State Gun Laws
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. In Guam, a felony is a crime that can have a sentence of imprisonment for over one year.1 Felonies in Guam are defined by first, second and third degrees.2 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 to search the conviction records.
1 9 GCA §1.18
2 9 GCA § 1.19(a)
Basic Info about Guam's Gun Laws
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Do I have legal options for getting the gun away from the abuser?
For any crime involving family violence, where the absuer is arrested, a peace officer should seize (take) all weapons that are alleged to have been involved or threatened to be used in the crime against you.1 Therefore, be sure to tell the officer if the abuser used or threatened to use a gun in any way.
1 9 G.C.A. §30.50
Guns and Restraining Orders
I have a preliminary (temporary) order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before the abuser's gun is taken away?
Maybe. If the judge gave you an ex parte temporary restraining order (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 protection order, it is possible that it is ILLEGAL for him/her to have a gun under federal law. The restraining order must also meet certain other requirements, though. Read I have a protection order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to find out more.
I have a restraining order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?
It depends. Your restraining order may specifically state that the abuser cannot have a gun or buy a new gun. In Guam, when a person is arrested for family violence, a judge can include in the restraining order that the abuser is prohibited from buying or having a gun or other weapon.1 In Guam, violation of a restraining order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or prison up to one year or both. If there is bodily injury that happened during the violation, the respondent can be imprisoned for at least 48 hours. The respondent can be imprisoned for up to 30 days if there is bodily injury more than once within a year.2
Federal laws, which apply to all states and territories, also restrict a person’s right to have a gun if s/he has a restraining order against him/her. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
To talk to someone at your local domestic violence program about your options, see GU Advocates and Shelters to find a program in your area.
1 9 GCA § 30.21(a)(5)
2 9 GCA § 30.40(a)(4) & (b)
Is there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a restraining order?
There are also a few steps you can take to help make it clear to the judge that the removal of guns should be included in the restraining order:
- 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 write in your restraining order or to check a box that your abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun while the order is in effect.
- 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 your abuser cannot keep his/her guns while the restraining order is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge to:
- Require the abuser to give his 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 your abuser.1
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.
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 GU Sheriff Departments page.
You can find ATF field offices in Guam 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 GU 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
1 United 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 a restraining order against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, is there anything I can do?
In Guam, an identification card for a firearm application cannot be issued if the abuser:
- is a convicted felon;
- is not a citizen or legal permanent resident;
- is presently charged with a crime;
- has been adjudicated incompetent;
- has been committed to a mental institution;
- is under 18 years of age;
- violated the Uniform Controlled Substances Act;
- has (within 10 years) been convicted of any misdemeanor where there was personal injury or the firearms is a factor in the offense; or
- has been determined by the police chief to suffer from physical or mental disease, which would negatively affect his ability to safely use a firearm.1
If none of these situations apply, 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 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 GU Advocates and Shelters page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.
1 10 GCA § 60108(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 gun laws 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 write to our Email Hotline.
- You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. See our GU Advocates and Shelters page for referrals.
- You can also 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