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Prosecutions for Selling Firearms to Persons in a Foreign Country


I. Smuggling Goods from the United States

The federal criminal statutes prohibit exporting or selling “goods” to a foreign country that require a license or approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce or other government authority.

These laws are used to prosecute persons who sell items to a foreign country, or to people who are taking them into a foreign country.  Federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Justice use Title 18 U.S. Code §554 to prosecute people who sell or “export” firearms to Mexican citizens who are in Mexico, or persons who are taking firearms to Mexico, or to any foreign country.

II. Federal Smuggling Goods Law

The federal law against “smuggling” (exporting or selling) goods / firearms into foreign countries reads as follows:

“18 U.S. Code §554 – Smuggling goods from the United States

  • In General –

Whoever fraudulently or knowingly exports or sends from the United States, or attempts to export or send from the United States, any merchandise, article, or object contrary to any law or regulation of the United States, or receives, conceals, buys, sells, or in any manner facilitates the transportation, concealment, or sale of such merchandise, article or object, prior to exportation, knowing the same to be intended for exportation contrary to any law or regulation of the United States, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.” 

III. Firearms Sales

Persons are prosecuted under these laws for selling firearms to foreign persons / countries are prosecuted in part because they do not have federal firearms dealer licenses.  Also, persons are prosecuted here because the sales are to foreign countries / foreign national citizens, and further licensing or approval is required.

IV. Firearms Sellers Targeted

Persons who sell firearms to foreign countries or foreign citizens who will use them in foreign countries, are targeted because often firearms sales to foreigners will be used against the interests of the United States.  That is, persons buying or receiving firearms from the United States, may use them against United States law enforcement, especially related to drug trafficking.  Also, these persons may use the firearms against rival traffickers to further criminal activities, or they may use them for other illegal activities.  These cases are prosecuted in federal court by U.S. Attorney’s Offices and/or the U.S. Department of Justice.

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