Have you ever been convicted in any Court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?
The incorrect answer to that question by otherwise law abiding citizens when trying to purchase a firearm has created an entirely new wave of criminal cases within Pennsylvania. What do I mean? Well, numerous individuals every single month are being charged with “Sale or Transfer of Firearms – Materially False Statement” because they check the “no” box when presented with that question.
How is this happening? Well, let’s look at it from this perspective, because this is the most common scenario. John decides he’s going to purchase a firearm from Gander Mountain, Dick’s Sporting Good, or any other local retailer of firearms. As part of the purchase process he has to fill out a form which, among numerous other questions, asks the question I put forward at the top. John, a hard working family man who just enjoys hunting and fishing with his children, checks the “no” box. He hasn’t been involved with the law since those two quick DUI’s he got just after graduating from high school. It wasn’t that big a deal then and it was so long ago now that he barely remembers it ever happened. No big deal, right?
Wrong. If one of those charges carried a maximum possible sentence of more than one year of incarceration, which is not uncommon with some DUI’s, then by answering “no” he was lying. To put it more bluntly in the eyes of law enforcement, he was making a “materially false statement”. And, unfortunately, law enforcement rarely if ever investigates the case in order to makes a determination as to whether the person purposefully lied on the application as opposed to simply making a good faith mistake. Rather, they will often simply file charges and let it play itself out at the preliminary hearing or later.
As a result, the likely best case scenario creates a situation where John will be charged, he’ll hire an attorney, and that attorney will resolve the case in an appropriate manner before it creates issues with his employer and before the case goes to the Court of Common Pleas. But, worst case scenario, he loses his job, the case proceeds to the Court of Common Pleas and John is at risk of a significant criminal record or even incarceration.
Now, the reality is, with competent counsel, it is likely the outcome will be closer to the best case scenario than the worst case scenario. But, it won’t happen overnight and those are sleepless nights and monetary expenses you won’t get back. So, the moral of the story is to be very careful when filling out the paperwork before purchasing a firearm. If you gloss over it like so many often do, it can be life altering in a way you never imagined. As I said in the title, it can quickly become a nightmare scenario of buyer’s remorse.