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Legal Information: Iowa

Iowa State Gun Laws

State Gun Laws

Basic Info and Definitions

What is the difference between federal and state gun laws?

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?

In Iowa, felonies are crimes that are punishable by incarceration in state prison for terms of two years or more. Felonies in Iowa are designated as class “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D.”1

1 IA ST §§ 902.9; 903.1

I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

Iowa state law says that a person cannot get a firearms permit, and therefore, cannot have a gun, if s/he is:

  • under the age of 18 and seeking a professional firearms permit;
  • under the age of 21 and seeking a nonprofessional firearms permit;
  • addicted to alcohol;
  • likely to use a weapon illegally or in a way that would endanger him/herself or other, which must be based on documented evidence within the two years before applying for a firearms permit;
  • subject to the firearm possession, receipt, transportation or control prohibitions of Iowa law;
  • convicted of a felony;
  • convicted of any serious or aggravated misdemeanor defined in chapter 708 of the Iowa Code, such as assault, stalking, harassment, within the previous three years that does not involve the use of a firearm or explosive;
  • prohibited by federal law from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm;1 or
  • subject to a permanent domestic violence protective order.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, may restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

1 IA ST § 724.8
2 IA ST § 236.5(1)

Guns and Protective Orders

I have a temporary ex parte protective order against the abuser. Can the abuser have a gun?

An abuser may be able to have a gun while a temporary ex parte protective order is in place since the law only denies a firearm permit to someone if there is a permanent domestic violence protective order in place.1 However, temporary orders must specifically include a notice that the abuser may be required to give up all firearms, offensive weapons, and ammunition if a permanent order is issued.2

1See IA ST § 236.5(1)(b)(02)
2 IA ST § 236.4(2)

I have a final protective order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

In a permanent order, the judge can order the abuser to not have any firearms, weapons, and ammunition in his/her possession.1

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person’s right to have a gun under certain circumstances. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

1 IA ST § 236.5(1)

Is there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a protective order?

While it does not need to be written on your protective order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun in order for the federal law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written. There are a couple steps you can take to try to help make this clear:

  1. If the abuser has a gun, be sure to make a request on your petition for a protective order that his/her gun(s) be taken away and held while your protective order is in effect. You can write this request under the “Other” section of what you ask the judge to do. You may also want to write how many guns the abuser has and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  2. Ask the judge to specifically write in your protective order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. There will most likely be a box that the judge can check off.
  3. Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written (or checked) 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, and a time frame in which the guns must be turned over. If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his guns while the protective order 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.

Guns and Criminal Convictions

If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

Iowa state law says that a person cannot get a firearms permit, and therefore, cannot have a gun, if s/he is:

  • under the age of 18 and seeking a professional firearms permit;
  • under the age of 21 and seeking a nonprofessional firearms permit;
  • addicted to alcohol;
  • likely to use a weapon illegally or in a way that would endanger him/herself or other, which must be based on documented evidence within the two years before applying for a firearms permit;
  • subject to the firearm possession, receipt, transportation or control prohibitions of Iowa law;
  • convicted of a felony;
  • convicted of any serious or aggravated misdemeanor defined in chapter 708 of the Iowa Code, such as assault, stalking, harassment, within the previous three years that does not involve the use of a firearm or explosive;
  • prohibited by federal law from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm;1 or
  • subject to a permanent domestic violence protective order.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, may restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

1 IA ST § 724.8
2 IA ST § 236.5(1)

How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Criminal records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access. If you know the exact courthouse where the 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 is taken away, what will happen to it?

If the abuser’s gun is ordered to be taken due to your protective order, the order will state that the abuser cannot have any firearms, weapons, and ammunition in his/her possession. The abuser will most likely be given directions to deliver the gun(s) to the sheriff department or local law enforcement agency for safe keeping while the protective order is in effect. When the protective order expires, the gun may be returned to the abuser.1

1 IA ST § 236.5(b)(2)

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 IA Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in Iowa 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 IA 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.

1National Criminal Justice Reference Service website

What is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?

The penalty for violating state firearms laws is a Class D felony.1 The punishment for a Class D felony is imprisonment for no more than 5 years and a fine between $1,000 and $10,240.2

1 IA ST § 724.3
2 IA ST § 902.9(e)

More Information and Where to Get Help

I do not have a protective order against the abuser and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Can s/he have a gun?

A person who wants to buy a gun in Iowa must have a valid permit. A permit may not be issued to a person who is:

  • under the age of 18;
  • under the age of 21 and seeking a nonprofessional firearms permit;
  • addicted to alcohol;
  • likely to use a weapon illegally or in a way that would endanger themselves or other (this must be based on documented evidence within two years of applying for a firearms permit);
  • subject to the firearm possession, receipt, transportation or control prohibitions of Iowa law;
  • convicted of a felony;
  • convicted of any serious or aggravated misdemeanor defined in chapter 708 (for example, assault, stalking, harassment) within the previous three years which does not involve the use of a firearm or explosive;
  • prohibited by federal law from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm;1 or
  • subject to a permanent domestic violence protective order.2

If these situations do not 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 IA Places that Help page to find a local domestic violence organization near you.

Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun under other circumstances. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.

For additional information on gun laws in Iowa, you can go to the Giffords Law Center website.

1 IA ST § 724.8
2 IA ST § 236.5(1)

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 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 x2.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area on our IA Places that Help page.
  • You can write to our Email Hotline.