Criminal Convictions and Firearms/Weapons Rights
Both federal and state laws govern the effect a criminal conviction has on your ability to legally possess or purchase a firearm and some other weapons. Laws vary greatly from state to state, and even within various cities, as to purchase, possession, and carrying of firearms even by citizens with no criminal record. I urge you to find out what the weapon laws are where you live, so that you do not inadvertently break the law and lose the rights that you otherwise have.
The federal gun laws apply everywhere in the United States, but do not generally override the laws of the state you are in if that state’s laws are more strict. The major factor for gun restrictions is convictions for felonies and for misdemeanors involving domestic violence. However, restrictions also apply for people with prior mental health commitments, those under some court restraining/protection orders, and several other less common, but important factors.
Some of the legal determinations to be made where criminal convictions are the problem include:
- What is a “firearm” under the restriction, i.e. does the definition include a replica 1840’s muzzle-loading rifle? Is ammunition also prohibited? Is archery equipment also prohibited?
- What is a “conviction” in that state? Is the conviction permanent? What restrictions start when charges are filed?
- Is the offense a felony? For example, does “felony” include juvenile offenses?
- What is “domestic violence” for gun law purposes? Are you dealing with only the federal law definition, or a state gun restriction also?
In Colorado, we currently have a felony-conviction weapon prohibition that is much broader and stricter than the federal law. Before 2013 Colorado had no domestic violence (DV) gun laws, relying instead just on the federal gun laws. However, in 2013 the Colorado legislature created some new domestic violence gun laws that prohibit firearm and/or ammunition possession immediately upon the filing of DV charges or the entry of civil or criminal case protection orders. The new Colorado law seems to still rely on the federal definition of “domestic violence” and “protection order.” The federal gun law definition of “domestic violence” does not include all of the offenses that are considered domestic violence crimes under Colorado law. Be warned: Colorado’s own broad definition of “firearms”, not the limited federal definition, likely applies to determine what “firearms” are prohibited.
There have been recent Court decisions striking down some local firearm ownership restrictions applicable to all residents, as a violation of the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights contained in the U.S. Constitution. And there have been a few federal district court cases around the United States that have found the federal lifetime gun prohibition unconstitutional, as applied to a particular person, given the non-violent, old criminal history and subsequent noteworthy life of that person. And those people sought that court ruling before attempting to obtain or use a firearm. But no U.S. Supreme Court case has yet addressed such questions as whether non-violent felonies, or any misdemeanor, can always constitutionally result in the permanent loss of the right to possess a firearm. SO DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOUR 2ND AMENDMENT RIGHTS WILL PROTECT YOU FROM PROSECUTION FOR POSSESSING A WEAPON OR AMMUNITION WHEN YOU HAVE SUCH PRIOR CONVICTIONS!
The fact that no background check was required when you purchased the weapon (i.e. muzzle-loader firearm or archery equipment), or that you were able to purchase a hunting license, DOES NOT mean it is legal for you to possess or use a weapon or ammunition.