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Criminal Convictions & Gun Ownership



Gun Purchasers Must Complete Forms

When a prospective gun buyer goes into a shop to purchase a firearm from a dealer who carries a federal license, that buyer is required to complete a form called the ATF 4473. This form is usually completed at the gun shop.

The form includes information about the prospective purchaser such as name, address, type of gun desired, social security number, and date of birth. The ATF 4473 form also asks questions about whether the applicant has any prior criminal convictions and the applicant's citizenship. The applicant must answer all questions or risk penalty of perjury.

Gun Application Data Run Through Databases

Once the form is submitted, the gun shop owner contacts a state agency or the FBI's National Instant Check System with the information so that it can be run through databases at the federal and state levels to ascertain if the prospective gun buyer meets any one of the nine reasons that prohibit possession of a firearm under federal law. In modern society, we use the colloquial term "Brady Denial" to refer to the unenviable situation in which a background check performed under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act returns information that prohibits the seller from selling a gun to the prospective buyer.

Nine Categories of Reasons for a "Brady Denial"

A "Brady Denial" can result from any one of nine categories of reasons that bar a prospective gun purchaser from buying a gun under federal law. Most of these criteria are nothing new, as the bulk of them were included in 1968's Gun Control Act. However, a few of them have been added in recent years. One of the most recent requirements involves the need to have a background check prior to a gun purchase. The use of databases to crosscheck records loaded into federal and state systems is relatively new.

Convicted Felons Are Prohibited From Gun Ownership

The largest category of persons prohibited from owning firearms are those with criminal convictions. The federal definition of what criminal convictions bar gun ownership is confusing, even to attorneys in the field. Many felony convictions do not preclude a person from owning a gun, even if there was jail time. White collar business crimes, for instance, do not usually bar gun ownership. Other types of felony convictions that do not bar gun ownership include situations in which a defendant:

  • obtains a pardon
  • had a deferral arrangement whereby his or her conviction was set aside at a later date
  • resides in a state where some rights were eliminated at the time of conviction but have been later restored, such as the right to vote

None of the aforementioned types of convictions precludes gun ownership under federal law.

Misdemeanors Count the Same as Felonies

Under most federal gun control laws, many state misdemeanors count as felonies. If a state misdemeanor carries a possible jail term of two or more years, then the federal gun control statute deems the misdemeanor sufficient to prohibit the prospective purchaser from gun ownership. State-level DUI/DWI offenses, assaults, and drug convictions often fall under this category.

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