10 Things You Need to Know About Federal Gun Laws
Texas has always been a state that protects the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Texas law does not require law-abiding citizens to obtain a license or permit before purchasing a handgun or shotgun. A permit is only required to carry a concealed handgun in public.
But Texas law is not the final word when it comes to gun ownership. Federal firearms law extensively regulates the sale and transportation of weapons and ammunition across state lines. This includes any possession of a firearm “in or affecting commerce,” which effectively means all gun ownership is subject to federal rules that, in some cases, may conflict with Texas state law. Here are a few things that may disqualify you from legally owning a gun under federal law.
1. You Cannot Be a Felon
Under federal law, a person may not purchase or possess a gun if he or she has been “convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.” This includes any felony under Texas law. And while Texas permits a convicted felon to possess a firearm (at home only) once five years has passed since the discharge of sentence, federal law does not.
2. You Cannot Be a Drug Addict
Federal law prohibits any “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” from owning a firearm. This includes any substance controlled under federal law, such as marijuana. The phrase “unlawful user” is somewhat vague. It does not necessarily bar a one-time or recreational drug user from possessing a gun, but any drug user is at risk for prosecution under this provision.
3. You Cannot Be Declared Mentally Incompetent
Federal law bans anyone “who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” from possessing a firearm. Note the law requires a legal adjudication or committal. It is not necessarily a federal crime for a person who is merely suffering from a mental disorder, such as depression, from owning a weapon.
4. You Cannot Be an Illegal Immigrant
Any non-U.S. citizen who is in the country illegally may not possess a gun. This also includes anyone temporarily in the United States under a nonimmigrant visa, such as a tourist or a foreign student. A lawfully admitted alien may, however, obtain a firearm if he or she possesses a valid hunting license issued by the State of Texas.
5. Your Military Record May Affect Your Rights
Federal law prohibits anyone who has been “discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions” from owning a gun. Note this does not mean you must have a spotless military record. A dishonorable discharge is the result of conviction by a general court-martial for serious offenses, such as desertion, sexual assault, or murder.
6. You Must Still Be a Citizen
If you have “renounced” your United States citizenship, you may no longer legally own a firearm in this country. But renouncing your citizenship is not simply a matter of making an angry post on social media. Indeed, a person can only legally renounce his or her citizenship by filing a written declaration before a U.S. embassy or consular office in a foreign state.
7. There Are Special Rules for Domestic Violence
While most misdemeanor convictions, including first-time drunk driving offenses in Texas, will not automatically prevent you from owning a gun, domestic violence is different. Anyone convicted in a Texas state court of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” is barred from possessing a firearm, as is any person under a civil restraining order issued on behalf of that person’s child or “intimate partner.” The restraining order must contain a finding that the person “represents a credible threat.”
8. No Guns Means No Bullets
If you are disqualified from possessing a firearm under any of the categories listed above, you are also banned from purchasing or owning ammunition. This includes any “cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm.” And there is no minimum amount of ammunition necessary to trigger a prosecution: A person may violate the law by owning a single bullet.
9. Once Lost, You May Never Get Your Gun Rights Back
A felon convicted by a state court can only regain their gun rights under federal law if there has been a full restoration of civil rights at the state level. In practical terms, this means a person convicted of a felony under Texas law must obtain a fall pardon from the governor. These are rarely granted, and as the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles notes, “The criteria for restoration of firearm rights are limited to extreme and unusual circumstances which prevent the applicant from gaining a livelihood.”
10. You Need to Get Legal Help Before It Is Too Late
If you have been charged with a felony in Texas, or face any other legal proceeding that may result in the loss of your gun rights, it is important to seek legal assistance right away. An experienced Collin County criminal defense attorney can fight to protect your rights. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, to speak with a Collin County lawyer today.