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Línea Nacional para la Violencia Doméstica: 1-800-799-7233 o (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Conozca la Ley: U.S. Virgin Islands

ACTUALIZADA 23 de octubre, 2016

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Below is information regarding state gun laws in the Virgin Islands.   Information is provided about how a restraining order or criminal conviction affects an abuser’s right to have a gun. However, in addition to these state-specific laws, there are also separate federal gun laws that could apply as well. 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 help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.To find an organization, please go to the VI Where to Find Help page.

Definitions and Basic Info

arribaWhat 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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arribaWhat is the definition of a felony?

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. In the VI, a felony is defined as a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.  In St. Croix, the definition includes a crime punishable by death.*  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.

* 5 V.I.C. § 4008

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Guns and Restraining Orders

arribaI have a temporary restraining order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before my abuser's gun is taken away?

Maybe.  VI law says that the abuser has to be given notice of the restraining order before it is illegal for him to have a gun.*  If the judge gave you an ex parte temporary order of protection (which means that no advance notice was given to the abuser), which is commonly done, it could still be LEGAL for him to have a gun.  However, if the judge scheduled a court hearing and gave notice of the hearing to the abuser before giving you the temporary order of protection, it is possible that it is ILLEGAL for him to have a gun. The order of protection must also meet certain other requirements, though.  Go to I have a restraining order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to read more.

* 23 V.I.C. § 456a(a)(8)(A)

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

Virgin Island law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he is subject to a restraining order that:

  • was issued after a hearing of which s/he received actual notice, and at which s/he had an opportunity to participate; and
  • restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or his/her child or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child; and
  • includes a finding that the person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of such intimate partner or child; or explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against such intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury.*

Federal laws, which apply to all states and territories, also restrict a person's right to have a gun under certain circumstances.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

If you need help to understand whether your restraining order meets these requirements, you can ask a lawyer or go VI State and Local Programs to find a domestic violence program in your area.

* 23 V.I.C. § 456a

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arribaThe abuser did not show up for the 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.*

* 23 V.I.C. § 456a(a)(8)(A)

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arribaIs there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a Restraining Order?

VI law says that a judge can put a prohibition against gun possession in the restraining order.  There are a couple steps you can take to help make it clear to the judge that the gun ban should be included in the restraining order: 

  • If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns he has, and if he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  • In some copies of the restraining order, the gun prohibition is already there.  If it is not, you can ask the judge to specifically write in your order that your abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. 
  • 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 your abuser cannot keep his guns while the restraining order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:

  • Require the abuser to give his 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 your abuser.
  • Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

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arribaWhat is the penalty for violating the gun prohibition in a restraining order?

In Virgin Islands, anyone who violates a restraining order, including the firearm provision, can be fined $1,000 if there is no threat of bodily harm.  There is a fine of $5,000 if there was a previous offense and risk of bodily harm.  There is a $15,000 fine if there is a previous offense or not, but there was a threat with a weapon.*

There may also be federal penalties.  See Federal Gun Laws for more information.

* 16 V.I.C. § 99(b)

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Guns and Criminal Convictions

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

Virgin Island law says that a person cannot get a license to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of the following crimes:

  • s/he has been convicted in any court for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
  • s/he has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;*
  • s/he has been convicted in any state of any crime of violence; any violation of a narcotic law; or a violation of a "harmful drug" law;** or
  • s/he is a fugitive from justice.*

Federal laws, which apply to all states and territories, also restrict a person's right to have a gun under certain circumstances.  Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

* 23 V.I.C. § 456a
** 23 V.I.C. § ​458(a)
*** 23 V.I.C. §§ ​458(a); 451(b)

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arribaHow can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Domestic violence 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.

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 NCIS. 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?

arribaWho 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 VI Police Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in U.S. Virgin Islands 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 VI 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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arriba¿Qué pasará si el abusador intenta comprar un arma?

Antes de comprar un arma de fuego de un/a vendedor/a licenciado/a, todos los/las compradores/as deben someterse a un chequeo de antecedentes penales realizado por Centro Nacional Instantáneo sobre Antecedentes (NICS por sus siglas en inglés).  Si el/la abusador/a tiene una orden de protección calificada en su contra o, si ha sido sentenciado/a por un delito grave o un delito menos grave por violencia doméstica intrafamiliar en cualquier estado, esos registros deben estar en el NICS, lo cual debería imposibilitarle a el/la abusador/a comprar un arma de fuego.  No todos los estados tienen un sistema automatizado de registro, lo que dificulta el proceso de verificación de antecedentes penales, por lo tanto, algunos criminales y abusadores/as logran burlar el sistema.  También es importante saber que no se necesita una verificación de antecedentes penales para ventas privadas y a través del Internet.

Si el/la abusador/a pudo comprar un arma y usted entiende que él/ella no debe tener una legalmente, usted puede avisarle a la policía y pedir que le quiten el arma y quizás ellos/as lo/a investigarán.  Generalmente no es buena idea asumir que porque el/la abusador/a pudo comprar un arma, es legal que la tenga. 

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More Information and Where to Get Help

arribaIf the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?

In St. Croix, if the abuser’s gun is taken away, it will be given to the firearms division and placed in the property unit.  For other Islands, you can contact your local police department to ask this question.

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arribaI do not have a restraining order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he have a gun?

Even if the abuser was never convicted of a crime and you do not have a protection order against him/her, there are still other reasons why it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun.  Virgin Island law says that a person cannot get a license to have a gun if:

  • s/he is a fugitive from justice;
  • s/he is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (drug),* an alcoholic, or a narcotic or drug addict;**
  • s/he has been judged by a court as a "mental defective," has been committed to a mental institution,* or is mentally incompetent;**
  • s/he is illegally/unlawfully in the United States;
  • s/he has been discharged from the United States Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • s/he was a citizen of the Unites States but has renounced his/her citizenship; or
  • the Police Commissioner of the Virgin Islands believes that s/he is an "improper person" to possess a license to carry a firearm based on justifiable reasons.***

 

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

* 23 V.I.C. § 456a
** 23 V.I.C. § ​458(a)
*** 23 V.I.C. §§ ​458(a); 451(b)

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arribaI've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both federal and state gun law can be confusing, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area (See our VI State and Local Programs page).
  • You can also 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.

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