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Know the Laws: Maine

UPDATED November 28, 2012

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Please consider getting in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. To find help, please click on the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

Basic Information

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

It depends.  If you have a protection from abuse (PFA) order against the abuser or if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then federal law states that the abuser cannot legally buy, own, or possess a gun.*

In addition, Maine state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if:

  • s/he was convicted of a felony in the United States;
  • s/he was convicted of a crime in Maine that is punishable by a prison sentence of one year or more;
  • s/he committed a crime using a firearm or other dangerous weapon in Maine, or any other state or the Passamaquoddy Tribe or Penobscot Nation;
  • a protection order (as defined by federal law) against the abuser exists, which orders the abuser to stop hurting or threatening to hurt an intimate partner or a child of his/her intimate partner, in Maine or any other state, in any U.S. territory, or in any commonwealth or tribe;
  • s/he was convicted of a crime as a juvenile that would have been a felony if the abuser had committed the crime as an adult; and
  • s/he was found to be not guilty of one of the crimes mentioned above because the abuser has a mental illness or is insane.**

Note: For a protection from abuse order to be recognized under federal law, the order must meet certain requirements.  See I have a protection from abuse order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to read more about those requirements.

If you are unsure whether or not the abuser was convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

To read the definition of a felony, see What is the definition of a felony?

* 18 USC § 922(g)
** ME ST T. 15 § 393

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Guns and PFA Orders

back to topCan the abuser's gun be taken away as part of an ex parte temporary order?

Under Maine state law, the judge can order the defendant not to possess a firearm or other dangerous weapon while the temporary order is in effect if the complaint that you file demonstrates abuse that involves a firearm or other dangerous weapon or that there is a "heightened risk" of immediate abuse to you or your minor child.  In determining whether or not a "heightened risk" of immediate abuse exists, the judge must consider the following factors (but s/he is not limited to only considering these factors):

  • If the temporary order of protection is not likely to achieve its purpose without a this firearm/weapon prohibition;
  • If the defendant has violated past orders of protection;
  • If past or present abuse to a victim resulted in injury;
  • If the abuse occurred in public; and
  • If the abuse includes:
    • Threats of suicide or homicide;
    • Killing or threatening to kill pets;
    • An escalation of violence;
    • Stalking behavior or extreme obsession;
    • Sexual violence;
    • Excessive alcohol or drug use; and
    • Abuse against a pregnant victim.*

If the judge prohibits the defendant from possessing dangerous weapons or firearms, the judge will direct the defendant to turn them over to a law enforcement officer or other individual within 24 hours after service of the order on the defendant (although the defendant has the right to file a motion in court to reverse this decision).  Note: If the weapons are given to an individual (not law enforcement), the defendant must file a written statement that contains the name and address of the person holding the weapons and a description of all weapons held by that person within 24 hours after giving him/her the weapons to hold.   The judge may later issue a search warrant authorizing a law enforcement officer to seize any firearms and other dangerous weapons at any location if there is probable cause to believe such firearms or dangerous weapons have not been turned over by the defendant.*

If your temporary protection from abuse order does not prohibit the abuser from having guns, the abuser most likely can keep his/her guns until a permanent order is issued.  Under federal law, a defendant's gun(s) generally cannot be taken away before a permanent order is in place.**

* ME ST T. 19-A § 4006(2-A)
** There are exceptions, but these exceptions are rare.  See United States v. Calor, 172 F. Supp. 2d 900 (E.D. Ky. 2001), aff'd, 340 F. 3d 428 (6th Cir. 2003)

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

It depends.  If the protection from abuse (PFA) order states that the abuser cannot possess or buy a gun, then s/he cannot keep a gun or buy a new gun.  If you apply for a protection from abuse order in Maine, the judge may, according to Maine state law, direct that the abuser cannot possess a gun or any other dangerous weapon while the order is in effect.*

Maine state law and federal law also state that when a civil court issues a Maine protection from abuse order (or an order from another state) against the abuser and that order meets the requirements outlined in the federal firearm statute, the abuser cannot buy or possess a gun.**

Note: Your protection from abuse order does not need to state that the abuser cannot have a gun for federal firearm law to apply.

