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.
1 Alabama Code § 13A-1-2(8)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Alabama state law says that the following people cannot have a firearm:
- anyone who is subject to a valid protection order for domestic abuse, issued after notice to the abuser and a hearing;
- anyone who has been convicted in Alabama or in another state of committing or attempting to the following crimes:
- 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
- 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 Selected Alabama Statutes page, sub-section 15 of section 12-25-32);
- a crime of violence,1 which is defined as:
- someone who is of “unsound mind,” which is defined in sub-section f of section 13A-11-72 of the law;
- someone who is addicted to drugs;
- someone who is an “illegally or unlawfully” in the United States or who has a nonimmigrant visa;
- 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; and
- someone who regularly abuses alcohol, known in the law as a “habitual drunkard”.4
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), (h)(8)
2 Alabama Code § 13A-11-70(4)
3 Alabama Code §§ 13A-11-72(a); 12-25-32(15)
4 Alabama Code § 13A-11-72(a), (b), (c)