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Munitions Offense

If you are accused of an ammunition offense, it is considered a federal crime and can result in an arrest and trial that become high stakes. An experienced lawyer will be critical in helping you to avoid prison time and a criminal record.

Laws regarding gun ownership in the United States can be controversial and involve a number of complex nuances. However, these laws apply to guns themselves- ammunition is actually controlled through an entirely separate set of regulations. These laws, also known as munition laws, exist at both the federal and state level and can carry severe consequences. They cover the sale, purchase, and possession of ammunition. The U.S. government defines ammunition as cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm. If you violate laws regarding any of these items, it is crucial to have a knowledgeable defense attorney on your side.

Federal Munitions Law

In the past, firearms and ammunition were regulated in the same way, but over time the laws have evolved to be separate. Current federal law only restricts ammunition as it relates to the sale or purchase by certain categories of people and prohibition of one particular form of ammunition.

Any person engaged in the import or manufacturing of ammunition must obtain a license to do so through the Attorney General. However, no license is required to sell, purchase, or possess ammunition.

Prohibited Purchasers

Any group that is prohibited under federal law from purchasing or owning a gun is also prohibited from purchasing and owning ammunition. However, the seller is not required to perform a background check on anyone purchasing ammunition to determine if they meet these guidelines. A person is prohibited from owning or buying ammunition if they:

  • Have been convicted of or indicted for federal crimes punishable by at least one year of prison, state crimes that are not misdemeanors and are punishable by at least one year of prison, and state crimes that are misdemeanors and are punishable by more than two years in prison
  • Are a fugitive from justice
  • Are an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.” This refers to federal law, meaning those who use marijuana legally in their state are prohibited.
  • Are underage
  • Have been deemed by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or lacking the capacity to manage their own affairs
  • Have been involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse facility by a lawful authority
  • Are unlawfully in the United States or has been admitted via a non-immigrant Visa
  • Have been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Have renounced U.S. Citizenship
  • Are subject to an active restraining order
  • Have been convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence

Prohibited Ammunition

The only form of ammunition that is prohibited by federal law is known as armor-piercing ammunition. The manufacture, importation, sale, or delivery of this ammunition is illegal, with very few exceptions. Where it is allowed, strict records must be kept of any transfer of these products.

Also known as metal-piercing ammunition, these items are any ammunition designed to penetrate metal or armor, including body armor commonly worn by police officers. Federal law defines armor-piercing ammunition as any projectile or projectile core that may be used in a handgun and is constructed entirely from one or a combination of these substances: tungsten, alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, depleted uranium. It is further defined as a full jacketed projectile larger than .22 caliber that is designed and intended for use in a handgun whose jacket has a weight of more than 25% of the total weight of the projectile.

Local Laws

Only six states have separate laws regulating ammunition sales and requiring a background check in order to purchase ammunition: California, New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Other states have additional restrictions surrounding licensing and record keeping. Georgia does not have any additional regulations regarding ammunition sales.

Some cities or counties have additional laws. For example, law enforcement agencies in Sacramento and Los Angeles have local recordkeeping ordinances surrounding ammunition separate from those in California. They are able to use these records to compare ammunition sales against the state’s felony database to identify violations and prosecute criminals.

Penalties for Munition Offenses

Depending on the specific part of ammunition law that was broken, the legal consequences can range from mild to severe.

When a prohibited person is found to be in possession of ammunition, they can face up to ten years in prison, as stated in 18 USC S 922(g) and (n). If the offender has three or more prior convictions for felony violence or drug trafficking, they can also receive a minimum sentence of fifteen years imprisonment without the possibility of parole. If the ammunition is found to be stolen, an additional ten years imprisonment can be sentenced.

There are separate charges for knowingly selling, giving, or giving access to ammunition to a prohibited person with up to 10 years imprisonment possible. If certain ammunitions are sold, delivered, or transferred to a minor, there is a 1-year imprisonment. If the transferor believes the juvenile could commit a crime of violence, this is escalated to 10 years.

Violation of the law as it relates to armor-piercing ammunition carries a potential five years imprisonment in addition to a $5,000 fine.

Defending Against Ammunition Charges

The laws surrounding ammunition require that the defendant possessed, sold, transferred, manufactured, or imported the items knowingly and intentionally. If you did not know that what you possessed was ammunition, did not know it was being transferred, or were unaware of these laws, you cannot be found guilty of these crimes.

Because there are no federal laws requiring background checks for ammunition transactions, it is very common that sellers are not aware they are violating the law. A felon, non-citizen, or minor could easily purchase ammunition without being identified as a prohibited person- their possession of the product would be illegal, but the person who sold it to them could reasonably argue they were not aware of breaking the law during the transaction.

It is also important to remember that federal law will trump state law. This is why being a marijuana user is still grounds to be prohibited from ammunition possession, even if you live in a state where marijuana use is not illegal- it is illegal at the federal level and will be considered part of the case. Some states may have laws that would allow for ammunition to be sold to the defendant, but if the federal law does not, the charges are valid.

Many cases can also be argued on the grounds of how the possession was discovered. If ammunition is discovered during unlawful search and seizure or without the proper warrant, a defense attorney can argue that it is not valid evidence and have charges dismissed. Additionally, if there is not strong evidence during the discovery tying you to the ammunition, your attorney can create reasonable doubt that it was your ammunition.

A good criminal defense attorney will be able to investigate all circumstances of the ammunition charge to help build a case and create reasonable doubt surrounding your guilt.

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