Being a Felon In Possession of a Weapon Is a Federal Crime

Most people in Iowa probably know that convicted felons are prohibited from owning guns. But many people may not realize that a convicted felon in possession of a weapon can be prosecuted in federal court, even if the original felony was a state court conviction.

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Federal law prohibits anyone from owning a gun if they have been convicted of a crime that carries a penalty of imprisonment for more than one year. The underlying crime does not have to be a violent crime; the only felonies excluded from the statute are crimes involving the antitrust laws and similar laws regulating business conduct.

The statute excludes convictions for most offenses that are classified as misdemeanors under state law. Thus, an OWI conviction in Iowa cannot be the basis for a federal firearms possession charge. A misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, however, will result in a federal firearms ban.

The definition of "firearm" is broad and is not limited to handguns. Thus, a convicted felon is prohibited from owning a hunting rifle or a shotgun under federal law. The only exception in the federal statute is antique firearms. A convicted felon does not even have to possess a complete firearm to fall under the statute; possession of the frame (also known as the receiver) is sufficient. The statute prohibits possession of not only guns, but ammunition and silencers.

Federal firearms laws are strict and federal prosecutors pursue these cases aggressively. There are possible defenses to these charges, however. The law requires knowledge of possession; thus, if police arrest a convicted felon and find a gun in the home, it is a defense to assert that the gun belonged to someone else and the defendant did not know it was there.

Source: Cornell University Law School, "18 U.S. Code § 922 - Unlawful acts," accessed Nov. 1, 2015

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