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Know the Laws: Kentucky

UPDATED September 21, 2017

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Below is information about state gun laws in Kentucky.  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 KY Where to Find Help page to find help.

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

Under Kentucky state law, a person can be denied a license to carry concealed firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons (or if s/he already has a license to carry, it can be suspended or revoked) if any of the following apply:

  • s/he is not a resident of Kentucky (although if s/he is on active military duty and is assigned to a military post in Kentucky at the time of the application, that is considered a resident for these purposes);
  • s/he is not a U.S. citizen or is not lawfully admitted to the U.S.;
  • s/he is under 21 years old;*
  • s/he was convicted of a felony;*1 (Note: possession of a handgun by a convicted felon is also a Class C felony and possession of any other firearm by a convicted felon is a Class D felony);*2 
  • s/he is currently under indictment for a felony;
  • s/he was convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
  • s/he is a fugitive from justice;
  • s/he is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance (drug);
  • s/he was adjudicated as a "mental defective" or s/he has been committed to a mental institution;
  • s/he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • s/he was admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (there are limited exceptions to this);
  • s/he was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • s/he was a citizen of the United States but renounced (gave up) his/her citizenship;
  • s/he has a protection order issued against him/her and:
    1. it was issued after notice and a hearing;
    2. the order restrains him/her from:
      • harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner (or the partner's child); or
      • engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner (or the partner's child); and
    3. it includes a finding that s/he represents a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner (or the partner's child) or it specifically prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against an intimate partner (or the partner's child) that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury;*1
  • s/he was committed to a state or federal facility for the abuse of a controlled substance within the 3 years prior to filing the license application;
  • s/he was convicted of a misdemeanor crime related to controlled substances listed in Chapter 218A (or similar laws of any other state relating to controlled substances) within the 3 years prior to filing the license application;
  • ​s/he chronically and habitually uses alcohol, which can be shown by either:
    • having 2 or more convictions for DUI within the 3 years prior to filing the license application; or
    • having been committed as an alcoholic within the 3 years prior to filing the license application; or
  • s/he owes unpaid child support that is equal to or more than 1 year's worth of payments or s/he has not complied with any subpoena or warrant relating to child support or paternity proceedings (the license would only be denied under these circumstances if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services notifies the Department of Kentucky State Police of the arrears or failure to comply with the subpoena/warrant).* 

If the abuser already has a license to carry concealed firearms and you get a domestic violence order or emergency protective order against him/her, s/he has to surrender that license to the court or to the law enforcement officer who serves him/her with the order.  The license will then be suspended until the order is terminated (or until the judge who issued the order terminates the suspension of the license before the order ends).  If the abuser is a peace officer and an emergency protective order or domestic violence order is issued against him/her, s/he cannot carry a concealed deadly weapon while off-duty (but s/he can use it while on duty).*3  

Note: The failure of a license holder to surrender his/her license if any of the above conditions apply is considered a Class A misdemeanor crime.*4

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.

* KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b)
*1 KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b); 18 USC § 922(g),(n)
*2 KRS § 527.040(2)
*3 KRS § 237.110(13)(k) 
*4 KRS § 237.110(13)(i)

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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 federal law and Kentucky state law as a crime that is 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.  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.

* 18 USC § 3559; KRS § 500.080(5)

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Guns and Domestic Violence Orders

back to topI have an emergency protective order against the abuser. Can s/he have a gun?

Possibly not.  Although the law doesn't specifically address the situation where a person is applying for a license to carry a concealed firearm while there is an emergency protective order against him/her,* the law does address the situation where someone already has a license to carry and then an emergency protective order is issued against him/her.  If the abuser already has a license to carry concealed firearms and you get an emergency protective order (or a domestic violence order) against him/her, s/he has to surrender that license to the court or to the law enforcement officer who serves him/her with the order.  In addition, the license will be suspended until the order is terminated (or until the judge who issued the order terminates the suspension of the license before the order ends).**  The failure of a license holder to surrender his/her license is considered a Class A misdemeanor crime.***

Note: If the abuser is a peace officer and an emergency protective order (or domestic violence order) is issued against him/her, s/he cannot carry a concealed deadly weapon while off-duty but s/he can use it while on duty.**  

* See generally KRS § 237.110
** KRS § 237.110(13)(k) 
*** KRS § 237.110(13)(i)

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

Probably not.  Under Kentucky state law, a person will be denied a license to carry concealed firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons if or if s/he already has a license to carry, it will be suspended or revoked if s/he has a domestic violence order issued against him/her and all of the following are true:

  1. it was issued after notice and a hearing;
  2. the order restrains him/her from:
    • harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner (or the partner's child); or
    • engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner (or the partner's child); and
  3. it includes a finding that s/he represents a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner (or the partner's child) or it specifically prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against an intimate partner (or the partner's child) that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury.*

If the abuser already has a license to carry concealed firearms and you get a domestic violence order (or an emergency protective order) against him/her, s/he has to surrender that license to the court or to the law enforcement officer who serves him/her with the order.  The license will then be suspended until the order is terminated (or until the judge who issued the order terminates the suspension of the license before the order ends).**  The failure of a license holder to surrender his/her license if any of the above conditions apply is considered a Class A misdemeanor crime.***

Note: If the abuser is a peace officer and an emergency protective order or domestic violence order is issued against him/her, s/he cannot carry a concealed deadly weapon while off-duty (but s/he can use it while on duty).**  

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

*1 KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b); 18 USC § 922(g),(n)
** KRS § 237.110(13)(k) 
*** KRS § 237.110(13)(i)

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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 domestic violence 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 domestic violence 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 an 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. 
  • 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 domestic violence 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?

