State Gun Laws
Basic Info and Definitions
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 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. A felony under Alabama state law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of 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 where s/he was convicted and search the conviction records.
1Ala.Code § 13A-1-2(8)
Guns and PFAs
I have a protection from abuse (PFA) order against the abuser. Can s/he have a gun?
It depends. Your restraining order (PFA) may specifically state that your abuser cannot have a gun or buy a new gun. In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states and territories, 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 to get more information.
Is there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a PFA?
Here are some things that may help:
- If the abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many gun(s) s/he has, and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
- Ask the judge to specifically write in your PFA order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the PFA order is in effect.
- Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written on your PFA 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 PFA order 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.
- Order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.1
1Americans for Gun Safety; “Domestic Violence and Guns: A Guide to Laws that can Remove Guns from a Domestic Abuser.” Note: This organization is now called Third Way, and no longer publishes this article on their site.
I have an emergency/ ex parte order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before my abuser's gun is taken away?
Maybe. If the judge does not write on the emergency/ ex parte order that the defendant (the abuser) cannot have a gun, most likely it is legal for the abuser to have a gun. Remember to ask the judge to include this firearm prohibition when you return to court for the permanent PFA.
However, even if the judge does NOT write that the abuser cannot have a gun on the final order, it may still be illegal for him to have a gun under federal law. Go to I have a final order of protection against the abuser. Can his/her gun be taken away? to learn more.
Guns and Criminal Convictions
If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?
Alabama state law says that anyone who has been convicted in Alabama or in another state of committing or attempting to the following crimes cannot own, possess, or have in his/her control a firearm:
- a crime of violence,1 which is defined as:
- assault (with intent to rob, ravish, or murder),
- kidnapping, and
- any Class A felony or any Class B felony that has as an element serious physical injury, the distribution or manufacture of a controlled substance, or is of a sexual nature involving a child under the age of 12;2
- a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence;1 or
- one of 51 violent offenses listed in the law, including stalking, domestic violence, domestic violence by strangulation or suffocation, and more.3 (Note: You can read the whole list of 51 crimes on our AL Statutes page, sub-section 15 of section 12-25-32).
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.
1 Alabama Code § 13A-11-72(a)
2 Alabama Code § 13A-11-70(2)
3 Alabama Code §§ 13A-11-72(a); 12-25-32(15)
How 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. You can find contact information for courthouses on our AL Courthouse Locations page.
Criminal 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 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?
The Abuser Isn't Supposed to Have a Gun...Now What?
Who 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 AL Sheriff Departments page.
You can find ATF field offices in Alabama 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 AL Advocates and Shelters 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.1
1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)
What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?
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). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 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 legally 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 and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.
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.
What is the penalty for violating the state firearm laws?
Anyone who has been convicted of a crime of violence, and has or buys a gun in violation of Alabama state law, can be punished by jail time for up to five years.1
1Alabama Code § 13A-11-84(a)
More Information and Where to Get Help
If the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?
If a person is arrested in Alabama for having a gun when the Alabama law says that s/he is not allowed to have a gun, it is the responsibility of the sheriff or police officer making the arrest to seize (take away) the person’s gun. The gun will then be delivered to either the county sheriff or court clerk of stolen property. The district attorney in the county where the gun(s) was taken away can then file to have the gun destroyed.
To read more about the exact procedures, go to our AL Statutes page to read section 13A-11-84(b) of the Alabama Code.
I do not have a protection from abuse order against the abuser, and s/he has never been convicted of a crime. Can s/he have a gun?
It depends. Under Alabama law, the following people cannot have a firearm in their possession or control:
- someone who is of “unsound mind” (which is defined in sub-section f of section 13A-11-72 of the law);
- a drug addict;
- a minor (unless the minor is being supervised by a parent and following the rules explained in sub-section f of section 13A-11-72 of the law); or
- someone who regularly abuses alcohol (a “habitual drunkard”).1
If any of these apply to your situation, please talk to someone in your area about how this law is being enforced. The sheriff department in your county may be able to give you more information. You can find contact information for your local sheriff on our AL Sheriff Departments page.
If none of these situations apply to you, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Safety Tips page for more information. You can also contact your local domestic violence program 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 AL Advocates and Shelters page.
For additional information on gun laws in Alabama, you can go to the Giffords Law Center website.
Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun under other circumstances. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 Alabama Code § 13A-11-72(a),(b)
I'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 & Full Faith and Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you at 1-800-903-0111 x 2.
- You can write to our Email Hotline.
- You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area - see our AL Advocates and Shelters page.