WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Federal

Federal Gun Laws

Updated: 
August 29, 2018

I do not have an order of protection against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony. Can s/he have a gun?

Even if the abuser has not been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, and you do not have a protection order, it may still be illegal for him/her to have a gun. A person cannot have or buy a gun under federal law if s/he:

  • is a fugitive from justice (fled any state to avoid being prosecuted or to avoid testifying in any criminal proceeding);
  • is an unlawful user of or addicted to drugs (controlled substances) - but this does not include alcohol or tobacco;
  • has been declared by a judge to be mentally incompetent or was committed to a mental institution against their will; who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity; or has undergone some other court proceeding about their mental illness;1
  • is an immigrant who is illegally or unlawfully present in the U.S.;
  • has been dishonorably discharged from the military; or
  • has given up (renounced) her/his citizenship to the U.S.2

If you think the abuser has a gun or can access a gun, it is important to try to make a plan for your safety. Access to a gun is one indicator that a victim may be at increased risk of death or serious harm – see our Danger Assessment page for a list of other risk factors. Our Staying Safe page has tips on how to plan for your safety. 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. See our Advocates and Shelters page to find a local domestic violence organization near you and choose your state from the drop-down menu.

1 27 C.F.R. § 478.11
2 18 USC § 922(g)(2)-(7)

The abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?

The law that makes it illegal for a person who has an order of protection issued against him/her or for a person who was convicted of a felony to have a gun is different when the person works for a governmental agency. Most often, employees of governmental agencies who would use a gun on duty are law enforcement officers, such as police, sheriffs, and correction officers, and members of the military. However, it is possible that other governmental agency positions may require the use of a firearm as well.

The law clearly states that a police officer or military servicemember (or other governmental agency employee) who is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor can never possess a firearm, including both for personal use or while on duty. However, the law allows a police officer or military servicemember (or other governmental agency employee) who was convicted of a felony or who has an order of protection issued against him/her to possess a firearm if the firearm was “imported for, sold or shipped to, or issued for the use of” a federal, state, or local government agency. In other words, a police officer or military servicemember (or other governmental agency employee) who has been convicted of a felony or who is subject to an order of protection can still possess an agency-issued firearm while on duty.1

In addition, the law is clear that a police officer or military servicemember (or other governmental agency employee) cannot buy a gun for personal use. However, it’s not entirely clear under the law whether or not a governmental agency could give an agency-issued firearm to a person who was convicted of a felony or who is subject to an order of protection for his/her personal use.1 Each governmental agency may interpret the law differently and therefore may have different policies on this.

If you are confused or not sure whether the abuser can still use a gun for work purposes, you can contact us on our Email Hotline or call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.

1 18 USC §§ 925(a)(1); 922(d)(9), (g)(9)

I've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand federal 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 Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. (See our Advocates and Shelters page. Choose your state from the drop-down menu.)