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Know the Laws: Georgia

UPDATED September 29, 2016

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Below is information about state gun laws in Georgia.  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 GA 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) or you can notify ATF yourself.  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.  It is defined under Georgia law as a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year or by death.*  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.  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.

* GA ST § 16-1-3(5)

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

Georgia law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:

  • is under 21 years of age (unless s/he is 18 or older and provides proof that s/he has completed basic training in the armed forces of the United States and either is actively serving or has been honorably discharged);
  • has been convicted of a felony in any state or in another country;
  • currently has felony charges pending against him/her (but hasn't yet been convicted) or is a fugitive from justice;
  • has had his/her license to carry weapons revoked within three years before the date of the application for a firearm license;
  • is prohibited under federal law from having a firearm in his/her possession;
  • has been convicted of an offense arising out of the unlawful manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance or other dangerous drug;
  • has been convicted of any misdemeanor involving the use or possession of a controlled substance (drugs) and within the past five years, s/he also:
    • has been in restraint or under supervision
    • gets a second conviction of any misdemeanor involving the use or possession of a controlled substance; or
    • is convicted for various weapons charges;
  • has been convicted of carrying a weapon without the proper license;
  • has been convicted of carrying a weapon or long gun in an unauthorized location (unless for the past 5 years, s/he has not been under restraint or supervision related to these crimes and has not been convicted of any other crime);
  • has been hospitalized as an inpatient in any mental hospital or alcohol or drug treatment center within the past five years; or
  • has been adjudicated (found by a judge) "mentally incompetent to stand trial" or "not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time that s/he committed a crime.*

Also, a person under 18 is not allowed to possess a handgun at any time unless s/he is on land that is controlled by his/her parent, legal guardian, or grandparent and the minor has the adult's permission.**  There are some exceptions when a minor can carry a gun, such as when shooting at a gun range or hunting.  To read the complete list, go to our GA Statutes page and see section 16-11-132(c).  Note: The exceptions do not apply if the minor has been convicted of a forcible felony or forcible misdemeanor.***

If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun.  Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements or if s/he has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* GA ST § 16-11-129(b)(2)
** GA ST § 16-11-132(b)
*** GA ST § 16-11-129(d)

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Guns and Protective Orders

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

Maybe, but not likely.  Georgia law does not prohibit an abuser who has a temporary protection order against him/her from possessing a firearm.  However, you may be able to request in your petition for a temporary protective order that the judge prohibit the abuser from possessing a gun while the order is in effect.  It may be helpful if you list the known firearms that s/he has (or the possible access to firearms) and specifically request in your paperwork that the abuser be prohibited from possessing firearms while your temporary order is in effect.

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.

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back to topI have a protective order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

Georgia law does not automatically prohibit an abuser who has a protective order against him/her from possessing a firearm.  However, in a protective order petition in Georgia, you can request that the judge order the abuser not possess or purchase firearms according to federal law in the section where you can request additional protections.  You may want to include as much information that you can about any known firearms that the abuser owns or to which s/he has access.

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.

If you are afraid for your safety, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options.  Go to the GA State and Local Programs to find a program in your area.

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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 protective 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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back to topWhat is the penalty if the abuser has a gun in violation of my protective order?

If a judge specifically includes in your protective order that the abuser is prohibited from possessing a gun, then under Georgia law, if the abuser violates any part of your protective order, s/he may be punished by an action for contempt or criminally punished.*  Violating a protective order can be a misdemeanor, and the abuser can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to one year, or both.**

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.***  For more information, see our Federal Gun Laws page.

* GA ST § 19-13-6
** GA ST §§ 16-5-95(c), 17-10-3(a),(b)
*** 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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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?

Georgia law says that if a person has been convicted of any of the following crimes, s/he cannot have or buy a gun:

  • has been convicted of a felony in any state or in another country; currently has felony charges pending against him/her (but hasn't yet been convicted) or is a fugitive from justice;
  • has been convicted of an offense arising out of the unlawful manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance or other dangerous drug;
  • has been convicted of any misdemeanor involving the use or possession of a controlled substance (drugs) and within the past five years s/he also:
    • has been in restraint or under supervision;
    • gets a second conviction of any misdemeanor involving the use or possession of a controlled substance; or
    • is convicted for various weapons charges;
  • has been convicted of carrying a weapon without the proper license or carrying a weapon or long gun in an unauthorized location (and within the past five years has been under restraint or supervision related to these crimes or has gotten any other conviction); or
  • has been adjudicated (found by a judge) "mentally incompetent to stand trial" or "not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time that s/he committed a crime.*

Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person's right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* GA ST § 16-11-129(b)(2)

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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 topIf the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the judge orders that the abuser’s gun(s) be taken away, you can also ask that the judge order law enforcement to remove the gun(s) when s/he is served with the order. Law enforcement can hold the gun(s) for the period that the order is in effect.*

* Georgia Legal Services Program Self-Help Manual for Victims of Domestic Violence

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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 GA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Georgia 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 GA 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 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 do not have a protective order against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of any crimes. Is there anything I can do?

It depends.  In Georgia, even if you don't have a protective order that prohibits the abuser from having a gun and the abuser has not been convicted of any crime, the following people cannot get a license to carry a weapon:

  • someone who is under 21 years of age (unless s/he is 18 or older and provides proof that s/he has completed basic training in the armed forces of the United States and either is actively serving or has been honorably discharged);
  • a person who has been hospitalized as an inpatient in any mental hospital or alcohol or drug treatment center within the past five years;
  • someone who currently has felony charges pending against him/her (but hasn't yet been convicted);
  • a fugitive from justice; or
  • a person who has been adjudicated (found by a judge) "mentally incompetent to stand trial" or "not guilty by reason of insanity” at the time s/he committed a crime.*

Also, a person under 18 is not allowed to possess a handgun at any time unless s/he is on land that is controlled by his/her parent, legal guardian, or grandparent and the minor has the adult's permission.  There are some exceptions when a minor can carry a gun, such as when shooting at a gun range or hunting.  To read the complete list, go to our GA Statutes page and see section 16-11-132(c).
Note: The exceptions do not apply if the minor has been convicted of a forcible felony or forcible misdemeanor.**

If this is your situation, please talk to an advocate or lawyer in your area about how this law is being enforced. Go to the GA State and Local Programs page for local programs.

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety.  See our Staying Safe page for more information.  You can also contact your local domestic violence organization for additional help.  You may want to talk to them about whether leaving the area - either long-term or for a little while - might help improve your safety.

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

* GA ST § 16-11-129(b)(2)
** GA ST § 16-11-132(d)

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

Trying to understand both federal and state law can be confusing.  There are people 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;
  • contact us by writing to our Email Hotline;
  • contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.

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