Not a hunting season goes by that someone doesn’t ask me this question so I figured it would be helpful to put the answer in writing for any convicted felons that might be considering hunting with a muzzle loader.
With respect to federal law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has a handy Top 10 Frequently Asked Questions section on their website. The number 1 question is “Can a person prohibited by law from possessing a firearm acquire and use a black powder muzzle loading firearm?” The ATF’s response is:
The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) prohibits felons and certain other persons from possessing or receiving firearms and ammunition (“prohibited persons”). These categories can be found at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) and (n) in http://atf.gov/publications/download/p/atf-p-5300-4.pdf. However, Federal law does not prohibit these persons from possessing or receiving an antique firearm. The term “antique firearm” means any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898. The definition includes any replica of an antique firearm if it is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or uses rimfire or conventional centerfire ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States, and which is not readily available in ordinary channels of commercial trade. Further, any muzzle loading rifle, shotgun, or pistol which is designed to use black powder or black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition, is an “antique firearm” unless it (1) incorporates a firearm frame or receiver; (2) is a firearm which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon; or (3) is a muzzle loading weapon which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof. See 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3), (a)(16). Thus, a muzzle loading weapon that meets the definition of an “antique firearm” is not a firearm and may lawfully be received and possessed by a prohibited person under the GCA. In addition, the GCA defines the term “ammunition” to mean “ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm.” Because an “antique firearm” is not a “firearm,” it would is lawful for a prohibited person to receive or possess black powder designed for use in an “antique firearm.” Also, the Federal explosives laws do not make it unlawful for a prohibited person to acquire and possess black powder in quantities not exceeding fifty pounds if it is intended to be used solely for sporting, recreational, or cultural purposes in “antique firearms.” See 18 U.S.C. § 845(a)(5) By contrast, a prohibited person may not receive or possess black powder firearms that can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof. ATF has classified certain muzzle loading models as firearms. All of these models incorporate the frame or receiver of a firearm that is capable of accepting barrels designed to fire conventional rimfire or centerfire fixed ammunition. These muzzle loading models do not meet the definition of “antique firearm” as that term is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16), and are “firearms” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3). Furthermore, as firearms, these and similar models, regardless of the barrel installed on the firearm or provided with the firearm, are subject to all provisions of the GCA. Persons who purchase these firearms from licensed dealers are required to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, ATF Form 4473, and are subject to a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check. Felons and other prohibited persons may not lawfully receive or possess these firearms or ammunition.
The following is a list of weapons that load from the muzzle and are classified as firearms, not antiques, under the GCA, because they incorporate the frame or receiver of a firearm:
- Savage Model 10ML (early, 1st version)
- Mossberg 500 shotgun with muzzle loading barrel
- Remington 870 shotgun with muzzle loading barrel
- Mauser 98 rifle with muzzle loading barrel
- SKS rifle with muzzle loading barrel
- PB sM10 pistol with muzzle loading barrel
- H&R/New England Firearm Huntsman
- Thompson Center Encore/Contender
- Rossi .50 muzzle loading rifle
This list is not complete and frequently changes. There may be other muzzle loaders also classified as firearms. As noted, any muzzle loading weapon that is built on a firearm frame or receiver falls within the definition of a firearm provided in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3). Finally, even though a prohibited person may lawfully possess an antique firearm under Federal law, State or local law may classify such weapons as “firearms” subject to regulation. Any person considering acquiring a black powder weapon should contact his or her State Attorney General’s Office to inquire about the laws and possible State or local restrictions. A list of State Attorney General contact numbers may be found at www.naag.org.
As referenced in the third to the last sentence above, a state may also classify muzzle loaders as firearms subject to regulation. That is exactly what an Attorney General’s opinion does in Mississippi. See 2004 WL 555121 (Miss.A.G.) Opinion No. 2004-0043, dated February 13, 2004. The opinion states:
Office of the Attorney General
State of Mississippi
Opinion No. 2004–0043
February 13, 2004
Re: Possession of Weapons by Felon
Honorable Mark A. Maples
George County Prosecutor
362 Summer Street
Lucedale, Mississippi 39452
Dear Mr. Maples:
Attorney General Jim Hood has received your letter of request and has assigned it to me for research and reply. Your letter states:
Sheriff Garry Welford and I hve recently been asked a question about a convicted felon and a firearm, and we pose the following question:
Section 97-37-5 of the Mississippi Code, 1972, as amended provides:
“(1) It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of this State, any other State, or the United States, to possess any firearm…”.
An individual in George County was previously convicted of burglary of a building and accessory after the fact to armed robbery. He received an eight-year and four-year sentence, respectively, and served a period of ten years before being discharged from the Department of Corrections custody. He is no on any type of parole or Department of Corrections supervision at this time. He wishes to hunt using a muzzle loading rifle or muzzle loading shotgun or bow and arrow.
Our question is this: Can a convicted felon possess (and consequently hunt) with a muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, a traditional bow and arrow, or a cross bow?
In response, Mississippi Code Annotated Section 97-37-5 provides:
(1) It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of this state, any other state, or of the United States to possess any firearm or any bowie knife, dirk knife, butcher knife, switchblade knife, metallic knuckles, blackjack, or any muffler or silencer for any firearm unless such person has received a pardon for such felony, has received a relief from disability pursuant to Section 925(c) of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, or has received a certificate of rehabilitation pursuant to subsection (3) of this section.
(2) Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or committed to the custody of the State Department of Corrections for not more than three (3) years, or both.
(3) A person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of this state may apply to the court in which he was convicted for a certificate of rehabilitation. The court may grant such certificate in its discretion upon a showing to the satisfaction of the court that the applicant has been rehabilitated and has led a useful, productive and law-abiding life since the completion of his sentence and upon the finding of the court that he will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.
The above quoted statute prohibits a convicted felon from possessing of any “firearm” among other weapons. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “firearm” as:
An instrument used in the propulsion of shot, shell or bullets by the action of gunpowder exploded within it. A weapon which acts by force of gunpowder. The word comprises all sorts of guns, fowling pieces, blunderbusses, pistols, etc.
It is the opinion of this office that a muzzle loading rifle or a muzzle loading shotgun is within the meaning of the term “firearm” as used in Mississippi Code Annotated Section 97-37-5. However, the statute does not include weapons such as a traditional bow and arrow or crossbow. Therefore, a convicted felon may possess (and consequently hunt with) a traditional bow and arrow or crossbow.
If we may be of further service to you, let us know.
Very truly yours,
By: David K. Scott
Special Assistant Attorney General
Long story short, while the ATF is ok with felons possessing some black powder muzzle loaders under federal law, felons are prohibited from possessing any type of muzzle loader under Mississippi state law. If you have been convicted of a felony and intend to hunt in Mississippi, you are limited to the use of a bow or crossbow unless you have received a pardon for the felony, have received a relief from disability pursuant to Section 925(c) of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, or have received a certificate of rehabilitation pursuant to subsection (3) of 97-37-5.