En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws: New Jersey

UPDATED February 3, 2016

View by Section

WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area for more information. To find help, please go to the NJ Where to Find Help page.

Basic Info

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.

Did you find this information helpful?

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

Possibly.  If you have a restraining order against the abuser, or if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then federal law states that it is illegal for him/her to buy, own or have a gun in his/her possession if the order meets certain requirements.*  There are certain requirements that your restraining order must meet for it to qualify under federal law.  See I have a restraining order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to read more about what those requirements are.
If you are not sure if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or a felony, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors? and What is the definition of a felony?

In addition, NJ state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun or get a handgun permit if:

  • s/he has been convicted of any crime, or a disorderly persons offense, involving an act of domestic violence  - it does not matter whether or not the person was armed with a gun at the time of such offense;
  • s/he is subject to a restraining order against him/her or s/he had a gun that was taken away due to a prior order and not returned;
  • the issuance of the permit would not be in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare;
  • s/he is addicted to drugs or is an alcoholic,
  • s/he is currently, or has ever been, confined for a mental disorder to a hospital or mental institution or sanitarium
  • s/he suffers from a physical defect/disease, which would make it unsafe for him/her to handle firearms,
  • s/he knowingly falsifies any information on the application form for a handgun purchase permit or firearms purchaser identification card;
  • s/he is under the age of 18 years (for a firearms purchaser identification card) or under the age of 21 years (for a permit to purchase a handgun);
  • s/he was, as a juvenile, adjudicated delinquent for an offense which, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime and the offense involved the unlawful use or possession of a weapon or explosive/destructive device
  • s/he is named on the consolidated Terrorist Watchlist maintained by Terrorist Screening Center administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.*

* 18 USC § 922(g)(8),(9)
** NJ Statutes § 2C:58-3(c)

Did you find this information helpful?

Guns and Restraining Orders

back to topI have an emergency or temporary restraining order against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away?

Maybe. You can ask the judge to write in your emergency or temporary order that your abuser cannot have a gun while you are waiting for a full court hearing.  NJ law says that with an emeregency or temporary order, the judge may include this firearm provision.*  However, with a permanent order, the judge shall (must) include in the order that the abuser cannot own or buy a firearm and that the ones s/he has must be taken away during the period that the order is in effect or two years, whichever is greater.  However, if s/he is a police officer or military person, this would not apply to him/her while on duty.**  

However, if there is no specific mention of a firearm restriction in the temporary order, then you may have to wait until you are given a final order.

* NJ Statutes § 2C:25-28(j)
** NJ Statutes § 2C:25-29(b)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

It depends. If the judge checked the box on your Restraining Order that says that your abuser cannot have a gun or buy a new gun or if your abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence offense, then s/he cannot have a gun.  Under NJ state law, any final restraining order should say that the abuser is banned from purchasing, owning, possessing or controlling a firearm and from getting a gun permit during the period in which the restraining order is in effect or two years, whichever is greater. This does not apply, however, to cops or military personnel while on duty.  It is possible that this firearm provision might also be included in a temporary restraining order as well. *

In order for your Restraining Order to qualify under Federal law, the defendant (person who the order is against) must:

  • Be served (given) notice of the court hearing. In other words, the defendant must have been given paperwork that told him or her about the hearing.
  • Have an opportunity to attend the court hearing.
    Note: The abuser does not have to be at the hearing, but s/he has to have the opportunity to come to the hearing.
  • Be an "intimate partner" of the victim, which includes:
    • A current or former spouse
    • A person with whom you share a child
    • A person you live with or have lived with in the past**

Note: If your Restraining Order has expired, it is no longer a valid order under Federal law, which means the firearm ban also does not apply. There is no expiration date written on an NJ Restraining Order because the order is good until and unless the court orders otherwise.***  The date of issue will be written next to the judge’s signature on the last page of the 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 your 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 NJ State and Local Programs to find a program in your area.

* NJ Statutes §§2C:25-29(b); 2C:25-28(i) & (j); 2C:58-3(c)
** 18 USC §921 (a)(32)
*** NJ Statutes §§2C:25-28(i); 2C:25-29(d)
**** 18 USC §925 (a)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topMy abuser did not show up for the restraining order hearing. Can his/her gun still be taken away?

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

If no hearing is scheduled, and/or no notice is given about the restraining 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)

Did you find this information helpful?

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 restraining 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 restraining 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.

 

Did you find this information helpful?

