Know the Laws: North Carolina
UPDATED August 17, 2016
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.
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.
Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a felony to have a gun. In NC, a felony is any offense that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year in the state prison or a death sentence. A misdemeanor is any offense that is punishable by a sentence of less 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 where s/he was convicted and search the conviction records.
For information on how a felony is defined under federal law, please see the Federal Gun Laws page.
* NCGS § 14-1
North Carolina law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
Maybe. At the ex parte hearing, the judge is supposed to ask if the abuser has firearms, and should order that the abuser surrender all firearms if the court finds that the abuser:
While it does not need to be written on your DVPO that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun in order for the federal law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written. A person who has a DVPO against him/her cannot legally have or buy a gun if it is written on the order that the abuser cannot possess guns.
There are a couple of steps you can take to try to emphasize to the judge that the restriction should be written into the order:
It depends. If a judge specifically orders in the DVPO that the abuser cannot have a gun or buy a gun, then s/he cannot have a gun in his/her possession – and doing so could be a direct violation of the DVPO. When you are in court getting a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against the abuser, you can ask the judge to specifically order that the abuser cannot have or buy a gun.*
According to NC law, the judge must order that the abuser's gun and ammunition be taken away as part of your DVPO if the judge finds that the abuser has done any of the following:
Yes. Under NC law, a judge can still order in a DVPO that the abuser’s guns should be taken away even if the abuser does not come to the hearing. This is different from the federal firearm law which requires that the defendant has notice of the hearing and an opportunity to be heard.* The federal law is explained in more detail in Federal Gun Laws .
* United States v. Bunnell, 106 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2000), aff'd 280 F. 3d 46 (1st Cir. 2002.)
The abuser will have 90 days to make a request to the court that his/her gun(s) be returned. A court hearing will be held. You will have the opportunity to be present and heard at this hearing.
If you renew your DVPO, the gun ban can be extended for the length of the renewed order. In NC, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony, his/her gun(s) will not be returned.*
To find out more about how to renew your DVPO before it expires, you may contact a local domestic violence program in your area or you can go to How do I extend my order?
* NCGS § 50B-3.1(f)
If a person has been convicted of a felony, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.* Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person's right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
If you're not sure if the abuser has been convicted of a crime, see the next question below.
* NCGS § 14-415.1(a)
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.
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 the abuser tries to purchase a gun?
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)
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)
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.
Anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of a domestic violence protective order in NC that specifically says s/he cannot have a gun is guilty of a class H felony.* For information on the penalty for violating the federal firearm laws, go to Federal Gun Laws page.
* NCGS § 50B-3.1(j)
In NC, in addition to felons and respondents in protection order cases, the law also prevents some probationers from possessing a firearm.*
Also, under NC law, a person has to first apply for a permit before legally owning a firearm. The following people should be denied the permit according to the law and, therefore, cannot legally possess a firearm:
Maybe. If the abuser has not been convicted of a crime, and you have a DVPO against him, the abuser may still be able to use the gun for work purposes, but not for personal use.* You can ask the judge at your DVPO hearing to order that the abuser cannot have a gun for work purposes . If the judge decides to check this box, the abuser cannot use a gun at work or for personal use. To see a copy of the DVPO order online, go to our NC Download Court Forms page.
If you are confused or not sure whether the abuser can still use his/her 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.
* NCGS § 50B-3.1(k)
Trying to understand both federal and state laws can be confusing, but there are people who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law. You can:
Thank you to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence for assistance with this page.