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  • Writer's picturePhil Nelsen

Accidental Felon: 5 Serious Gun Crimes Most Gun Owners Have Never Heard About

As any gun owner can attest, knowing and understanding the complex spiderweb of gun laws in this country is not easy. Unlike laws regulating most conduct, the laws regulating firearms vary greatly from state to state, and sometimes even city to city. As such, it is essential that all gun owners know the law. That's easier said than done, however. Watch the above video and then read below for more information about 5 serious firearm laws most gun owners have never heard about.

Crime #1: Driving Through a School Zone

THE LAW - 18 U.S.C.A. 922(q)(2)(a)

It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm.. At a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe is a school zone.

Plain Talk Explanation:

The Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act (GFSZA) makes it a felony to possess a firearm anywhere within a school zone. The term “school zone” means in, or on the grounds of, a public, parochial or private school; or within a distance of 1,000 feet from the grounds of a public, parochial or private school. The term “school” means a school which provides elementary or secondary education, as determined under State law (see 18 U.S.C.A. § 921).

There are a few narrow exceptions to this law:

  • If you are on a private property not part of school grounds

  • If the individual possessing the firearm is licensed to do so by the State in which the school zone is located.

  • If the gun is not loaded; and in a locked container, or a locked firearms rack that is on a motor vehicle. 

Imagine you have a permit from Utah which is valid in Idaho (through reciprocity), but was not issued by Idaho. This means this federal law is in full force against you and if you drive within 1,000 feet of any K-12 school in Idaho you have committed a very serious federal crime. The penalty for violating this law is not a slap on the wrist, it can mean 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Remember, your permit only exempts you from the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act if your permit was issued by the state in which the school was located. Just because your permit is honored (through reciprocity) by that state is not enough. If you are in a state where your permit was not issued your firearm must be unloaded and locked in a container (or rack) every time you drive within 1,000 feet of a school. The ATF has repeatedly clarified that the law really does mean what it says, and failing to abide by it (absurd as it may be) could find you in serious trouble.

“The license must be issued by the State in which the school zone is located… a concealed weapons license or permit from any other state would not satisfy the criteria.” (source)

Constitutional Carriers Beware!

This means if you are carrying a firearm without a permit (i.e. in a state where a permit is not required), this federal law in full force against you.

Crime #2: Buying/Receiving A Gun From Someone Out Of State

THE LAW - 18 U.S.C.A. 922(a)(3)

It shall be unlawful for any person… to transport into or receive in the State where he resides… any firearm purchased or otherwise obtained by such person outside that state.

Plain Talk Explanation:

It is a felony to purchase, or receive, any firearm (rifle, handgun or shotgun) from any private party (non-dealer) who resides in another state than you. This includes family members.

So if you live in Idaho, drive to your grandpa’s house in Montana, he gives you a shotgun as a gift, and you drive back to your home in Idaho with it, you have now committed a federal crime.

There Are Only 3 Exceptions:

  • Grandpa dies and leaves the gun to you in his estate

  • Grandpa loans or rents you the shotgun for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes

  • Grandpa gave you the shotgun prior to June 19, 1968

If none of these apply you must ship all serialized firearms through a federally licensed dealer.

Crime #3: Going to California (Seriously)

THE LAW- Cal. Penal Code §32310

Any person in this state who… imports into the state… any large-capacity magazine is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or [felony] imprisonment…

Plain Talk Explanation:

It can be a FELONY to simply import a MAGAZINE capable of accepting more than 10 rounds into the state of California. Even without having any firearms or ammunition, merely bringing a magazine capable of accepting more than 10 rounds into the state of California can be enough to get a gun owner charged. And in case you were wondering, California can charge you for each magazine as a separate crime. See: People v. Sun, 148 Cal, App. 4th 374, 378, 55 Cal, Rprt, 3d 696, 699 (2007)

This is only one of the MANY examples of California state laws that can get a gun owner in legal trouble.

Crime #4: Going to the Post Office

THE LAW - 39 C.F.R. 232.1(I)

Weapons and explosives. Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, rule or regulation, no person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes..

Plain Talk Explanation:

In 1972, the Postal Service enacted 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(l), which makes it a federal crime to carry a firearm into a post office building, and also prohibits firearm possession (or storage) anywhere on postal property.  A violation of this regulation may result in a $5,000 fine, imprisonment up to thirty days, or both. Although it is rarely enforced with regards to USPS parking lots, there are several cases of unfortunate self-defense enthusiasts getting hit with charges for merely storing firearms in their vehicles on postal property.

38 years after the USPS enacted their prohibition against firearms, one brave Colorado resident named Tab Bonidy wrote a letter to his local post office in Avon, Colorado (population 6,365) asking them if he would be prosecuted for carrying his firearm onto the post office property. Legal counsel for the post office responded with a resounding yes, stating:

“The regulations governing Conduct on Postal Property prevent [Mr. Bonidy] from carrying firearms, openly or concealed, onto any real property under the charge and control of the Postal Service…. There are limited exceptions to this policy that would not apply here.”

Tab Bonidy sued the USPS arguing the prohibition on storage of firearms on USPS property was unconstitutional in violation of the Second Amendment. He lost his case and the prohibition stands. See: Tab Bonidy: National Association for Gun Rights, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants v. Bonidy v. U.S. Postal Serv., 790 F.3d 1121 (10th Cir. 2015) cert denied, 136 S. Ct. 1406, 194 L. Ed. 2d 550 (2016)

Next time you go to USPS property, make sure you park somewhere off-property and don't take your firearm out of your vehicle. Or better yet, use another parcel delivery service.

Crime #5: Going Camping (on Army Corp of Engineers Property)

THE LAW: 36 C.F.R. 327.13

The possession of loaded firearms, ammunition, loaded projectile firing devices, bows and arrows, crossbows, or other weapons is prohibited [on Corp of Engineers Property]

Plain Talk Explanation:

Since 1973 it has been illegal to possess a loaded firearm, ammunition or other "projectile firing devices" on any of the over 700 Army Corp of Engineers properties.

There Are Only 4 Exceptions:

  • If you are a Federal, state or local law enforcement officer;

  • It is being used for hunting and is unloaded when transported to, from or between hunting sites;

  • It is being used at authorized shooting ranges; or

  • You have written permission from the Corp of Engineers

In 2014 an Idaho District Court ruled that the Army Corp of Engineers ban on possession of loaded firearms violated the Second Amendment. An appeal has been filed and is awaiting a hearing before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and so for now we must wait for it to work its way through the system. See: Morris v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 60 F. Supp. 3d 1120 (D. Idaho 2014)


There are over 20,000 state, federal and municipal gun laws in America. Legal Heat specializes in helping you understand these laws through their in-person and online classes, books and mobile phone app. Legal Heat offers CCW classes nationwide, and also publishes the industry leading Legal Heat 50 State Guide to Firearm Laws and Regulations which can be downloaded on iTunes, GooglePlay and Kindle App stores. You can purchase the paperback version of the Legal Heat 50 State Guide or sign up for a class by visiting or by clicking here.

Phil Nelsen is a nationally recognized firearms law attorney, expert witness, college professor, author and co-founder of Legal Heat, the nation’s largest firearms training firm.

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