indicated. If someone was ever admitted into a mental institution and is therefore deemed mentally unfit to receive a firearm, then it is unlawful for said individual to have a firearm in their possession.
Any person who is not a legal citizen of the United States may not be in possession of a firearm. Green card holders are eligible to possess a firearm as long as they do not fall under any of the other categories. A dishonorable discharge from the armed forces, meaning committing reprehensible or condemned conduct while serving, will prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm. Depending upon the specifics of the case, one who has a restraining order against them for domestic violence, or has been convicted of domestic violence, is also unable to possess a firearm.
Firearm Used in Drug Trafficking or to Commit a Crime of Violence
Smuggling weapons across U.S. or state borders is strictly prohibited and results in a gun charge. It may be obvious, but any crime committed involving a firearm, or a crime that did not result in injury or death but a firearm was present, will result in a gun charge. If the crime of violence is punishable by federal law, then the individual can face a federal gun charge. If it is only punishable by state law, then the individual will be tried and convicted with a gun charge within the state the crime occurred, although in most cases gun charges always result in a felony. The minimum amount of time served for the crimes listed above is five years while the most time an individual can serve is life in prison.
State Gun Laws
Gun laws vary by state so it is important for residents of each state to know what their gun laws are to prevent a gun charge that is punishable by the state. There are specific regulations that each state enforces, many for gun safety, and are judged on a scale of most to least friendly gun states. Guns to Carry offers a ranking of up to five stars depending on how friendly the gun laws are in each state meaning if states enforce more gun restrictive gun laws upon their residents then they would be deemed unfriendly. The following lists contain the friendliest gun law states that have a ranking of five stars and the unfriendliest states with one star.
Friendliest Gun Law States
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia
Unfriendliest Gun Law States
- New Jersey
- New York
22 out of the 50 states enforce deadly force laws. Deadly force laws mean that if an individual is a victim of a dangerous trespasser or home invasion, the resident(s) of the home have the right to bear arms and will not be convicted of a gun charge if they were found to be in danger of the perpetrator. Only seven states ban the open carry of a firearm. Colorado, Florida, and New York, to name a few, are amongst the seven that ban firearms so if you are a resident of this state and open carry you can be convicted of a gun charge for unlawfully open carrying a firearm.
A majority of U.S. citizens are required to have a permit to carry a firearm in their state. Only 13 states do not require a permit. In 14 states it is also required that individuals have a permit in order to purchase a firearm. A handful of states have a firearm registry requirement where residents must register their weapons with the state in order to legally possess them.
There are numerous state-specific laws that residents need to follow to avoid being declared guilty of a gun charge. It is the responsibility of the gun owner to make themselves aware of the gun laws that are enacted within their state to avoid legal troubles. A majority of gun charges are felony offenses and require individuals to serve time in prison.
If an individual is convicted of a gun charge and also amongst other convictions, they would be required to serve their sentence consecutively. Consecutive sentences mean an individual cannot serve time for two different crimes at the same time. For example, if someone was sentenced to five years of prison for a gun charge and also convicted of possession of illegal substances for another five years, the person would be serving a total of ten years in prison.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act) requires state agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct background checks on people who are attempting to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer. This does not mean that it is impossible for individuals to gain possession of a firearm if they are prohibited from doing so.
Whether it be from stealing, buying it illegally from a black market sale, or from straw purchases which are essential when someone who cannot legally get a firearm on their own has someone buy it for them. This action would fall under the federal gun charge of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Although the main focus here was largely on the three major federal gun charges and various state gun laws, there is a multitude of others as well that are punishable by imprisonment. Some others include:
- Unauthorized persons possessing a firearm on school property
- Possession of a stolen firearm
- Sale, deliver, or transfer of a firearm to a juvenile
- Knowingly sell, give, or dispose of a firearm to an individual who is prohibited to possess one
Every United States citizen must adhere to the federal gun laws. If an individual commits a crime that is categorized under the federal gun laws of the country, then they are to be punished with a federal gun charge and will more than likely be required to serve time in prison and face a hefty fine. Even if states have more relaxed gun laws, gun-related crimes and offenses are still taken very seriously and many states have very stiff punishments if a gun law is violated.
A freelance writer and educator with a love for research and writing about any and all things that pique my interest. Specializing in topics on history and the environment with the goal of writing compelling works that captivate my audience.