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 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. Kansas defines a felony as any crime that is:
- punishable by death;
- punishable by imprisonment in any state correctional institution; or
- defined as a felony by law.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 and search the conviction records.
1 Kan. Stat. § 21-5102(a)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is this legal?
Kansas state law says that it is illegal for the following people to have a firearm:
- a person who is addicted to, and illegally using, drugs;
- a person who is/was mentally ill or an alcohol or drug abuser and subject to involuntary commitment for care and treatment;
- someone under age 18, unless the barrel of the gun is at least 12 inches long;
- someone who is a fugitive from justice, which means that the person knows that there is a warrant issued for him/her for committing a felony;
- an immigrant who is not authorized to be in the United States;
- someone who, within the past five years, has been convicted of a misdemeanor for a domestic violence offense in Kansas or a similar misdemeanor crime in another state;
- someone who has a current protection order against him/her (a “respondent”) that meets the following three conditions:
- The order was issued after a hearing and the respondent received notice of the hearing beforehand and had the opportunity to participate in the hearing;
- The order restrains the respondent from doing any of the following:
- harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner, the intimate partner’s child, or the respondent’s child; or
- engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to himself/herself or his/her child; and
- The order:
- includes a determination (“finding”) by the judge that the respondent represents a “credible threat” to the physical safety of the intimate partner or his/her child; or
- has terms in it that clearly prohibit the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the intimate partner or his/her child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury;1
- a person who has been convicted as an adult, or adjudicated as a juvenile offender, of:
- a “person felony,” which includes various drug crimes listed in Kansas Statutes § 21-36a01 through § 21-36a17; or
- a violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act prior to July 1, 2009;
- a person who has been convicted as an adult, or adjudicated as a juvenile offender, of a “person felony” other than the ones referred to above, and:
- did not use a firearm while committing the crime; and
- less than three years have passed since completing the sentence;
- someone who was convicted as an adult, or adjudicated as a juvenile offender, of certain other felonies listed in subsection (3)(A)(i) of Kansas Stat. § 21-6304 and less than eight years have passed since completing the sentence; and
- someone who was convicted as an adult, or adjudicated as a juvenile offender, of any other “nonperson felony” and less than three months have passed since completing the sentence.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 Kan. Stat. § 21-6301(a)(10), (a)(13), (a)(14) - (a)(18), (m)(2)
2 Kan. Stat. § 21-6304(a)