For your protection from abuse order to meet  federal law requirements, the defendant (the person who the protection from abuse order is filed against) must:

  • be served (given) notice of the court hearing. In other words, the defendant must be given paperwork that tells him/her about the hearing;
  • have an opportunity to attend the court hearing; and
    • Note: The abuser does not need to be at the hearing, but s/he must have the opportunity to come to the hearing.
  • be your "intimate partner," including:
    • A current or former spouse;
    • A person with whom you share a child;
    • A person that you live with or have lived with in the past.
Note: If your protection from abuse order has expired, it is no longer a valid order under federal law.  When the order is not valid under federal law, the firearm ban also does not apply.  The protection from abuse order expiration date should be written in the upper right-hand corner of your protection from abuse order.

Note: This law may not apply to law enforcement officials, military personnel, and other government employees who use guns while performing official duties.***  If the abuser is a police officer, member of the military, or someone else who uses a gun for their job, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options. See ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

* ME ST T. 19-A § 4007
** 18 USC § 922(g)(8) and ME ST T. 15 § 393(D)
*** 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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back to topThe abuser did not show up for the protection from abuse order hearing. Can his/her gun still be taken away?

Maybe.  The abuser does not have to come to the hearing for the law to apply to him/her, but s/he must be given notice of the hearing and have an opportunity to attend.*

If no hearing is scheduled and/or no notice is given about the protection from abuse order, then the federal firearm law might not apply to the abuser.**

 * United States v. Bunnell, 106 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2000), aff'd 280 F. 3d 46 (1st Cir. 2002).
 ** United States v. Spruill, 292 F. 3d 207 (5th Cir. 2002).

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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 from abuse (PFA) order?

To try to make it clear that the abuser cannot have a gun, here are a couple things you may want to ask for in court:

  • 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 write in the county sheriff’s office where the abuser has to surrender his/her guns. (Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that this is included on your PFA 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. Therefore, you may also want to ask the judge:
  • If it can be written in the order that the police to go to the abuser's house and get the guns;
  • To make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
  • To 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 domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

No.  Under federal law, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.*  If you are unsure whether or not the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

To read the definition of a felony, see What is the definition of a felony?

 * 18 USC § 922(g)(9)

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back to topWhat crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

A crime is considered a domestic violence misdemeanor under federal law if the act:

  • can be defined as a misdemeanor under federal or state law;
  • involves physical violence or force or includes threats made with a deadly weapon; and
  • was committed by:
    • a current or former spouse;
    • a parent or guardian of the victim;
    • a person with whom the victim shares a child;
    • a person living with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or
    • a person who has a similar relationship with a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim.*

Note: The crime does not have to mention "domestic violence" specifically either to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor or for the federal firearm law to apply.**  The relationship that the victim has with the offender is what determines whether or not the misdemeanor is a "domestic violence" misdemeanor.***

For example: If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his wife, he may no longer have or buy a gun.
If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his neighbor, he still may be able to have or buy a gun.

If you are unsure whether a certain crime is a domestic violence misdemeanor, you can contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 1-800-903-0111 x 2.

* 18 USC § 921(a)(33)
** United States v. Kavoukian, 315 F. 3d 139 (2d. Cir. 2002); United States v. Meade, 175 F.3d 215 (1st Cir. 1999).
*** United States v. Denis, 297 F.3d.25 (1st Cir. 2002.); United States v. Costigan, No. 009-B0H, 2000 U.S. Dist. (D. Me. June 16, 2000).

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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

A felony under federal law is a crime punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year. *

* 18 USC § 3559

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back to topIf a law enforcement officer or other government employee is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he own, have, or buy a gun?

