What is the difference between federal and state gun laws? Why do I need to understand both?
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.
What is the definition of a felony?
Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun 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 Alaska, a felony is a crime that is punishable by imprisonment for more than one year.1
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 and search the conviction records.
1 Alaska Statute § 11.81.900(25)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
In terms of domestic violence, in particular, if a person used a firearm (or had it in his/her possession) while committing domestic violence, any of the following could apply:
- as part of a final protective order (in civil court), the judge can prohibit the abuser from using firearms and order the abuser to surrender his/her firearms;
- as part of a law enforcement officer’s investigation of a crime involving domestic violence, the officer can temporarily take (seize) any firearms owned or in the possession of the abuser in case they are needed for evidence; or
- as part of the sentencing for being convicted of a crime involving domestic violence, the judge must order the weapon used to be taken away (forfeited).1
It is also illegal for someone to have a firearm that is small enough to be carried as a concealed weapon if s/he was convicted of a felony or was found “delinquent” as a minor for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult. However, it is no longer illegal if ten years have passed since the person completed any jail sentence, parole, and probation. This applies to all felonies and for most juvenile convictions 2
In addition, under Alaska law, a person cannot get a permit to carry a concealed handgun if s/he:
- is under age 21;
- has been convicted of two or more class A misdemeanors in any state within the past six years;
- has a final protection order issued against him/her that meets certain requirements, thereby making him/her ineligible to have any firearm under federal law;
- has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, thereby making him/her ineligible to have any firearm under federal law;
- is currently, or has been within the past three years, ordered by a court to complete an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.3
Note:It is also a crime to have a firearm in one’s possession while his/her physical or mental condition is impaired due to alcohol or drugs.4
If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun. Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, may restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 Alaska Statute §§ 12.55.015(f); 18.66.100(c)(6), (c)(7); 18.65.515(b)
2 Alaska Statute §§ 11.61.200(a)(1), (b)(1)(c); 12.55.185(18)
3 Alaska Statute § 18.65.705(1), (2), (4), (5)
4 Alaska Statute §§ 11.61.210(a)(1)