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. Arizona state law defines a felony as any offense that is punishable by a prison sentence in the state department of corrections.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 A.R.S. § 13-105(18)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Arizona law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
- is under 21 years old (but there is an exception that allows someone who is 19 or older to have or buy a gun if s/he is currently in the military or received an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions);
- is not a U.S. citizen;
- has been found by a court to be a danger to himself or to others (or mentally ill);1
- has been convicted of a felony in any state or is currently on probation for a domestic violence offense (as defined by law);
- is an undocumented immigrant or a “nonimmigrant” who is traveling here for business or pleasure;
- has been found incompetent by a court pursuant to rule 11, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, and who has not been found competent since that time; or
- has been found “guilty except insane” of a crime.2
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, 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.
1 A.R.S. § 13-3112(E)(1),(2),(4)
2 A.R.S. § 13-3101(A)(7)
Guns and Orders of Protection
I have a permanent order of protection against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?
Under Arizona state law, if the judge thinks that the abuser is a threat to you or to anyone else protected in the order, the judge can write on the order of protection that the abuser cannot have or buy a gun. The judge should also order the abuser to give the gun(s) s/he has to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours of being served with the order.1 The ban on guns would be valid for as long as the order of protection lasts. In Arizona, orders of protection are valid for one year after the date the abuser was given notice of the order.2
Federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him that meets certain requirements even if the judge does not specifically include on the order that he cannot have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
If you are afraid for your safety, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options. Go to the AZ Advocates and Shelters to find a program in your area.
1 A.R.S. § 13-3602(G)(4)
2 A.R.S. §13-3602(K)
Is there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get an Order of Protection?
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 order of protection 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 an order of protection will have a place to ask that the abuser’s gun(s) be taken away. Make sure you ask for it.
- 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 order of protection 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.2
1 Americans 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 order of protection (EOP) against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before the abuser's gun is taken away?
It depends. Under AZ state law, you can ask the judge to write in your emergency order that the abuser cannot have a gun and if the judge believes that the abuser (defendant) may cause you physical injury or death, the judge can include in the emergency order that the abuser cannot have or buy a gun.1 Therefore, be sure to speak up and tell the judge your fears and ask that the guns be removed.
However, if there is no specific mention of a firearm restriction in the emergency order, then you may have to wait until you are given a permanent order. For the guns to be taken away in a permanent order, the judge only has to believe that the abuser is a threat to you or anyone else protected in the order.2
There could be a slight possibility that it may be illegal under federal law to have a firearm while there is a temporary order of protection. 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/her to have a gun under federal law. 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/her to have a gun under federal law.3 The order of protection must also meet certain other requirements, though. Read I have a permanent order of protection against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to find out more.
While waiting for the court to issue you a permanent order, you can take steps to keep yourself safe. Please see our Safety Tips page for information on keeping safe, especially in rural areas.
1 A.R.S. § 13-3624(D)(4)
2 A.R.S. § 13-3602(G)(4)
3 18 USC § 922(g)(8)
What is the penalty if the abuser has a gun in violation of my order of protection?
Under Arizona state law, if the abuser violates any part of your order of protection, including the firearm ban, he can be arrested for “interfering with judicial proceedings.” This crime is considered a class 1 misdemeanor and he can be punished by a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisoned for up to six months.1 Also, if by violating the order, the abuser commits another crime, he can be arrested for that crime as well.2
1 A.R.S. §§ 13-2810; 13-802; 13-707(A)(1)
2 A.R.S. § 13-3602(J)
Guns and Criminal Convictions
If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?
Arizona state law says that if a person has been convicted of a felony in any state, is currently on probation for a domestic violence offense (as defined by law), has been found “guilty except insane” of a crime, or has been found incompetent by a court pursuant to rule 11, Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, and who has not been found competent since that time s/he cannot have or buy a gun.1 Federal laws, which apply to all states, also restrict a person’s right to have a gun if s/he has been convicted of certain crimes. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 A.R.S. § 13-3101(A)(7)(b),(d),(f),(g)
How 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 your 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 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?
If the abuser's gun(s) is taken away, what will happen to it?
If the abuser’s gun(s) is taken away due to an order of protection, s/he will have to give it to a local law enforcement official within 24 hours of the time s/he is given notice of the order.1 The law enforcement agency will keep the abuser’s gun(s) in the main property room at the station until the order expires.
1 A.R.S. §13-3602(G)(4)
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 AZ Sheriff Departments page.
You can find ATF field offices in Arizona 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 AZ 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.
More Information and Where to Get Help
I do not have an order of protection against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Is there anything I can do?
In Arizona, there are other circumstances under which it is illegal to have a gun. If the abuser is under 21 (or for those currently in the military or honorably discharged, under 19), not a U.S. citizen, has been found by a court to be a danger to him/herself or to others (or mentally ill1) or is an undocumented immigrant or a “nonimmigrant” who is traveling here for business or pleasure, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun. Also, if the abuser was charged with a crime but found incompetent to stand trial by the court and has still not been declared competent, s/he cannot have a gun in his/her possession.2
If this is your situation, please talk to an advocate or lawyer in your area about how this law is being enforced. Go to the AZ Advocates and Shelters page for local programs.
If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Safety Planning 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.
For additional information on gun laws in Arizona, you can go to the Giffords Law Center website.
1 A.R.S. § 13-3112(E)(1), (E)(2), (E)(4)
2 A.R.S. § 13-3101(A)(7)
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, but there are people out there who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.
- You can contact the National Center on Full Faith and Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111.
- You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area (See our AZ Advocates and Shelters page under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page to find a program in your area.)
- You can write to our Email Hotline.