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Know the Laws: North Carolina

UPDATED August 17, 2016

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Below is information about state gun laws in North Carolina.  A domestic violence protective order or a 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 NC Where to Find Help page to find domestic violence organizations and legal help in your area.

The Abuser Isn't Supposed to Have a Gun...Now What?

back to topIf the abuser's right to possess a gun is taken away in a DVPO, what will happen to it?

The abuser must immediately surrender all firearms to the sheriff. If firearms cannot be surrendered at the time the DVPO is served, the abuser must surrender all firearms within 24 hours of service. The sheriff will store the firearms and other items or contract with a licensed dealer for this service. The sheriff can charge the abuser a reasonable storage fee.*

Failure to surrender all firearms and ammunition, or providing false information about the location of the firearms is a Class H felony.**

* NCGS § 50B-3.1(d)
** NCGS § 50B-3.1(j)

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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 NC Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in North Carolina 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 NC 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 firearm law?

Anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of a domestic violence protective order that has a term that specifically says s/he cannot have a gun is guilty of a class H felony.*  If a person has been convicted of a felony, s/he cannot have or buy a gun under North Carolina state law.  Having a firearm in violation of this law is a class G felony.**

For information on the penalty for violating the federal firearm laws, go to Federal Gun Laws page.

* NCGS § 50B-3.1(j)
** NCGS § 14-415.1(a)

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Thank you to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence for assistance with this page.

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