Know the Laws: New York
UPDATED October 29, 2012
Below is information about state gun laws in New York. A restraining order or criminal conviction may make it illegal for an abuser to have a gun. 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 in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. Go to the NY Where to Find Help page to find domestic violence organizations and legal help in your area.
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.
If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law, it will not really matter to you if he violated federal or state law (in other words, you do not need to be able to tell the police which law he violated). The local police would likely arrest the abuser for violating either law and then after he is arrested, the police would hand the case over to the state prosecutor or the federal prosecutor to bring the criminal case against him. If he is breaking both state and federal laws, he might be prosecuted in both state and federal court.
The 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.
Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to 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 NY 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 courthouse to search the conviction records.
* NY Penal Law §10.00(5)
Under NY state law, if a person is convicted of any felony or serious offense, s/he cannot get or renew a gun license.* If s/he already has a gun license and is later convicted of a felony or serious offense, the license to have a gun will be automatically revoked (canceled).**
* NY Penal Law §400.00(1)
** NY Penal Law §400.00(11)
If the abuser's gun(s) is taken away by the judge when you get an order of protection, the judge is supposed to write the date, time, and place where the abuser is supposed to surrender (turn in) his guns on the order. If possible, the judge is also supposed to describe the guns to be turned in. The suspension of the abuser's gun license will be in effect for as long as the order of protection lasts.*
The abuser has the option of either giving the gun(s) to a law enforcement agency for the period of time that you have the order of protection or selling them to a licensed firearms dealer.**
* NY Family Court Act 842-a(4)
** NY Penal Law §400.05(6)
Under NY state law, with a temporary order of protection, there are certain cases where the judge has the option of taking away the abuser's guns/ gun license and there are certain cases where the judge is supposed to take away his guns/ gun license.
The judge has the option to order that the abuser's guns/ gun license be taken away if the judge finds that there is a "substantial risk" that the abuser may use or threaten to use a gun against you or anyone else on your order of protection (such as your children).*
The judge should take away the abuser's guns/ gun license if:
Here are some suggestions of what you can do:
If the judge takes away the guns, you may also want to ask the judge to:
NY state law says that a person can NEVER have a "rifle or shotgun" if s/he has been convicted of a felony or serious offense.* Also, a person cannot have any "firearm" outside of his home or place of business if he has been convicted of a felony or a class A misdemeanor within the past five years.**
* NY Penal Law §265.01(4)
** NY Penal Law §265.02(5)(ii)
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 (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 buy a gun when he isn't supposed to?"
If you think the abuser is violating one of the firearm laws, you can call your 911, or your local police or sheriff department, the State Police, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Let them know that either you have an order of protection against the abuser, or the abuser has been convicted of a crime and he has a gun. The local police department should then try to get a warrant to take the gun(s) away.
You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our NY Sheriff Department Locations page.
There are ATF field offices located in Brooklyn, Queens, Albany, Buffalo, Long Island, Rochester, Syracuse, and White Plains. To find out which one covers your county, you can look at their website www.atf.gov/field/newyork/index.htm or to report illegal firearm activity, call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867).
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 NY State and Local Programs page.
NY state law says that any violation of the NY laws regarding gun licenses is a Class A misdemeanor (the highest level of misdemeanor) that can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time for up to one year, or both.*
Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested (and convicted) for violating the law. If the abuser has a gun or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested and convicted, whether or not the abuser knows s/he was in violation of the law. "Ignorance of the law" is no excuse or defense.*** NY Penal Law §400.00(15), §80.05(1), §70.15(1)
Before legally buying 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 an order of protection against him, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from buying a gun. However, 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.
If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that he should not have been able to get one due to your order of protection or due to his/her criminal history, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because your abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him to have one. The criminal background check system is not foolproof.
For more information or to discuss the specific facts of your case, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. Go to our NY State and Local Programs page to find an organization near you.
In New York, if you do not have a temporary or permanent order of protection against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a crime, s/he may still be eligible for a gun license and can have or buy a gun.*
However, 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 NY State and Local Programs page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.
* NY Penal Law §400.00(1)
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.