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Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

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  • Writer's pictureParviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

How the FBI Learns When an American Renounces U.S. Citizenship

By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

The FBI Learns of An American's Renunciation of U.S. Citzienship from the U.S. Consulates

In one of my research rabbit holes, I learned how the FBI learns of the status of U.S. citizens who have renounced U.S. citizenship.

It's through information sharing started with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in May, 1998 between the Consular Affairs department of the U.S. department of state and the FBI. The U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) section 7 FAM 1244 gives a mini roadmap:

First, the U.S. citizen renounces at a U.S. consulate abroad.

Then, the Directorate of Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) shares the fact of renunciation to the FBI via the "Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) data" shared with the FBI.

Here’s the explanatory language from the FAM:

"c.  The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Directorate of Passport Services (CA/PPT) and the FBI entered into an interagency agreement (1998 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)) on the sharing of information concerning renunciants (persons who lose U.S. citizenship under 8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5))." (emphasis added). 

Screenshot of relevant language from the U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual

Fun fact: the FBI used to get the actual Certificate of Loss of Nationality until 2015.

How the FBI Uses This Information

So how is this information (the fact of renunciation) used?

The information is uploaded into the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system, which is referenced by federal firearm licensees (FFLs) to determine who they can sell a firearm to.

This is relevant because U.S. citizenship renunciants are barred under federal law (the Brady Act of 1993) from owning or possessing firearms (18 USC 922(g)(7)). In this way, Uncle Sam is kind of spiteful towards renunciants.  18 USC 922(g)(7) states: 

"(g)It shall be unlawful for any person—"

"(7) who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his citizenship;..."

" ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce."

So when a person purchases a firearm in the United States, their biographical information is cross-referenced with the NICS to determine if they’re ineligible as one of the classes of persons listed in 18 USC 922(g). 18 USC 922(g)(7) is the subsection that bars U.S. citizenship renunciants from owning or possessing a firearm. If the prospective purchaser shows up as a person who has renounced U.S. citizenship in the NICS system, the FFL is supposed to refrain from selling the firearm to the purchaser. 

Side note: I suspect the renunciation information is also used to update the citizenship field on a person's FBI Identity History Summary, but I've not confirmed the point yet.

How Often Are U.S. Citizenship Renunciants Prosecuted For Owning or Possessing a Firearm?

I suspect not very often. In fact, I’ve been unable to find any published case opinions involving a prosecution under 18 USC 922(g)(7). But remember, that doesn't mean it's impossible - there's a first time for everything.

Most people who renounce U.S. citizenship go to live in another country, where they may or may not exercise gun rights. I suspect U.S. citizenship renunciants are most vulnerable under 18 USC 922(g)(7) for possession i.e. handling a gun, rather than for purchase or ownership. 

U.S. citizenship renunciants should probably avoid gun ranges in the U.S.

Here’s the hypothetical I see as most likely to occur: 

A person renounces U.S. citizenship. They come back to the U.S. to visit. As part of the visit, a friend or family member takes them to a gun range for some recreational shooting, or hands them a gun to go hunting. They’ve now possessed a firearm in violation of the Brady act, and subjected themselves to legal liability. 

Stay vigilant of your rights and responsibilities! 

Each immigration and citizenship case is particular and you should consult with a qualified immigration and citizenship lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing. 

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