The defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence on his 922(a)(5) convictions on two grounds. First, he argued that the government failed to prove that he and the transferee were not residents of the same state. But the Court identified various pieces of circumstantial evidence suggesting that he resided in Alabama, while the transferees resided in other states. Second, he argued, for the first time on appeal, that the government failed to prove that he lacked a firearms license. But the Court, applying a deferential standard, found that it did, relying on the defendant's own testimony.
The defendant challenged the jury instructions for the 922(a)(1)(A) conviction, arguing that the pattern instruction given allowed him to be convicted for conduct not criminalized under the statute. The Court found that the statute was designed to criminalize the selling of guns as a business (whether as the sole means of income or as a side business), but not to criminalize sporadic selling or selling merely to improve or modify a personal collection. The defendant's motivation was the test. The Court agreed with the defendant that, by omitting the exclusion of "hobbyist" firearm dealing, the pattern instruction would allow the jury to convict a defendant for non-criminalized conduct. It recommended that the instruction be modified to clarify that hobbyist activities are excluded. However, the Court found the error harmless in this case, because the evidence reflected that the defendant was not a mere hobbyist, but rather was a savvy dealer who sold weapons on the Dark Web for profit.
Next, the defendant challenged the constitutionality of 922(a)(1) on the ground that it represented a "prior restraint" on his Second Amendment rights by criminalizing unlicensed firearms dealing. The Court rejected that argument, finding that the First Amendment "prior restraint" doctrine does not apply to the Second Amendment, joining five other circuits.
The Court also rejected the defendant's constitutional challenge to 922(a)(5), finding it less burdensome on Second Amendment rights than other statutes it had previously upheld. This statute prohibited only the transfer of a firearm from an unlicensed person in one statute to an unlicensed person in another state, which, unlike other statutes previously upheld, did not completely prohibit the possession or acquisition of a firearm.
Finally, the defendant raised three challenges to the calculation of his guideline range, but the Court found it unnecessary to address them. Because the district court ruled that, even if those challenges were successful, he would have imposed the very same 51-month sentence, any guideline error was harmless. That was so even though the 51-month sentence would have required an upward variance if the guideline challenges were valid. The Court found that this alternative sentence was sufficiently justified and substantively reasonable under the 3553(a) factors.