Former California deputy sentenced to prison for selling off-roster guns

A former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy was sentenced to prison last week for using his position to illegally deal firearms without a license, the Department of Justice said.

Thirty-four-year-old Ryan McGowan of Elk Grove received 18 months and a $7,000 fine Thursday for purchasing guns normally illegal under California, then reselling them for profit.

“Ryan McGowan used his position as a law enforcement officer to purchase firearms and sell them illegally. In doing so, he violated federal law and public trust,” said Jill A. Snyder, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in a statement.

California law restricts the types of firearms that its residents can purchase, limiting them to an approved roster. There is an exemption for law enforcement personnel, who can buy and then sell the off-roster firearms in personal transactions as long as the objective is not “livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale,” U.S. Attorney Philip A. Talbert said in a statement.

“According to evidence produced at trial, McGowan used his position as a deputy sheriff to purchase off-roster guns at retail price and then because the firearms could not be purchased directly by the general public, resold them at an inflated price on the private market in California,” the statement read.

McGowan purchased 41 handguns, selling 25 of them within a year after purchase, between 2008 and 2011, making about $6,625 during that time. Snelling Firearms, owned by co-defendant Robert Snellings, 64, of Rancho Murieta, sold McGowan 33 of the guns.

Some of those guns were transferred back to Snellings, allowing him to own them personally or sell them to the public, the DOJ said.

The former federal firearms licensee was sentenced a week before McGowan to one year in prison.

According to court documents previously acquired by, McGowan resold 19 of the handguns — five of which he sold within four weeks of purchasing them — through, a forum website. Though is not directly associated with the Calguns Foundation, its president, Paul Nordberg, is on the foundation’s board of directors.

During three instances in July, August and September 2011, undercover federal agents posed as buyers, contacting McGowan through the forum website. During one of the transactions, McGowan sold an undercover agent an assembled high-capacity magazine, which violates state law, according to the court documents.        

RELATED: Man dodges charges in ATF straw purchase allegations, co-defendants not off the hook

The sentencing comes just months after another  California man was cleared of federal charges in a transaction he completed with a Roseville police officer in May 2010. The  Ruger LCP handgun was not a state-approved firearm, which put Ulysses S. Grant Early IV on the hook for the federal charges.

Early’s lawyer, San Jose civil rights attorney Donald Kilmer, argued that his client was neither a law-enforcement officer nor a federally licensed firearms dealer and thus had to rely on the advice of the others involved to discern with “reasonable belief” what was supposed to be considered a lawful firearm transaction, according to court documents previously obtained by          

“Mr. Early’s prosecution is a striking reminder that second amendment civil rights must be as vigorously defended as those protected by the first amendment,” Kilmer said previously in a statement.

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