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. It is defined under federal law and Connecticut state law as 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 local criminal courthouse and try to search the records.
1 18 USC § 3559; C.G.S.A. § 53a-25
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
It is illegal under Connecticut state law for a person to possess (have) a firearm or ammunition if any of the following are true:
- s/he has been convicted of a felony;
- s/he has been convicted of any of the following misdemeanors committed on or after October 1, 2013:
- illegal possession [of a controlled substance]
- criminally negligent homicide;
- assault in the third degree;
- assault of an elderly, blind, disabled or pregnant person or a person with intellectual disability;
- threatening in the second degree;
- reckless endangerment in the first degree;
- unlawful restraint in the second degree;
- riot in the first degree;
- riot in the second degree;
- inciting to riot;
- stalking in the second degree;
- s/he has been convicted as delinquent for a “serious juvenile offense;”
- s/he has been discharged from custody within the past 20 years after having been found not guilty of a crime by reason of mental disease or defect;
- s/he has been confined on or after October 1, 2013, in a hospital for persons with psychiatric disabilities within the past five years by order of a probate court, or within the past 1 year if the person already has a valid permit or certificate to carry firearms;
- s/he has been voluntarily admitted on or after October 1, 2013, to a hospital for persons with psychiatric disabilities or within the past six months for care and treatment of a psychiatric disability; Note: This does not apply if:
- the person voluntarily admitted him/herself for alcohol or drug dependency; or
- if the person is a police officer who voluntarily admitted him/herself and had his/her firearm returned for official use; or
- s/he has been adjudicated as a “mental defective” or has been committed to a mental institution (and therefore is prohibited from shipping, transporting, possessing or receiving a firearm under the federal law 18 USC 922(g)(4)).1
In addition, a person can be denied a certificate to carry a revolver or pistol if any of the following are true:
- s/he meets any of the conditions listed in numbers 1-7 above;
- s/he is under age 21;
- s/he is an “alien” who is illegally or unlawfully in the United States; or
- a judge ordered that his/her firearms be seized for the reasons explained in the paragraph below.2
Under Connecticut law, if a state’s attorney or any two police officers believe that a person who possesses one or more firearms poses a risk of immediate personal injury to himself/herself or to others, the state’s attorney or police officers can ask a judge to issue a warrant to seize all firearms and ammunition from that person.3 See our Firearms Seizure Law section for more information.
Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun if s/he was convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor or if you have a final protection order against him/her that meets certain requirements. Go to the Federal Gun Laws page to get more information.
1 C.G.S.A. § 53a-217(a)
2 C.G.S.A § 29-36f
3 C.G.S.A. § 29-38c(a)