When Even Ammo Can Get You Into Trouble

Written by Carmen Cornejo

Mariano Meza-Rodriguez got into a nasty bar fight and was arrested on the spot. At some previous moment, it is possible he was in possession of a weapon, but all police could find on him was ammunition for a .22-caliber gun.

He was indicted on a federal charge, convicted and sentenced. After he had served time in prison, Mariano Meza-Rodriguez was deported.

Meza-Rodriguez had long ties to his community but also a troubled past. He was an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. at age 4, grew up in Milwaukee and attended public schools in the area. He had a history of problems with law enforcement that later came to haunt him.

The Second Amendment right to bear arms seems to include broad language, but undocumented immigrants and even DACA recipients need to be aware that federal law says it is a crime for an “illegal alien” to have a gun and restricts firearms possession to citizens and legal residents.

In the United States, the federal law that regulates who can own, manufacture, and transport firearms is called the Gun Control Act.

The Gun Control Act prohibits the possession or ownership of firearms by:

Convicted felons in state or federal courts
All fugitives from justice
Anyone who is addicted or uses any controlled substance
Any mentally ill individual or anyone who has been mentally institutionalized
Dishonorably discharged persons of the United States Armed Forces
“Illegal Aliens”or anyone with a non-immigrant visa 
Anyone who has denounced his or her citizenship of the United States
Anyone with a restraining order against them
Anyone convicted of domestic violence or a misdemeanor

There is no specific language in current law to address deferred action recipients.

As in the case of marijuana, immigrants should note there are different and overlapping laws affecting the possession of firearms, such as federal and state statutes, as well as local ordinances, which are not always in sync.

It is clear that there are a lot of risks involved in possessing even ammunition, let alone firearms, when you are not a legal resident or citizen.

Meza-Rodriguez appealed the conviction. In July 2015, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said even undocumented immigrants can be part of “the people” protected by the Bill of Rights, though it upheld the man’s conviction. This decision was in opposition with four other federal circuit courts on similar rulings related to immigrants and firearms. Legal commentators suggest the issue of whether undocumented immigrants have Second Amendment Rights could now be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meza-Rodriguez, a one-time Milwaukee resident and now a felon, can never return to the U.S.

As always, if you have questions about this issue or are arrested, consult an experienced immigration attorney, and in these type of cases, with extensive experience in criminal law. Here is our guide to selecting a good lawyer.