Though criminals aren't usually a class that inspire much sympathy, it must be remembered that not everyone who has ended up on the wrong side of the law can be painted with the same brush. Some are unjustly accused. Others merely exercised poor judgment that, by a chain of events, resulted in criminal liability.
Gabriel was a gentleman no longer young who had enjoyed a comfortable life in the United States for all of his life excepting his first two years which he -- through an understandable lapse of foresight -- spent abroad. In his early 30's, ten years after becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident, he was driving a friend's van to help his grandfather move house. He did not realize that there was a rifle in the back of the van, a fact that came to light when he was pulled over by law enforcement for rolling through a Stop sign. When one thinks of "firearms offenses," the term conjures up images of reckless vigilantes spraying bullets into a crowded street or perhaps incorrigible gang members toting concealed pistols into a Chuck E. Cheese. But Gabriel's unlicensed "carrying" of a firearm was also a firearms offense, and at the time it seemed simple to take a plea that resulted in a small fine plus probation and a suspended sentence. Section 237(a)(2)(C) of the Immigration & Nationality Act provides that any "alien who at any time after admission is convicted under any law of . . . carrying, . . . any weapon. . . which is a firearm . . . is deportable." That's a lot of any's, and more than enough to spell trouble for Gabriel.
If all that meant was that Gabriel should retreat from his Naturalization application into anonymity and spend the rest of his life as a Permanent Resident, at least the decision would be easy. It would mean a certain amount of living in fear of the immigration authorities, and a permanent inability to travel for fear of being investigated, detained, and expelled at the border. But at least the decision would be made for him. The fact, however, is that Gabriel has at least one avenue of relief available to him.
The most obvious option that happened to be open to Gabriel was to apply, hope for the best, and ask for Cancellation of Removal in the event his deportability was discovered. Cancellation of Removal for certain Permanent Residents is a form of relief that, if granted, preserves Permanent Resident status and effectively forgives the crimes at issue. Eligibility requirements are (1) has been an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than 5 years, (2) has resided in the U.S. continuously for 7 years after having been admitted in any status, and (3) has not been convicted of any aggravated felony. However, this is not a guaranteed relief, and the possibility existed that he could be denied and left with no choice but to leave the United States.
It almost does sound like a game, but not the kind that can be started over fresh if a bad outcome results.
It should be noted that Gabriel was lucky to even have an option open to him. Not everyone does, and what worked for him or even had a chance to work for him may not work for someone with a different history. It's always necessary to explore immigration options with an experienced attorney.