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Know the Laws: Colorado

UPDATED September 18, 2017

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Below is information about state gun laws in Colorado.  However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also federal gun laws that could apply.  To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.

WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate or lawyer in your community for more information on gun laws in your state.  To find an agency, please go to the CO Where to Find Help page.

Basic Info and Definitions

back to topWhat is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

In these gun laws pages, we refer to both "federal gun laws" and "state gun laws."  The major difference between the two has to do with who makes the law, who prosecutes someone who violates the law, and what the penalty is for breaking the law.

One reason why it is important for you to know that there are these two sets of gun laws is so that you can understand all of the possible ways that the abuser might be breaking the law, and you can better protect yourself.  Throughout this section, we will be referring mostly to state laws.  Be sure to also read our Federal Gun Laws pages to see if any federal laws apply to your situation as well.  You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating.

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, you do not necessarily need to be able to tell the police which law was violated (state versus federal) but local police cannot arrest someone for violating federal law, only for violating state/local laws.  Only federal law enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”), can arrest someone for violating federal laws.  If the local police believe that a state law is being violated, they could arrest the abuser and hand the case over to the state prosecutor.  If the local police believe a federal law is being violated, hopefully, the police department will notify the ATF or perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office in your state (which is the federal prosecutor).  For information on how you can contact ATF directly to report the violation of federal gun laws, go to Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?  If the abuser is breaking both state and federal laws, s/he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.

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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a gun.  A felony is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor.  Most felonies under Colorado law are punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.*  However, you cannot always tell if someone was convicted of a felony only by looking at the amount of time s/he actually served in prison since sentences are often reduced or pled down and since some misdemeanors in Colorado can be punishable by up to 18 months of incarceration.**  If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a felony, you might want to talk to the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against the abuser to find out or go to the local criminal courthouse and try to search the records.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-401
** See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-501

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back to topI am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

According to Colorado state law, a person can only get a permit to carry a concealed handgun if all of the following conditions are met.  The applicant must:

  • be a legal resident of the state of Colorado (including a member of the armed forces who is stationed in Colorado and his/her immediate family members);
  • be at least twenty-one years old;
  • have never been convicted of a felony, attempt to commit a felony, or conspiracy to commit a felony;
  • have never been convicted of perjury related to information provided on a concealed handgun permit application;
  • not chronically and habitually abuse alcohol - (Note: A recovering alcoholic who has been sober for at least the past three years can be excused from this requirement if a substance abuse counselor swears to this information in an affidavit);
  • not be an unlawful user of (or addicted to) drugs; and
  • not have a current protection order issued against him/her as part of a civil or criminal court case.*  In addition, as part of a temporary or final protection order due to domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, physical harm/threats or abuse of the elderly/at-risk adult, the judge can order that the abuser: 
    • not have or buy any firearms or ammunition for the duration of the order; and
    • give up any firearms or ammunition that s/he currently has in his/her possession or control to a licensed firearms dealer, private party or to law enforcement.** 

Note: Even if the applicant meets all of the requirements above, the sheriff can still deny the permit if, based on the applicant's previous behavior, the sheriff has a reasonable belief that s/he would likely be a danger to himself/herself or others if the permit were granted.*** 

In addition, it is illegal for anyone to possess a firearm if s/he is on probation after being convicted of a crime that involved domestic violence.  An exception can be made, however, for a defendant whose job requires the use of a firearm if the judge believes that the victim and his/her child would not be endangered and the gun is not stored in the defendant's home.****

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if s/he was convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor or if you have a final protection order against him/her that meets certain requirements.  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

For additional information on gun laws in Colorado, you can go the the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-12-203(1)(a)-(g); 18-12-108 
** Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5(1)(a) & (2)(c)
*** Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-12-203(2)
**** Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-204(2)(b)(IV)

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Guns and Protection Orders

back to topI have a temporary ex parte order against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

Under Colorado law, as part of a temporary (or final) protection order due to domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, physical harm/threats or abuse of the elderly/at-risk adult, the judge can order that the abuser: 

  • not have or buy any firearms or ammunition for the duration of the order; and
  • give up any firearms or ammunition that s/he currently has in his/her possession or control to a licensed firearms dealer, private party or to law enforcement.* 

