Recently, one of my clients was charged with a low-level felony. During our conversation, I learned that he enjoyed hunting, and we eventually started talking about whether he could possess a firearm.
In the context of criminal law, Mississippi law is clear that the only time an adult cannot possess a firearm is if they are a convicted felon, meaning that they’ve been convicted of a felony crime in either federal court, Mississippi circuit court, or in another state where the crime is considered a felony. Even then, a person can have their gun rights restored in certain circumstances. Under Mississippi law, even if a person has been charged with a felony or has already been indicted, they can still possess a firearm, at least until the moment that they become a convicted felon.
But there’s a wrinkle: federal law. Under federal law, it is unlawful for any person to possess a firearm if they are a convicted felon OR if they are under indictment. In other words, if a person has been indicted, even in state court, they may be arrested and charged for violating federal law if they are found with a firearm.
Here’s an example: Jim has been charged with commercial burglary. A week after bonding out, he is stopped by a local sheriff’s deputy, and the deputy sees that Jim has a hunting rifle in the backseat of his truck. Can the deputy charge Jim with unlawfully possessing a gun? Likely not, because Jim has not violated any state law. The same would be true if Jim had already been indicted for commercial burglary. Naturally, this leads to another question, which is whether the deputy can charge Jim with violating federal law? The same result, but the reason is that as a sheriff’s deputy, his job is to enforce state law, not federal law.
Let’s change up the facts. Instead of it being a sheriff’s deputy, it’s an FBI agent. Can the FBI agent arrest Jim for violating federal law when Jim has not been indicted yet? The answer is no because Jim isn’t under indictment; however, if Jim HAS been indicted for commercial burglary, then Jim has likely violated federal law, and the FBI agent could possibly arrest and charge Jim with a federal crime.
Here’s the thing to remember - there is absolutely nothing wrong with a person having a gun, as long as they are legally able to do so. The problem is when a particular person is facing criminal charges or an indictment. If a person is merely charged but not indicted, then there really is no issue; however, if a person has been indicted, that’s when they need to be very careful. While Mississippi law does not keep an indicted person from having a firearm, federal law is much harsher and does make it a crime for a person to have one post-indictment.