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Weapon Charges in Federal Courts: What You Need to Know

Weapon Charges in Federal Courts What You Need to KnowWeapon Charges in Federal Courts What You Need to Know

Federal weapon charges are an intricate area of law. As they play out in federal courts, these charges can become far more consequential compared to their state counterparts. If you or a loved one is facing a federal weapon charge, it's essential to understand the seriousness of the situation and know your rights.

At Agre & St. John, we have successfully represented numerous clients in federal court, and through this post, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of federal weapon charges.

Types of Federal Weapon Charges

Federal weapon charges are governed primarily by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and are enforced under several statutes. They encompass a variety of offenses related to the possession, sale, use, and transport of firearms and explosives. Here are the main types of federal weapon charges:

Illegal Possession of Firearms or Ammunition

  • By Convicted Felons: Individuals who have been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for over one year (except state misdemeanors) are prohibited from possessing firearms.
  • By Drug Users or Addicts: Those using or addicted to controlled substances can't legally possess firearms.
  • By Individuals with Restraining Orders: Individuals with active restraining orders that prevent them from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child.
  • By Individuals Convicted of Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence: This applies even if the crime didn’t involve a firearm.

Unlawful Sale or Distribution

  • Selling firearms without a proper license.
  • Selling to prohibited persons, such as convicted felons or minors.
  • Engaging in the business of importing, manufacturing, or dealing in firearms without an appropriate federal license.

Transportation of Firearms

  • Across State Lines: It's illegal to transport stolen firearms or ammunition across state lines.
  • Smuggling into the United States: Illegally bringing firearms into the U.S. from another country.
  • Possession in Prohibited Places: Carrying or using a firearm in places like federal facilities, schools, or post offices is illegal.
  • Use of a Firearm in Relation to a Crime of Violence or Drug Trafficking: Federal law has penalties for those who use or even just possess a firearm in connection to drug trafficking or violent crimes.
  • Straw Purchases: When someone purchases a firearm for someone who is prohibited from owning one. The purchaser might not be prohibited, but they are buying it on behalf of someone else, which is illegal.
  • Manufacturing or Dealing Firearms Without a License: Engaging in the business of selling firearms to the end consumer without the necessary federal licensing.
  • Illegal Possession of Destructive Devices: This includes things like bombs, grenades, mines, or any other device with an explosive or incendiary component.
  • Illegal Modification: Modifying firearms, like converting a semi-automatic weapon to a fully automatic, is illegal without the appropriate licenses.
  • Possession of Armor-Piercing Ammunition: Federal law prohibits the manufacture, sale, and delivery of armor-piercing ammunition, with certain specific exemptions.

Understanding these charges and the intricacies involved is essential for anyone facing allegations. It's also critical to recognize that state weapon charges can run concurrently with federal charges. If you are involved in or are being investigated for a weapons-related offense, it's crucial to get advice from legal counsel experienced in federal weapon laws.

Potential Penalties

Federal weapon charges are no joke. The penalties are severe, and those found guilty may face:


Prison sentences can vary from short terms to life imprisonment, depending on the offense.

  • Illegal possession can lead to up to 10 years in prison.
  • Using a firearm during a violent or drug-related crime can lead to mandatory consecutive sentences. For instance, a conviction for possessing a firearm in furtherance of such a crime carries a minimum 5-year sentence, which must be served in addition to any other sentence imposed.
  • Discharging a firearm during a violent or drug trafficking crime can increase the mandatory minimum sentence to 10 years or more.

Heavy Fines

The monetary penalties can be steep.

  • Individual charges can result in fines ranging from several thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the severity and type of offense.
  • For instance, operating without a proper firearms business license can result in fines of up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations.


If the weapons offense resulted in any harm or loss to a victim, the court might order the offender to compensate the victim for the loss.


Typically ranging from one to five years, probation requires the offender to regularly meet with a probation officer and comply with certain conditions (e.g., no new arrests or criminal offenses, attending counseling or rehabilitation programs, etc.). Non-compliance can result in immediate imprisonment.


The court might order the seizure of weapons or any property derived from or used in the commission of a weapon-related crime.

Loss of Rights

Convicted felons lose certain rights, including the right to possess firearms. This ban is generally for life, although under some circumstances and in some states, rights might be restored.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Some federal weapons offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences. This means that if convicted, the judge must impose a minimum sentence, and there is no possibility of parole before this minimum term is completed.

Enhanced Penalties

Repeat offenders or those with prior convictions might face enhanced penalties, making their potential prison terms even longer.

How a Skilled Lawyer Can Assist

  • Understanding Federal vs. State Jurisdiction: With the overlapping laws and jurisdictions between state and federal courts, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can guide you through the intricacies of where and how you're being charged.
  • Building a Solid Defense: From challenging the evidence to questioning the procedures during the arrest, an experienced lawyer can craft a robust defense strategy to either reduce the charges or seek an acquittal.
  • Plea Negotiations: In some cases, it might be more strategic to negotiate a plea deal. A skilled lawyer can navigate these negotiations, ensuring the best possible outcome for their client.
  • Protection of Rights: During the entire legal process, having a lawyer by your side ensures that your rights are protected. From the moment of arrest to the conclusion of the trial, a lawyer will work to ensure you receive fair treatment.

Contact an Experienced Federal Charges Lawyer at Agre & St. John for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today

Facing a federal weapon charge is a grave matter. The consequences of a conviction can have a lasting impact on an individual’s life, liberty, and finances. While the federal system is vast and can often feel overwhelming, you don’t have to navigate it alone.

Agre & St. John has a proven track record of representing clients in federal courts. Our experienced team is ready to stand with you, providing the expertise and determination required to tackle these severe charges. If you or a loved one is grappling with a federal weapon charge, don't hesitate.

Contact Agre & St. John today to discuss your case and let us provide the guidance and support you need.

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