Can I ever own a gun if I am charged with a felony?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I was charged with a nonviolent felony in the State of Oregon. It has been more than seven years, and I have not committed any other crime. I am wondering whether I can ever own a gun so I can hunt?” 

A felony conviction is considered a serious offense in every state. Not only do you suffer severe fines and penalties, including a potential prison sentence, you also will lose the right or have the following rights seriously curtailed:

  • The right to vote
  • The right to travel to a foreign country
  • The right to serve on a jury
  • The right to work in certain fields of employment
  • The right to certain public and social benefits
  • The right to custody of your child
  • The right to own and bear arms

Now, you specifically asked about the right to bear arms and own a gun. Let’s take a closer look at that question.

Felony charges and current gun ownership laws

Although the National Firearms Act was passed in 1934, making it illegal for violent felons to own a gun. In 1968 the Gun Control Act was also passed, expanding the law and making it illegal for all felons to own a gun. With these two acts currently in place, it is illegal for a convicted felon to own a gun.

With that said, however, there are a few loopholes to the law where a convicted nonviolent felon may be eligible to own a gun.

  1. Have your felony expunged. A felony expungement can set aside your conviction, allowing for the ban on gun ownership to be lifted.
  2. Commit a felony which is exempted from the law. Specifically, your felony may be exempted from the law under 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(20)(A). Felonies which are exempted include “any Federal or State offenses pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices.”
  3. Request a waiver of disability from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Under a 1965 amendment to the federal Firearms Act of 1938, it is possible for some felons to apply to the ATF for relief from the act. To get relief you will have to convince the ATF that you are not a public safety risk.
  4. Be convicted of a crime which is punishable for less than one year. Although it is rare for a convicted felon to receive a prison sentence for less than one year, it might be possible.
  5. Review whether your state allows a cleansing period for gun ownership. Although it’s uncommon, there are a few states which allow a nonviolent felon to own a gun after they have finished what is termed a “cleansing period.” To qualify they cannot be convicted of any additional felonies. *Review Note
  6. Receive a pardon. Although this is very rare, if you were to receive a presidential or governor’s pardon you could reinstate your rights to bear arms. For example, in the state of Louisiana there are on average a few dozen pardons offered each year by the state’s governor.

Note: There are instances where state laws run afoul of federal laws. For example, according to the Louisiana Expungement Assistance and Advocacy Center, there are times when a felon may be allowed to legally possess a firearm under Louisiana State law but would be barred under federal firearm laws (i.e. after an applicant obtains an expungement for a non-violent crime that was sentenced under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure Article 893 and which is also more than 10 years after completion of sentence). Unfortunately, although it is rare, if you did legally own a firearm under your state’s law the federal authorities may still decide to prosecute you for violating federal laws.

Bottom line:

It is very difficult for any convicted felon to ever own a firearm, but in some states, under certain conditions, it might be possible. 


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