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Know the Laws: Wisconsin

UPDATED April 11, 2016

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Below is information about state gun laws in Georgia.  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 or lawyer in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. To find an agency, please go to the WI Where to Find Help page to find help.

Basic Info and 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.

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.

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back to topWhat is the definition of a felony?

Wisconsin state law defines a felony as a crime that is punishable by imprisonment in the Wisconsin state prisons.* A felony under federal law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.**

* Wis. Stat. § 939.60 
** 18 USC 3559(a)

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

It depends.  It is illegal under Wisconsin law (a Class G felony) for a person to possess a firearm if any of the following applies: 

  • s/he has been convicted of a felony in Wisconsin (or a crime in another state that would be a felony if committed in Wisconsin);
  • s/he has been found not guilty by reason of mental disease/defect of a felony in Wisconsin (or a crime in another state that would be a felony if committed in Wisconsin);
  • s/he has been adjudicated delinquent for an act committed on or after April 21, 1994, that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult;
  • s/he has been involuntarily committed for treatment by a court due to mental illness, drug dependency, or other developmental disability and is subject to an order not to possess a firearm;
  • s/he is subject to an order not to possess a firearm in a court proceeding based on alcoholism, the appointment of a guardian, or protective placement/protective services;  
  • s/he has an injunction issued against him/her for domestic violence or child abuse , including a tribal domestic violence injunction (except the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin); however, for these injunctions, there is an exception for law enforcement or military officers; or 
  • s/he is subject to an order not to possess a firearm in a harassment restraining order/injunction or an individual at risk restraining order/injunction.* 

In addition, if you have a domestic abuse 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 the abuser to buy, own or have a gun in his/her possession.**  To read more information, go to our Federal Gun Laws pages. 

* Wis. Stat. § 941.29(1m)
** 18 USC 922(g)(8),(9)

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Guns and Domestic Abuse Restraining Orders

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

It depends.  It is illegal under Wisconsin law (a Class G felony) for a person to possess a firearm if any of the following applies: 

  • s/he has an injunction issued against him/her for domestic violence or child abuse , including a tribal domestic violence injunction (except the Menominee Indian tribe of Wisconsin); however, for these injunctions, there is an exception for law enforcement or military officers; or 
  • s/he is subject to an order not to possess a firearm in a harassment restraining order/injunction or an individual at risk restraining order/injunction.* 

In addition, if you have a domestic abuse restraining order against the abuser, then federal law states that it is illegal for the abuser to buy, own or have a gun in his/her possession.**  To read more information, go to our Federal Gun Laws pages. 

* Wis. Stat. § 941.29(1m)(f),(g)
** 18 USC 922(g)(1),(9)

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back to topThe abuser did not show up for the domestic abuse 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 domestic abuse 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.)

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back to topI have a temporary restraining order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a final order before the abuser's gun is taken away?

Maybe.  You can ask the judge to write in your temporary order that the abuser cannot have a gun while you are waiting for a full court hearing.  If the judge sees the abuser's firearm as a serious enough threat, the judge might decide to write this in.  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. For information on how federal law deals with firearms in a temporary order, see I have a temporary order of protection against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away? 

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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 restraining order?

Here are a few things that may help:

  • 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 specifically write in your injunction that the abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. The form that you will have to fill out to petition for a restraining order/injunction should have a place where you can request additional protections. You can ask that the abuser’s gun(s) be taken away in that section; and
  • Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written on your 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. If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the restraining order/injunction is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:

  • Require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser's house and get them;
  • Make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser; and
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

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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?

It depends.  It is illegal under Wisconsin law (a Class G felony) for a person to possess a firearm if any of the following applies: 

  • s/he has been convicted of a felony in Wisconsin (or a crime in another state that would be a felony if committed in Wisconsin);
  • s/he has been found not guilty by reason of mental disease/defect of a felony in Wisconsin (or a crime in another state that would be a felony if committed in Wisconsin); or
  • s/he has been adjudicated delinquent for an act committed on or after April 21, 1994, that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult.* 

In addition, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or "domestic violence misdemeanor," then federal law states that it is illegal for the abuser to buy, own or have a gun in his/her possession.**  To read more information, go to our Federal Gun Laws pages. 

