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 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.
Under Maryland law, a felony is not specifically defined. Each criminal statute will say if that crime is considered a felony or if it is a lesser offense. Generally, a felony is a crime that is punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year. 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.
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Maryland state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
- has been convicted of a “disqualifying crime;”1
- has been convicted of certain drug-related offenses or firearms-related offenses in Maryland or elsewhere, which are listed in section 5-133(c)(1)(ii) of the Maryland Criminal Code;2
- has been convicted of a “crime of violence” in Maryland or elsewhere. “Crimes of violence” include any of the following crimes or an attempt to commit any of them:
- arson in the first degree;
- assault in the first or second degree;
- burglary in the first, second, or third degree;
- carjacking and armed carjacking;
- escape in the first degree;
- voluntary manslaughter;
- murder in the first or second degree;
- rape in the first or second degree;
- robbery with a dangerous weapon;
- sexual offense in the first, second, or third degree;
- home invasion;
- felony sex trafficking;
- forced marriage; and
- assault with intent to commit any of the above crimes or a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year;3
- has been convicted of a violation classified as a common law crime and was sentenced to prison for more than two years;
- is under the age of 30 and s/he has been found “delinquent” by a juvenile court for an act that would be a disqualifying crime if committed by an adult;
- is a fugitive from justice;
- has been found guilty of driving while intoxicated three times, one of which must have been within the last year;
- is a drug addict;
- has a mental disorder and has a history of violent behavior against a person;
- has been found to be “incompetent to stand trial” or “not criminally responsible;”
- has been voluntarily admitted to a mental facility for more than 30 consecutive days or has been involuntarily committed to a facility for any period of time;
- is under the protection of a court-appointed guardian, unless the guardian is only because of a physical disability;
- is subject to an active civil protective order, although not an ex parte one. The order can be from a Maryland court, a court of another state, or a Native American tribe;4 or
- s/he is under age 21, although there are some exceptions, listed in section (d) of the statute.5
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 MD Code, Public Safety §§ 5-133(b)(1); 5-101(b-1)
2 MD Code, Public Safety § 5-133(c)(1)(ii)
3 MD Code, Public Safety §§ 5-133(c)(1)(i); 5-101(c)
4 MD Code, Public Safety §§ 5-133(b); 5-101(l)
5 MD Code, Public Safety § 5-133(d)