Federal law may also prohibit the abuser from having a firearm while a temporary order is in effect but it's not likely.  If the judge gave you an ex parte temporary protective order (which means that no advance notice was given to the abuser), which is commonly done, it could still be legal for him/her to have a gun under federal law.  However, if the judge scheduled a court hearing and gave notice of the hearing to the abuser before giving you the temporary protective order, it is possible that it is illegal for him/her to have a gun under federal law.  The protective order must also meet certain other requirements, though.  Read I have a final order of protection against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away? (in our Federal Gun Laws section) to find out more.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5(1)(a) & (2)(c)

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back to topI have a final protection order against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

According to Colorado state law, a person cannot get a permit to carry a concealed handgun if there is a current civil protection order issued against him/her (or a current criminal court protection order).*  In addition, as part of a final (or temporary) protection order due to domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, physical harm/threats or abuse of the elderly/at-risk adult, the judge can order that the abuser: 

  • not have or buy any firearms or ammunition for the duration of the order; and
  • give up any firearms or ammunition that s/he currently has in his/her possession or control to a licensed firearms dealer, private party or to law enforcement.** 

Federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a protective order against him/her that meets certain requirements even if the judge does not specifically include on the order that s/he cannot have a gun.  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-12-203(1)(a)-(g); 18-12-108 
** Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5(1)(a) & (2)(c)

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back to topIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a protection order?

Here are a few things that may help:

  • If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s);
  • Ask the judge to specifically write in your protective order that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. The form that you will have to fill out to petition for a protective order will have a place where you can request additional protections. You can ask that the abuser’s gun(s) be taken away in that section; and
  • Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written on your order.

It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser's guns, who will take them, and where they will be held once you leave the courthouse. If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the protective order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:

  • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them;
  • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

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Guns and Criminal Convictions

back to topIf the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

According to Colorado state law, a person who has been convicted of certain crimes cannot get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.  The permit will be denied if:

  • s/he has been convicted of a felony, attempt to commit a felony, or conspiracy to commit a felony; or
  • s/he has been convicted of perjury related to information provided on a concealed handgun permit application.*

In addition, it is illegal for anyone to possess a firearm if s/he is on probation after being convicted of a crime that involved domestic violence.  An exception can be made, however, for a defendant whose job requires the use of a firearm if the judge believes that the victim and his/her child would not be endangered and the gun is not stored in the defendant's home.**

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if s/he was convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor.  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-12-203(1)(c),(d); 18-12-108
** Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-204(2)(b)(IV)

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back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access.  If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Federal law specifically prohibits possession of a firearm if the person is convicted of any felony or of a domestic violence misdemeanor. Criminal records that would make a person ineligible to purchase a firearm are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS.  Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see the question, What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

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The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun…Now What?

back to topWho do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the State Police.  If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our CO Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Colorado on the ATF website.  For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).  Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials.  You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our CO State and Local Programs page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law.  If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.*

* United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating state or federal firearm laws?

While a protection order is in effect, if the respondent possesses (or attempts to possess) a firearm or ammunition, s/he has committed the crime of violation of a protection order, a class 2 misdemeanor.  Note: It can be a class 1 misdemeanor if:

  • this is the respondent's second (or third, fourth, etc.) conviction for the crime of violation of a protection order; or
  • the protection order was issued at arraignment in a criminal case and ordered the defendant not to harass, intimidate, retaliate against, or tamper with any witness to, or victim of, the acts charged.*  

The punishment for a class 2 misdemeanor is between 3 to 12 months imprisonment, a fine of between $250 and $1,000, or both.  The punishment for a class 1 misdemeanor is between 6 to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of between $500 and $5,000, or both.*1

If someone who was convicted of a felony (or attempt or conspiracy to commit a felony) is in possession of a firearm, it can be a class 5 or 6 felony depending on the underlying felony conviction, the length of time since that felony conviction, and other factors.*2  The punishment for a class 5 felony is between 1 and 3 years, a fine of between $1,000 and $100,000, or both.  The punishment for a class 6 felony is between 1 and 1.5 years, a fine of between $1,000 and $100,000, or both.*3

Also, anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.*4  For more information, see our Federal Gun Laws page.

* Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-6-803.5; 18-1-1001(1)
*1 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-501(1)(a)
*2 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-12-108
*3 Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-1.3-401(1)(a)(V)(A), (1)(a)(III)(A)
*4 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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back to topWhat will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun.  Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.  Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales.  

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate.  Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

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More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topI read through all of this information and I'm still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111 x 2.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area - see our CO State and Local Programs page.

 

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