Federal Law Prohibits Possession of Firearms by Convicted Felons


“If I am convicted of a federal felony, can I possess firearms?
What if I am convicted of a nonviolent federal felony, can I possess firearms?”


Under current federal law, a federal felony conviction results in the permanent loss of firearm possession rights. Federal law does not distinguish between violent and nonviolent felony offenses. Thus, a federal conviction for almost any felony offense results in the permanent loss of firearm rights. (See limited exceptions below).

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) states that it is unlawful for any person “who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year… to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” The Supreme Court has interpreted this law broadly in favor of the government, as one that prohibits possession of a firearm by anyone with a felony conviction. See Scarborough v. United States. This is in addition to a plethora of other firearms restrictions for convicted felons outlined in 18 USC § 922.

The only exclusions to convictions that subject you to 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), as determined in accordance with the law of the jurisdiction in which the proceedings were held, are:

(A) any Federal or State offenses pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices, or

(B) any State offense classified by the laws of the State as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less, or,

(C)Any conviction which has been expunged, or set aside or for which a person has been pardoned or has had civil rights restored (unless such pardon, expungement, or restoration of civil rights expressly provides that the person may not ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms).

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) also criminalizes the possession of firearms by anyone who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Penalties for Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon – 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Felon in Possession of a Firearm is a Class D federal felony offense under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, and $250,000 in fines.

Under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, a person convicted of a charge of Felon in Possession of a Firearm would be assigned a base offense level between 12-26, which carries a guideline range of 10-78 months in prison. First offense convictions are given considerations under the guidelines, but are afforded no other special treatment.

As of 2022, the average federal sentencing data for felons in possession of firearms shows that the average sentence imposed was 63 months.

Restoration of Firearms Rights Under Federal Law

There is currently no viable option for the restoration of firearm rights to individuals under federal law. While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has the power to restore firearm rights, Congress, in its annual appropriations, has prohibited ATF from using appropriated funds to investigate or act upon applications for relief submitted by individuals seeking to restore their firearm rights. ATF claims that as long as this ban remains in place, and this started in 1992, there is no way to process applications. (Congress still funds review of applications filed by corporations for relief from Federal firearms disabilities.) In United States v. Bean, the Supreme Court unanimously held that inaction by ATF on a restoration application yields a dead end for litigating the issue of restoration of firearms rights. Thus, unless Congress begins to value the Second Amendment rights of convicted felons and funds the ATF review program or changes the law to exclude from the prohibition nonviolent felons, the only way for a convicted federal felon to restore firearms rights is to receive a presidential pardon.

Due to the extreme hardship caused by a federal conviction for individuals who need firearms for work or for personal safety, it is best to attempt to avoid a felony conviction. While this is not always possible, considerable plea bargaining and a strong trial strategy should be discussed thoroughly between you and your criminal defense lawyer.

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