Mar 21, 2023
You may lose the rights to several liberties according to the U.S. Constitution if you’re convicted of a felony.
Besides the right to hold public office and vote, states may also prohibit you from owning firearms. But is this rule carved in stone, or are there any exceptions?
What Is a Felony, and How Does It Impact Gun Rights?
A felony is a crime punishable by more than one year of imprisonment, even if you don’t spend the entire sentence in prison. Federal law prevents you from possessing firearms if you’re a felon. This is usually a lifetime ban, and people who violate it are known as felons-in-possession.
Most state laws either expand on or overlap with federal law. Therefore, your conviction might not trigger a federal ban, but it can lead to a state prohibition.
For example, if you have a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence in California, you can’t own or bear firearms for a decade after the judgment. In contrast, the state prohibits felons from carrying and owning guns for a lifetime.
Some other states have passed laws that aim to close certain federal law loopholes. They’ve broadened the victim of domestic violence offenses to include roommates, dating partners, and family members.
In comparison, federal law only recognizes intimate partners as perpetrators of domestic violence.
Other states extend the prohibition to all misdemeanor assaults, stalking, and battery, not just committed against intimate partners. The penalties under those laws vary, but they’re often considered felonies or aggravated misdemeanors.
When Can Felons Posses or Own Guns?
Several scenarios allow you to possess or own a firearm if you’re a convicted felon:
The state where you committed the felony has restored your civil rights.
Your conviction has been pardoned, set aside, or expunged.
Receiving a pardon is generally more common than having your civil rights reinstated. In fact, it’s the only way for felons to own and carry a gun in some states.
If you want to apply for gun ownership under a pardon, you first need to request your state government to issue a pardon for your past crimes.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t erase your criminal conviction. Instead, consider it a form of forgiveness. The state is willing to forgive you for your actions, which can allow you to bear arms once again.
After applying for your pardon, the decision to grant or refuse it is up to specific state boards. For example, Nevada has the Board of Pardon Commissioners, whereas Texas uses the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Several persons can be board members, including the justices of your state’s Supreme Court, the attorney general, and the governor.
Did you know? The timing of federal pardons doesn’t matter. They can be granted before or after a felony conviction.
The board considers several factors when deciding whether or not they’ll pardon you, including the following:
Your sentence – The most important detail the board considers is if you’ve completed your entire sentence and paid any fines.
Crime – The board looks at your conviction. The less serious your felony is, the more likely you will get pardoned.
Criminal history – Your entire criminal history is under scrutiny when you present your application before the pardon board of your state.
Time – The time since your felony conviction is also taken into account.
Character – Your character is closely examined when you’re considered for a pardon. Your state’s board considers several factors, such as your lifestyle and whether you’ve integrated yourself into society. Overall, you need to prove your rehabilitation since your conviction.
Remorse – If the board finds you regret your felony, they’ll be more likely to grant a pardon.
Employment – You may have higher chances of being pardoned if you can’t land a job due to your felony.
Pardon boards rarely grant pardons in the following situations:
-The felony is on appeal.
-The felon is a registered sex offender.
-The felon is under criminal investigation.
What Happens If You Bear Guns as a Felon?
There can be severe consequences for bearing a firearm as a felon. As indicated earlier, the only way to restore your gun rights in most states is to receive a full pardon.
Otherwise, you’d violate several laws if you possess a weapon as a felon, be it operable, inoperable, empty, or loaded.
If the authorities discover you have a firearm, you face criminal charges and can get charged with another felony. If found guilty, you might be sent to prison for 1-10 years, and the state may require you to pay thousands of dollars in fines.
In addition, you don’t have to carry or own a gun to be found guilty of violating the prohibition. The state may also convict if you have ammunition after the original felony conviction or while awaiting trial on your felony charges.
If you have at least three prior felonies, the judge may punish you with 15 years of prison without parole.
The good news is that you have options if you’re charged with firearm possession as a felon. If you hire an experienced attorney, they may try several defenses to contest the allegations:
-The state hasn’t offered any evidence of weapon possession.
-The search performed by the state was unconstitutional.
-There was police misconduct when taking you into custody and presenting your charges.
-The state imposed false accusations or planted fake evidence.
-There’s a lack of concrete forensic evidence.
Furthermore, many states allow you to use weapons or other explosive materials, devices, or components if your employer requires them. Construction, agriculture, and mining are some of the industries where you may be able to bear firearms without consequences.
Using firearms for personal defense as a felon is another special consideration. For example, deadly force might be permitted if it prevents the other person from taking your life.
This form of defense (the Stand Your Ground Defense) isn’t available in some states if you’re the original attacker. It’s also not available if you act in self-defense during criminal activity.
Finally, Virginia and some other states allow you to possess stun weapons in your residence as a felon. They may also enable you to transport, own, and carry antique firearms.
Plus, you might be allowed to own, transport, and carry up to 5 pounds of black powder if only used for recreational, cultural, and sporting purposes.
Did you know? Recreational gun use generally involves hunting or participating in shooting competitions.
Consult An Expert About Your Rights
We’ve covered some general gun laws applicable after a felony conviction. However, there may be significant variations from state to state.
Therefore, talk to a licensed attorney to determine the specifics of firearm laws in your area. Otherwise, you could be breaking the law without knowing it by bearing weapons.