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The Sale of Firearms Under Federal Law

| Jan 11, 2016 | Criminal Law

The Sale of Firearms Under Federal Law


According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics, there were sixteen active shooter incidents per year in the United States between the years 2009 and 2012. These have included fatal shootings in movie theaters, elementary schools, and political rallies. In response to the latest shooting, President Obama recently announced new federal gun control measures that will be implemented under the authority of executive action. These measures are aimed at curbing the perceived ease with which people have been able to access firearms in the past. Some of these measures also carry federal criminal consequences for violators. It is important to note that these measures are not necessarily new law; they are clarifications of existing law.

Some of the key features of the president’s new proposals include the requirement that anyone involved in the business of the sale of firearms, whether in stores, at gun shows, or over the internet, obtain a license and perform background checks prior to any sales. Currently, the federal penalties for selling guns without a license are imprisonment for up to five years with a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, the FBI will take measures to improve and streamline the background check system to allow access 24/7 and improving notification to local law enforcement when prohibited persons attempt to unlawfully purchase a firearm. Towards this, the FBI will increase the number of employees they have processing background checks.

Some have criticized the president’s proposed new measures arguing that they will not really make a difference in stopping the illegal sales because there are still sufficient loopholes, especially with Internet based sales.

When a License is Required

To address some of these concerns, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will issue a rule clarifying that being in the business of the sale of firearms can mean selling one or two guns. The key factor in the business of selling is whether the person sells the guns with the intent of making a profit or a livelihood off the sale. Sales of firearms from private sellers selling from their personal collections are not often considered business sales if they are for the purposes of liquidating or improving the seller’s firearms collections. However, the circumstances of each case are analyzed to make a proper determination. Private sellers are not required to conduct criminal background checks under federal law when making sales with some exceptions.

Conducting Background Checks

Licensed firearm sellers and others who are required to conduct criminal background checks can access criminal background checks by contacting various local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is supposed to supply background information to licensees immediately as to whether a sale would violate certain federal or state laws. Background checks may come with a fee per check in some cases, and some sellers pass this cost on to the customer.

Contact a Federal Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are a facing New York State or federal firearms offenses charges, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.