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 your abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.* If you're not sure if your abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

In addition, NJ state law says that if someone has been convicted of any crime or of a disorderly persons offense involving an act of domestic violence, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.**  

Domestic violence offenses include any of the following if against a family or household member:

  • murder,
  • assault (sexual or physical),
  • criminal sexual contact
  • terroristic threats,
  • kidnapping,
  • criminal restraint,
  • criminal mischief,
  • lewdness,
  • false imprisonment,
  • burglary,
  • criminal trespass,
  • harassment, or
  • stalking.***

* 18 USC §922 (g) (9)
** NJ Statutes §§2C:58-3(c); 2C:58-4(f)
*** NJ Statutes §2C:25-19(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?

A crime is considered a domestic violence misdemeanor under Federal law if it:

  • Can be defined as a misdemeanor under federal or state law; and
  • 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 (listed above) with a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim.*

Note: The crime does not have to specifically mention "domestic violence" in order for it to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor, and 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 may still be able to have or buy a gun.

If you're not sure if a certain crime counts as a domestic violence misdemeanor, you can contact the National Center on Full Faith and Credit at 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2

 * 18 USC §921 (a) (33) (A)
** 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).

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

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

* 18 USC §227(A) 3559

Did you find this information helpful?

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

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

* 18 USC §925(a)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

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 your 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 (NCIS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NCIS. Your local police department may be willing to search NCIS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

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

Did you find this information helpful?

More Information and Where to Get Help

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

If your restraining order says that your abusers gun(s) must be taken away, a police officer should take any gun(s) your abuser has in his possession and may give the gun(s) to the county prosecutor.  The law enforcement agency that takes the gun(s) will likely store them until the order expires or for two years, whichever is greater.*  Within 45 days of the guns being taken from the abuser, however, the prosecutor has the option of filing legal papers with the court to object to the guns being returned, to obtain title to the weapons or to revoke any and all gun permits.**  If the judge agrees, the guns may never be returned to the abuser.

* See NJ Statutes §2C:25-29(b)
** NJ Statutes §2C:25-21(d)(3)

Did you find this information helpful?

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 NJ Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in New Jersey 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 NJ 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)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

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.*

Under NJ state law, an intentional violation of a restraining order is a crime in the 4th degree** and is punishable by jail time of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.***  Therefore, assuming that your restraining order has a "no gun" provision written into the order by the judge, if the abuser is caught with a gun, s/he could face these penalties (in addition to any other penalties that s/he may face for having a gun).

* 18 USC § 924(a)(2)
** NJ Statutes § 2C:29-9(b)
*** NJ Statutes §§ 2C:43-6(a)(4); 2C:43-3(b)(2)

Did you find this information helpful?

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

It depends. There are other reasons (aside from a conviction for a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor and aside from having a restraining order issued against someone) why it would be illegal for a person to have a gun in NJ.  Under NJ state law, a person cannot have or buy a gun or get a handgun permit if:

  • the issuance would not be in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare; or
  • if any of the following are true - if s/he:
    • s/he had a gun that was taken away due to a prior order and not returned;
    • is addicted to drugs or is an alcoholic;
    • is currently, or has ever been, confined for a mental disorder to a hospital or mental institution or sanitarium;
    • suffers from a physical defect/disease, which would make it unsafe for him/her to handle firearms;
    • knowingly falsifies any information on the application form for a handgun purchase permit or firearms purchaser identification card;
    • is under the age of 18 years (for a firearms purchaser identification card) or under the age of 21 years (for a permit to purchase a handgun);
    • was, as a juvenile, adjudicated delinquent for an offense which, if committed by an adult, would constitute a crime and the offense involved the unlawful use or possession of a weapon or explosive/destructive device; or
    • is named on the consolidated Terrorist Watchlist maintained by Terrorist Screening Center administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.*

If any of these fits your situation, please talk to a lawyer or advocate in your area about how this law is being enforced and what steps you can take to help enforce it. 

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 NJ State and Local Programs page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.

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

* NJ Statutes § 2C:58-3(c)

Did you find this information helpful?

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.

Did you find this information helpful?

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

According to NJ state law, if your abuser is a law enforcement officer, military employee or government employee, then s/he will be able to continue to use his/her gun for work purposes, but not for personal use.*

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

If you are confused or not sure whether your abuser can still use their gun for work purposes, you can talk to a domestic violence advocate in your area or call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2
To find a domestic violence advocate in your area, please go to our NJ Where to Find Help page.

* NJ Statutes §2C:25-29(b)
** 18 USC §925 (a)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

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 write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area (See our NJ State and Local Programs page).
  • You can also contact the National Center on Full Faith and Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top