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Know the Laws: North Carolina

UPDATED October 19, 2012

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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.

Definitions

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.  

If you are calling the police because you believe the abuser has violated a gun law 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.

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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony and a misdemeanor?

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

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Basic info

back to topI am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Do I have legal options for getting the gun away from the abuser?

North Carolina law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:

  • Is on probation and does not have the court’s written permission to possess a firearm;*
  • Has been convicted of a felony ;**
  • Has been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity;
  • Has been determined to not have the mental capacity to proceed in a criminal case;***
  • Is an illegal drug user or an addict;
  • Has been found to be mentally incompetent by a judge or has been committed to any mental institution;
  • Is an illegal immigrant in the United States or has renounced his or her citizenship; or
  • Has been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions.****

If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun.  Also, if you have a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against the abuser, you can ask the judge to order that the abuser cannot have or buy a gun as part of the DVPO.  Go to I have a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against my abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? for more information.

In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements.  Go to Federal Gun Laws for more information.

* NCGS § 15A-1343(b)(5)
** NCGS § 14-415.1(a)
*** NCGS § 14-415.3(a)
**** NCGS § 14-404(c)

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Guns and DVPOs

back to topI have an emergency ex-parte DVPO against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before my abuser's gun is taken away?

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:

  • Has a history of using or threatening to use a deadly weapon against you or anyone else; OR
  • Has threatened to seriously injure or kill you or your child(ren); OR
  • Has threatened to commit suicide; OR
  • Has seriously injured you or your child(ren).*
If the judge does not ask you about the abuser’s firearms, please speak up and tell this information to the judge anyway. You can ask that the judge order his firearms to be removed immediately. If the judge decides not to write a firearm restriction in the ex parte order, then you may have to wait until you are given a final DVPO.

* NCGS § 50B-3.1

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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 domestic violence protective order (DVPO)?

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:

  1. Be sure to include information in your complaint if the abuser has done any one of the following:
  • Has a history of using or threatening to use a deadly weapon;
  • Has threatened to seriously injure or kill you or your child;
  • Has threatened to commit suicide; OR
  • Has seriously injured you or your child.*
Note: Under NC law, the judge has to order that the abuser's gun be taken away if s/he did any of the above. However, EVEN IF the abuser has not done any of the behavior listed above, the judge always has the authority to order that the abuser’s gun be taken away.

        2.  If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns s/he has, where those guns are (if you know) and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).             

        3.  Ask the judge to check the box on your DVPO that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the DVPO is in effect.             

        4.  Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is checked on your DVPO.

It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser's guns once you leave the courthouse, who will take them, and where they will be held.  If the judge agrees to order that the abuser cannot keep his guns while the DVPO is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:
  • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the sheriff.
  • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser.
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.**
* NCGS § 50B 3.1
** Americans for Gun Safety; "Domestic Violence and Guns: A Guide to Laws that can Remove Guns from a Domestic Abuser."

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back to topI have a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

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:

  • Has a history of using or threatening to use a deadly weapon;
  • Has threatened to seriously injure or kill you or your child;
  • Has threatened to commit suicide; or
  • Has seriously injured you or your child.
The judge should also order the abuser to give the gun(s) s/he has to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours of being served with the order. The ban on guns is valid for as long as the order of protection lasts.** A final DVPO is valid for up to 1 year after the date the abuser was given notice of the order.***

The law described above 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.

Note:  Additionally, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser's right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements even if the judge does not specifically include on the order that he cannot have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

If you are afraid for your safety, talk to your local domestic violence program about safety planning and other options.

* NCGS § 50B-3(a)(1)
** NCGS § 50B-3.1(a)
*** NCGS § 50B-3(b)
**** NCGS § 50B-3.1(k)

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back to topThe abuser did not show up for the DVPO hearing. Can his gun still be taken away?

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.)

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back to topWhat will happen to the abuser's gun when my DVPO expires?

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)

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Guns and Criminal Convictions

back to topIf the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

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)

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back to topHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

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?

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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?

You can call the sheriff or police if you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws. Let them know that either you have a domestic violence protective order against the abuser, or the abuser has been convicted of a felony.

If you believe the abuser is violating federal firearms laws, you should contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to report the violation. There are several field offices located throughout North Carolina.

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.

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

Before legally purchasing a gun, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS). If the abuser has a qualifying domestic violence protective order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony, those records should be in the NCIS, 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.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun, 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 the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one. The criminal background check system is not foolproof.

Note: There may also be some loopholes in the law that the abuser can take advantage of.  For more information, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.

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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 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)

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More Information and Where to Get Help

back to topI do not have a DVPO against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a felony, is there anything I can do?

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:

  • anyone addicted to a controlled substance (drug);
  • anyone who the court has declared mentally incompetent or has been committed to a mental institution;
  • anyone who is an illegal immigrant in the United States;
  • anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces.**
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.

* NCGS § 15A-1343(b)(5)
** NCGS § 14-404(c)

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back to topIf the abuser is a law enforcement officer or other government official, do the state firearm laws still apply?

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)

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back to topI read through all of this information, and I'm still confused. What can I do?

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:

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

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