* Wis. Stat. § 941.29(1m)(a)-(d)
** 18 USC 922(g)(1),(9)

 

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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.

Federal law specifically prohibits possession of a firearm if the person is convicted of any felony or of a domestic violence misdemeanor.  Criminal records that would make a person ineligible to purchase a firearm 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 purchase a gun?

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The Abuser Isn’t Supposed to Have a Gun…Now What?

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

When you get a domestic abuse restraining order/injunction, the judge will generally order the abuser to give surrender his/her guns within 48 hours. The firearms will be surrendered (given) to the sheriff (either in the county where your court case is taking place or in the county where the abuser lives) or to another person that the abuser suggests who is approved by the judge.**  If the gun is given to a sheriff, the sheriff will issue a receipt that includes the date on which the firearm was surrendered and the manufacturer, model, and serial number of the firearm.  The sheriff can store the gun at a warehouse at the abuser’s expense.**  You can read more about the process for surrendering a firearm on our WI Statutes page. 

* Wis. Stat. §§ 813.12(4m)(a)(2); 813.1285(1g)(a)
** Wis. Stat. § 813.1285(6)(a),(e)(1)

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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 WI Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Wisconsin 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 WI 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, 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 domestic abuse restraining order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, 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.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps they 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.

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.  Go to our WI State and Local Programs page to find an organization near you.

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back to topWhat is the penalty for violating state and federal firearm laws?

Under Wisconsin state law, possession of a firearm in violation of a domestic abuse or harassment restraining order is a Class G felony and can be punished by a fine of up to $25,000, jail time of up to 10 years, or both.*  Wisconsin state law also says that any violation of a temporary or final domestic abuse restraining order can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, jail time of up to 9 months, or both.**

Also, 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.***

* Wis. Stat. §§ 941.29(2); 939.60(2)(g)
** Wis. Stat. § 813.12(8)
*** 18 USC § 924(a)(2)

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More Information and Where to Get Help

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

Even if you do not have a domestic violence restraining order/injunction against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of any crimes, it is illegal under Wisconsin law (a Class G felony) for a person to possess a firearm if any of the following applies: 

  • s/he has been found not guilty by reason of mental disease/defect of a felony in Wisconsin (or a crime in another state that would be a felony if committed in Wisconsin);
  • s/he has been adjudicated delinquent for an act committed on or after April 21, 1994, that would be considered a felony if committed by an adult;
  • s/he has been involuntarily committed for treatment by a court due to mental illness, drug dependency, or other developmental disability and is subject to an order not to possess a firearm;
  • s/he is subject to an order not to possess a firearm in a court proceeding based on alcoholism, the appointment of a guardian, or protective placement/protective services;  
  • s/he has an injunction issued against him/her for child abuse (however, there is an exception for law enforcement or military officers); or 
  • s/he is subject to an order not to possess a firearm in a harassment restraining order/injunction or an individual at risk restraining order/injunction.* 

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

* Wis. Stat. § 941.29(1m)

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

Under Wisconsin state law, if the prohibition against having a firearm comes from the fact that there is a domestic violence or child abuse restraining order issued against him/her, then the prohibition may not apply.  If the abuser is a peace officer (law enforcement officer) and s/he is required to possess a firearm while in the line of duty or it is a condition of employment that s/he possess a gun while off duty, then the law prohibiting firearm use will not apply.*  Also, if the abuser is a member of the U.S. armed forces or national guard, s/he can possess a firearm while in the line of duty.**

However, if the abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, then under federal law, the 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 the abuser can still use a gun for work purposes, you can call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2

* Wis. Stat. § 941.29(10)(a)
** Wis. Stat. § 941.29(10)(b) 
*** 18 USC § 925(a)(1)

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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.  There are people who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law. You can:

  • contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111 x 2;
  • contact us by writing to our Email Hotline;
  • contact a local domestic violence organization in your area.

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