In January 2020, a federal court judge sentenced a gang member to 17 years in prison. He pled guilty to several charges, including possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon.
Does 17 years seem a bit steep for unlawfully possessing a firearm? It is. This particular individual had the book thrown at him because it wasn’t merely a case of unlawful possession. Federal agents used the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) to link used shell casings from four drive-by shootings to his car and home. How? Firearms, much like fingerprints, are distinct. They leave unique markings on a projectile and cartridge case.
Analysts catalog and convert spent ballistic rounds into 2D and 3D imaging and upload them into the NIBIN database. If other rounds have similar markings (i.e., if they originated from the same gun), the database will identify a “hit.”
As of March 2019, the NIBIN had helped federal agents make 65 arrests in San Antonio since they established a task force in 2017. Federal agents set-up similar task forces in Houston and in other cities across the nation.
The other reason the gang member’s sentence was so lengthy? Remember, he was convicted on multiple charges.
Typically, sentences are served concurrently, or at the same time. So guilty verdicts on three charges, each with penalties of 10 years… really means 10 years total in reality. In this case, though, the judge decided to “stack” the penalties, forcing him to serve his sentences back-to-back rather than concurrently.
Obviously, this was an exceptional case. Despite that, though, don’t assume that “typical” unlawful gun possession charges aren’t extremely serious. Below, we’re going to detail how the law works in Texas and at the federal level.
Texas Unlawful Possession of Firearm Laws
While Texas is one of the most permissive states with regard to gun ownership, its penal code (Sec. 46.01) nonetheless prohibits the following individuals from owning firearms:
- former felons who have been out of prison less than five years
- state employees who are the subject of restraining or protective orders
- individuals the state courts convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence when it has been less than five years since they completed their sentence (community service to prison)
If you are accused of unlawful possession of firearms in Texas, you will face one of two charges depending on the nature of the violation:
Class A misdemeanor: up to one year in jail and/or up to $4,000 in fines.
Felony of the third degree: 2-10 years imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.
Federal Unlawful Possession of Firearm Laws
Federal firearm possession law (18 U.S. Code § 922) is stricter. It prohibits the following individuals from owning firearms:
- individuals the federal courts convicted of any crime punishable by a term of at least one-year imprisonment
- individuals under federal indictment for any crime punishable by a term of at least one-year imprisonment
- veterans the military discharged dishonorably
- illegal U.S. immigrants
- individuals the mental health system adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental health facility
- individuals who renounced their U.S. citizenship
- unlawful users or addicts of any controlled substance
- individuals the court ordered to refrain from stalking, threatening, or harassing a child, intimate partner, or child of an intimate partner
- individuals any court convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime
Federal unlawful possession of a firearm law is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment under general circumstances. However, if the accused has three or more previous felony violence convictions, the penalties start at 15 years imprisonment.
Then there’s the question of what type of gun you have, and what you’re doing when you are arrested with it. Federal guidelines increase prison sentences for anyone who uses a firearm along with a drug-related charge, for example.
This is what happened to the gang member mentioned at the top. He pled guilty to charges under 18 USC § 924 Firearms, which some call the “924(c)” offenses. These involve waving, discharging, or possessing a firearm in connection to a violent or drug-related crime, such as trafficking.
Here are the sentences under that statute:
- using a gun in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: five years-life
- brandishing a gun in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: seven years-life
- discharging a gun in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: 10 years-life
- using a short-barreled shotgun, rifle, or semiautomatic assault weapon in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: 10 years-life
- using a machine gun, muffler, firearm silencer, or destructive device in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: 30 years-life
- any second offense involving a gun in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: 25 years-live
- a second offense and an offense involving a short-barreled shotgun, rifle, or semiautomatic assault weapon in furtherance of a violent crime or drug trafficking crime: life
Call an Experienced Texas Firearm and Weapon Crime Defense Attorney
Federal agents are getting more serious about gun possession laws and the sentences are extremely harsh. Laws always change and seem to get more and more strict. It is possible to beat your weapons charges, but you need a knowledgeable Texas criminal attorney who keeps up-to-date on these changing laws.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.