The Shot Heard Around the World: An Overview of Gun Laws

The Shot Heard Around the World An Overview of Gun Laws - Hammerle Finley Law Firm

The American Revolution began on April 18, 1775, on the common green in Lexington, Massachusetts when the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun while 77 armed minutemen were set upon by 700 British troops.  On July 4, 1776, the Colonies’ Second Continental Congress adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence.  On July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day with bells, fireworks, and bonfires.  The Revolutionary War would continue for another 7 years.

It would be fair to say that firearms have been an integral part of this country’s history.  What better way to mark the 4th of July than to take a look at several key legal principles regarding gun ownership?

Gun laws are composed of a patchwork of state and federal laws.  Under the National Firearms Act (the “NFA”), it is illegal for any person other than a registered owner to possess a Title II firearm.  A “person” includes trusts, corporations and other business entities.  Violators of this law can be convicted of a felony, sentenced up to 10 years in prison and fined up to $250,000.

A Title II firearm, also referenced as an “NFA firearm”  is a machine gun, silencer or suppressor, short-barreled rifle or shotgun, destructive device or any other weapon.   A Title I firearm is a “normal” rifle, shotgun or handgun.

A “prohibited person” can never legally possess any type of firearm or ammunition.  This includes felons, illegal aliens, people who have been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces, people who are subject to certain domestic court orders, people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor for domestic violence, and people who are under indictment for a crime punishable by more than 1 year in jail.

The transfer of an NFA firearm is strictly regulated.  An application, transfer tax payment and completed Responsible Person Questionnaire, plus fingerprints and photographs, must be submitted to the ATF.   The chief local law enforcement officer must be notified.  The transfer cannot take place until the application is returned by the ATF with a tax stamp.

State law may also restrict the ownership, possession, and use of firearms.  New York and California, for example, forbid the possession of a Title II firearm.   Texas allows the possession of a Title II firearm if the person complies with the requirements of the NFA.

Even in states where it is legal when the owner of an NFA firearm dies, there is an immediate problem.  That is because the ATF has determined that possession of the NFA items by a non-registered person is a crime.   Since 1999, the ATF has allowed the heirs a reasonable time to apply for a transfer, but this grace period may be removed at any time.

For that reason, many people choose to hold their NFA firearms in a legally valid gun trust or other business entity.  The organizational documents must contain all of the restrictive languages for NFA firearm ownership.

Gun laws are a moving target.  Make sure you know the law that applies to you.