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Felon Friendly Firearms

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Characters are carrying illegal weapons, but there are no legal consequences for this even though there really should be.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
AnneFrankFanfiction on Jul 11th 2018 at 11:44:59 AM
Last Edited By:
MarqFJA on Jul 19th 2018 at 8:03:32 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A heroic police detective is determined to get his man. He works long hours. He goes the extra mile. He expends considerable personal time and resources to find anything he can use to put the villain behind bars. He might even be willing to bend the law himself.

But what he usually won't do is arrest the suspect for felony possession of a firearm.

In reality, people with a felony record are generally prohibited by American federal law from owning firearms, with a penalty of up to ten years in prison or potentially fifteen with a sentence enhancement. Many states have laws of their own that may give heavier sentences. People possessing guns that have been illegally modified (e.g. the defacement of serial numbers, or unlawfully making a semi-automatic weapon fully automatic) face similar penalties.

In fiction, however, meaningful restrictions from possessing firearms would make it harder to move the story along, and putting the villain in prison for something that is basically a job requirement would make things too easy. Giving the villain a clean record would presumably hurt his credibility, so that out is almost never taken. Criminals in fiction seem to like defacing the serial numbers of their weapons for similar reasons, since there is almost never any actual benefit to them doing this.

As such, law enforcement in fiction seem to adopt some kind of selective blindness to felons in possession of firearms, or of people in general owning firearms they shouldn't. Sometimes it will be lampshaded with banter about how the criminal in question could be arrested on the spot and sent to prison for potentially more than a decade, but this will almost never actually happen—at worst, it will be used as an excuse to confiscate the firearm for the time being. Sometimes the criminal will make up some Blatant Lies about how they just happened to find the weapon and were just on their way to turn it over to the authorities. But most often, nothing at all will be said of the blatant violation of firearm laws.


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    Live Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad
    • Lampshaded. A black market arms dealer notes that the weapons he sells have had their serial numbers chemically destroyed, and that carrying such a weapon opens Walt up to massive criminal penalties which he could avoid by simply going to a legitimate dealer.
    • As a habitual drug user, Jesse is a prohibited person under federal firearms legislation just as much as a felon would be, yet he keeps a gun in a drawer in his kitchen where anyone with a search warrant could find it, and sometimes carries it on his person. Nothing ever comes of this, nor does anyone, even his lawyer, ever mention it.
  • Played straight throughout the entirety of Justified. Raylan constantly sees his arch-nemesis Boyd blatantly carrying firearms, but never arrests him for it despite having sworn to put him away. Same for Arlo, Raylan's father.
  • In effect for the entirety of Sons of Anarchy.
    • Most, if not all, of the club members seem to have criminal records, but they do nothing at all to hide the fact that they regularly carry and stockpile weapons, including fully-automatic submachine guns, machine pistols, and assault rifles. At one point the local lieutenant of the Sheriff's Office bars them from wearing their "gang" uniforms pending their parole, which they begrudgingly comply with for a few episodes, but they continue carrying weapons and no one ever says anything about it. Made particularly egregious by the fact that they had just been released from an extraordinarily short prison sentence for a crime involving automatic weapons.
    • Gemma carries and stockpiles—in a hat box in her closet—pistols with defaced serial numbers, and advises Tara to do the same. She gives no explanation for why she thinks this is a good idea. When Gemma is reported for brazenly threatening a woman with one of these weapons, the Chief of Police exasperatingly tells her that he "has to" take the gun, but takes no other action.
  • The Sopranos
    • Inverted in one episode. When inside information alerts them to an impending search of their home, Tony and Carmella do a sweep of the house, disposing of all firearms. Later on, when Tony realises that he's stumbled into the scene of a police raid, he discards his personal firearm and runs.
    • In general, though, the characters all seem pretty brazen about carrying weapons for career criminals who are under constant surveillance, and Tony really had no reason to keep automatic weapons in his home—a single surprise search would have landed him in prison for life.

Feedback: 11 replies

Jul 11th 2018 at 11:56:53 AM

The Punisher often goes after illegal arms deals, both to prevent their ending up in the hands of criminals and to keep his own arsenal stocked up. In one story, he ends up going after people dealing military-grade (anti-tank missiles and night-vision goggles, among others) after interrupting a deal. While he hasn't been arrested specifically for illegally carrying a weapon, he has more obvious reasons to be arrested.

Jul 11th 2018 at 8:11:43 PM

The trope is where characters are carrying illegal weapons, but there are no legal consequences for this even though there really should be. EG in the case of Justified, Raylan is determined to send Boyd and Arlo to prison, but never thinks to arrest them on any of the numerous occasions he finds them carrying weapons illegally.

Jul 11th 2018 at 8:51:35 PM

Now I get it. I just quoted your summary for the laconic.

Jul 12th 2018 at 4:25:09 AM

  • Corrected spelling (EG -> e.g.).
  • Examples section
    • Put a blank line between the "——" and "Examples" so the line will display.
    • Changed unnecessary double curly braces in work titles to Camel Case.
    • Corrected multiple illegal Example Indentations. Warning: this rules violation can result in being suspended from editing.
    • Changed first The Sopranos example to "Inverted". As per Averted Tropes, averted examples are only allowed on Omnipresent Tropes and aversion-only tropes.
    • Added [[/folder]] at the end of media section folders so they will display properly.

Jul 12th 2018 at 6:57:08 AM

  • In Life Is Strange:
    • Nathan Prescott is first seen shooting someone dead (she gets better) with a gun. It's soon established that he's dealing (and possibly drugging and kidnapping or worse) other students. But the possibility of getting him arrested or expelled for the gun never comes upnote  , even when he continues to brandish it in public with multiple witnesses. Justified, since his dad is leaning on Wells to keep his son's erratic behaviour covered up.
    • Inverted by Frank, a known drug dealer, who only ever threatens people with a switchblade for this reason, and played straight by Chloe (who starts carrying a gun after the aforementioned incident with Nathan, despite barely getting away with her troublemaking).

Jul 12th 2018 at 7:35:39 AM

Corrected a pothole in the description.

Jul 12th 2018 at 9:58:10 AM

Hmm, current title is okay, but maybe we can do better.

Jul 18th 2018 at 2:00:42 PM

Open to suggestions on the title. Thanks for help with formatting, I've never written one of these before.

Jul 19th 2018 at 8:03:32 AM

Averted in the Ellery Queen novel The Dutch Shoe Mystery. At one point, some crooks are found in the hospital guarding their boss (a patient). Inspector Queen and the other cops are absolutely delighted that those crooks were carrying guns and could thus be arrested. They had nothing to do with the murder being investigated.