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IPFS News Link • Gun Rights

Gun Owners Who Are Disqualified Under State Law Can Now Be Charged With 'Trafficking in Firearms


In my column this week, I note that the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was hailed as victory for "common sense" gun control when it was approved last month, increased the penalties for illegal possession of firearms. The law raised the maximum sentence for people with felony records from 10 to 15 years and created a new "trafficking in firearms" offense, also punishable by up to 15 years in prison, that is defined broadly enough to include receipt of a firearm by someone who is legally disqualified from owning one. Those provisions affect millions of "prohibited persons" with no history of violence, including cannabis consumers, former psychiatric patients, and people convicted of drug crimes or other nonviolent felonies.

It gets worse. Patricia Richman, national sentencing resource counsel at Federal Public & Community Defenders, notes that the "trafficking in firearms" provision applies to anyone who obtains a gun when he "knows or has reasonable cause to believe that such receipt would constitute a felony." It therefore covers prohibited persons as defined by state as well as federal law—a significant expansion, since state criteria for gun ownership are often stricter than federal criteria. That provision, Richman notes in an email, "pull[s] in all state felony prohibitions on firearm possession."

Maryland, for example, prohibits handgun possession by people convicted of violent misdemeanors, such as simple assault, that are not disqualifying under federal law. Violating that rule is a felony that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. That means someone with a disqualifying misdemeanor record who obtains a handgun in Maryland could also be guilty of "trafficking in firearms" under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, even if he was not a prohibited person under federal law. So in addition to Maryland's five-year mandatory minimum, he could face up to 15 years in federal prison.

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