Illegally-obtained firearms often show up in federal drug crimes and conspiracies, so it should come as no surprise that the federal government is very interested in the prosecution of gun trafficking. These activities are commonly prosecuted under 18 USC 922 and 18 USC 554.
The Iron Pipeline
The ATF estimates that around 50,000 guns are being diverted to criminals across state lines every year. The ATF also attributes a great deal of illegal gun trafficking to the Iron Pipeline, which is the I-95 corridor stretching from the Southern United States to the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.
What Is Gun Trafficking?
Texas Penal Code 46.14 prohibits the smuggling of firearms, which means knowingly taking part in the business of transferring or transporting a firearm that the individuals know was bought in violation of either federal or Texas law. A person is considered to engage in the business of transporting or transferring firearms if the individual takes part in such conduct on multiple occasions, or if they do it for profit, etc. This is a third degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Gun trafficking is the diversion of guns from a lawful commerce stream into the illegal market. Broadly speaking, gun trafficking includes the following:
A straw purchaser is someone who buys a firearm for another person, most often because the other person is unable to pass a federal background check or does not want their name associated with the gun. We will discuss straw purchasers in detail in this article as it is the primary focus of federal prosecutors.
Federal law prohibits a person who is not a gun dealer from selling their guns online, at gun shows, or anywhere else. The licensing requirement exists so the Government knows that only individuals who are legally eligible to purchase a firearm are given the opportunity to do so.
Believe it or not, licensed firearms dealers are linked to a large amount of illegally-diverted guns in the world today. While most gun dealers strictly adhere to federal laws governing the sale of firearms, some sell firearms “off the books” and use their knowledge of federal firearm laws to subvert detection.
Selling Guns Online / Smuggling Firearms
Sometimes guns are sold online without documentation through the Dark Web using the Tor Browser. If a person is caught illegally selling firearms online, they may be prosecuted for a variety of firearm offenses including, most commonly, for possessing a firearm from which the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed, altered and obliterated, which was shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 922(k) and 924(a)(1)(B). Exporting a gun from which the manufacturer’s serial number is removed is violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 554.
Smuggling firearms from the United States is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
What is a Straw Purchase in Gun Sales?
A straw purchase occurs when one person uses someone else (the straw purchaser) to file all the necessary paperwork for the purchase of a gun without disclosing who the firearm is actually being purchased for. A gun dealer is required to have a Federal Firearm License (FFL) to sell gun, and they must have a completed ATF Form 4473 for each sale. Form 4473 provides the Government with information about the purchaser of the gun. Making a false statement on Form 4473 is a federal offense. Straw purchasers are prosecuted under Title 18, United States Code, Sections 924(a)(1)(A) and 2 for making a false statement on Form 4473.
Form 4473 also warns applicants that they must be the actual buyer and the dealer cannot transfer the firearm to you if you are not the actual buyer. In fact, in Abramski v. United States, the Supreme Court decided it irrelevant whether the straw purchaser purchased the firearm for someone who is legally eligible to purchase the firearm for themselves.
That being said, most straw purchases are made for individuals who are prohibited from purchasing firearms themselves. This is a major problem that the ATF and so the Legislature has imposed harsh penalties for straw purchases.
Purchasing a gun for another person who is prohibited from possessing a firearm is a federal criminal offense that can be punished by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Both federal and Texas law allows prosecutors to seize and forfeit assets of individuals charged with a violation of gun trafficking or smuggling laws. This includes taking any money or bank accounts prosecutors can allege are the “proceeds” of illegal activity.
Learn More About Federal Firearm Trafficking Laws in Fort Worth
If you are facing allegations or are simply looking to learn more about federal gun trafficking laws in Fort Worth and throughout Texas, consult a qualified attorney today.