Under Kentucky state law, if a convicted felon has a handgun in his/her possession, it is a Class C felony.  Possession of any other firearm by a convicted felon is a Class D felony.*  In addition, a person can be denied a license to carry concealed firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons (or if s/he already has a license to carry, it can be suspended or revoked) if any of the following apply:

  • s/he was convicted of a felony; 
  • s/he is currently under indictment for a felony;
  • s/he was convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
  • s/he was convicted of a misdemeanor crime related to controlled substances listed in Chapter 218A (or similar laws of any other state relating to controlled substances) within the 3 years prior to filing the license application; 
  • ​s/he has 2 or more convictions for DUI within the 3 years prior to filing the license application; or
  • s/he is a fugitive from justice.**

If the abuser has a license to carry a concealed firearms and then any of the above circumstances apply, s/he has to surrender his/her license or else it can be considered a Class A misdemeanor crime.***

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.

* KRS § 527.040(2)
** KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b)
*** KRS § 237.110(13)(i)

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

Domestic violence 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.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records 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 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 is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser's license to carry concealed firearms is suspended or revoked for any of the reasons mentioned in I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?, the commissioner of the Department of Kentucky State Police will either:

  • order any peace officer to seize (take) the license; or
  • direct the abuser to surrender the license to the sheriff within two business days of receiving the notice of suspension (and then send a law enforcement officer to seize it if s/he doesn't surrender it within that timeframe).*  However, if the license is suspended due to an emergency protective order or a domestic violence order being issued, the abuser has to surrender that license to the court or to the law enforcement officer who serves him/her with the order** (which might happen before s/he gets the notice of suspension).  

If the abuser doesn't surrender a suspended or revoked license as ordered, it is a Class A misdemeanor crime.***

Although the law is clear about what will happen to an abuser's license to carry concealed weapons if it is suspended or revoked, the law is less specific about what will happen to the abuser's actual firearms.  The law says that during an emergency protective order or domestic violence order proceeding, the judge is supposed to "inform the respondent regarding the purchase of a firearm, and the surrender of same" as well as regarding the "confiscation, retention, and return of firearms."****

To find out how law enforcement or the courts in your county generally deal with the surrender of an abuser's actual firearms, you may want to talk to an advocate at your local domestic violence program.  Go to our KY State and Local Programs page for a listing of organizations in your county.

* KRS § 237.110(13)(c),(h)
** KRS § 237.110(13)(k)
*** KRS § 237.110(13)(i)
**** Kentucky FCRPP 13(6)

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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 KY Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Kentucky 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 KY 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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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating the state or federal firearm laws?

Under Kentucky state law, if a convicted felon has a handgun in his/her possession, it is a Class C felony and s/he can be sentenced to between 5 and 10 years in prison, a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000, or both.  Possession of any other firearm by a convicted felon is a Class D felony, and s/he can be sentenced to between 1 and 5 years in prison, a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000, or both.*  

In addition, if the abuser's license to carry concealed firearms is suspended or revoked for any of the reasons mentioned in I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?, and s/he doesn't surrender the license as s/he is ordered to do, it can be a Class A misdemeanor.  The penalty for a Class A misdemeanor can be up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $500, or both.**

Also, anyone who owns, 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.***  Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.

* KRS §§  527.040(2); 532.060(c),(d); 534.030(1)
** KRS §§ 237.110(13)(i); 534.040(1); 532.090(1)
*** 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topI do not have a domestic violence order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he carry a gun?

Possibly not.  Even if you do not have a domestic violence order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of any crime, it can still be illegal for him/her to have a gun under the following circumstances.  Under Kentucky state law, a person can be denied a license to carry concealed firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons (or if s/he already has a license to carry, it can be suspended or revoked) if any of the following apply:

  • s/he is not a resident of Kentucky (although if s/he is on active military duty and is assigned to a military post in Kentucky at the time of the application, that is considered a resident for these purposes);
  • s/he is not a U.S. citizen or is not lawfully admitted to the U.S.;
  • s/he is under 21 years old;
  • s/he is currently under indictment for a felony (but has not yet been convicted);
  • s/he is a fugitive from justice;
  • s/he is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance (drug);
  • s/he was adjudicated as a "mental defective" or s/he has been committed to a mental institution;
  • s/he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • s/he was admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (there are limited exceptions to this);
  • s/he was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • s/he was a citizen of the United States but renounced (gave up) his/her citizenship;
  • s/he was committed to a state or federal facility for the abuse of a controlled substance within the 3 years prior to filing the license application;
  • ​s/he chronically and habitually uses alcohol, which can be shown by having been committed as an alcoholic within the 3 years prior to filing the license application; or
  • s/he owes unpaid child support that is equal to or more than 1 year's worth of payments or s/he has not complied with any subpoena or warrant relating to child support or paternity proceedings (the license would only be denied under these circumstances if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services notifies the Department of Kentucky State Police of the arrears or failure to comply with the subpoena/warrant).* 

Even 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.  See our KY State and Local Programs page for referrals.

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

* KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b)

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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 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 firearm laws and how they apply to your situation: 1-800-903-0111 x 2.
  • Contact a local domestic violence organization in your area - see our KY State and Local Programs page.
  • Write to our Email Hotline.

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