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.
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Under Kentucky state law, a person can be denied a license to carry concealed firearms, ammunition, or other deadly weapons (or if s/he already has a license to carry, it can be suspended or revoked) if any of the following apply:
- s/he is not a resident of Kentucky (although if s/he is on active military duty and is assigned to a military post in Kentucky at the time of the application, that is considered a resident for these purposes);
- s/he is not a U.S. citizen or is not lawfully admitted to the U.S.;
- s/he is under 21 years old;1
- s/he was convicted of a felony;2 (Note: possession of a handgun by a convicted felon is also a Class C felony and possession of any other firearm by a convicted felon is a Class D felony);3
- s/he is currently under indictment for a felony;
- s/he was convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
- s/he is a fugitive from justice;
- s/he is an unlawful user of or addicted to a controlled substance (drug);
- s/he was adjudicated as a “mental defective” or s/he has been committed to a mental institution;
- s/he was illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
- s/he was admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (there are limited exceptions to this);
- s/he was discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- s/he was a citizen of the United States but renounced (gave up) his/her citizenship;
- s/he has a protection order issued against him/her and:
- it was issued after notice and a hearing;
- the order restrains him/her from:
- harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner (or the partner’s child); or
- engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner (or the partner’s child); and
- it includes a finding that s/he represents a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner (or the partner’s child) or it specifically prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against an intimate partner (or the partner’s child) that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury;2
- s/he was committed to a state or federal facility for the abuse of a controlled substance within the three years prior to filing the license application;
- s/he was convicted of a misdemeanor crime related to controlled substances listed in Chapter 218A (or similar laws of any other state relating to controlled substances) within the three years prior to filing the license application;
- s/he chronically and habitually uses alcohol, which can be shown by either:
- having two or more convictions for DUI within the three years prior to filing the license application; or
- having been committed as an alcoholic within the three years prior to filing the license application; or
- s/he owes unpaid child support that is equal to or more than one year’s worth of payments or s/he has not complied with any subpoena or warrant relating to child support or paternity proceedings (the license would only be denied under these circumstances if the Cabinet for Health and Family Services notifies the Department of Kentucky State Police of the arrears or failure to comply with the subpoena/warrant).1
If the abuser already has a license to carry concealed firearms and you get a domestic violence order or emergency protective order against him/her, s/he has to surrender that license to the court or to the law enforcement officer who serves him/her with the order. The license will then be suspended until the order is terminated (or until the judge who issued the order terminates the suspension of the license before the order ends). If the abuser is a peace officer and an emergency protective order or domestic violence order is issued against him/her, s/he cannot carry a concealed deadly weapon while off-duty (but s/he can use it while on duty).4
Note: The failure of a license holder to surrender his/her license if any of the above conditions apply is considered a Class A misdemeanor crime.5
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 KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b)
2 KRS § 237.110(4),(13)(a),(b); 18 USC § 922(g),(n)
3 KRS § 527.040(2)
4 KRS § 237.110(13)(k)
5 KRS § 237.110(13)(i)
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 Kentucky 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; KRS § 500.080(5)