No.  Law enforcement officers and other government officials convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony cannot own, possess, or buy guns for any purpose, including for their official duties, according to federal law.*

* 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony?

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are open to the public, but these records 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. You can find contact information for courthouses in Maine on our ME Courthouse Locations page.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records also are 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 the department is 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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More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topWhat is the penalty for violating the federal firearm law?

Anyone who owns, possesses, or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished with a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.*

* 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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

If the judge decides that the abuser cannot have a gun while your protection from abuse order is in effect, the judge also should describe within the protection from abuse order what type of gun/weapon your abuser cannot have. You can ask the judge to include this description in the order.

Once the abuser is served (given notice) with the protection from abuse order, the court should tell the abuser to give all of his/her guns and other dangerous weapons to a law enforcement officer or other individual within 24 hours after receiving notice of the order.  Note: If the abuser is at the protection from abuse hearing, s/he can be told all of this information at the hearing. In such instances, the abuser must give up all of his/her guns and/or weapons 24 hours after the hearing takes place.

If the abuser decides to give his/her gun(s) to an individual other than a law enforcement officer (such as a friend or family member), the abuser must file a written statement, in which the abuser notes the name and address of the person holding the guns and a description of each gun being held, with the court or law enforcement agency designated in the order.

Note: If there is reason to believe that the abuser did not give his gun(s) away, the court can send a law enforcement officer to search the abuser's house (or other location) and take away any guns located there.*  You can also call your local police department to ask them to do this task. We have contact information for sheriff departments on our ME Sheriff Departments page.

* ME ST. T. 19-A § 4007(1-A)

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

You can call the local law enforcement agency if you think the abuser is violating federal or state firearm laws.  Let the agency know that either you have a protection from abuse order against the abuser or the abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor.  You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our ME Sheriff Departments page.

You may also contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to report the violation.  To find the field office(s) in Maine, you can check on the ATF website here.  In addition, for reporting illegal firearm activity, you can call: 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867)

A local domestic violence organization in your area also may 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 ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not need to know the law to be arrested for violating it.  If the abuser has a gun or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, regardless of whether the abuse knows 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 topI do not have a PFA order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony. Can the abuser have a gun?

Even if a person in Maine is not subject to a protection from abuse order nor convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, a person in Maine also cannot have a gun if:

  • s/he committed a crime using a firearm or other dangerous weapon in Maine, any other state, the Passamaquoddy Tribe, or the Penobscot Nation;
  • s/he was convicted as a juvenile of a crime that would have been considered a felony if  s/he committed the crime as an adult; or
  • s/he was found to be not guilty of one of the crimes mentioned above because s/he has a mental illness or is insane.*

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Staying Safe page for more information.  You also may 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 ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

* ME ST. T. 15 § 393

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

Before purchasing a gun, 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 from abuse order against him/her or s/he has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, the abuser should be unable to purchase the gun because these records should be in the NICS.  However, not all states have automated record keeping systems.  In such states, processing the criminal background check may be more difficult.  Also, some criminals and abusers do slip through the system.

Generally, you should not assume that, because the abuser was able to buy a gun, the abuser may legally possess a gun. The criminal background check system is not foolproof.

For more information, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. Go to our ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page to find an organization near you.

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back to topThe abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?

Maybe.  If the abuser is a law enforcement officer, military employee, or government employee, then s/he might be able to continue to use their gun for work purposes but not for personal use.

However, if the abuser was convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, the abuser cannot buy or have a gun under federal law, even if s/he is a police officer or a military employee.*

If you are confused or not sure whether or not the abuser still can use his/her gun for work purposes, you can talk to a domestic violence advocate in your area or call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111 x 2.

To find a domestic violence advocate in your area, please go to our ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page. 

* 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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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.  Certain people 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 contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. See our ME State and Local Programs page under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
  • You can write to our E-mail Hotline.

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