If the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?
If the judge orders that the abuser’s gun be taken away as part of a protective order, s/he will have to give up any guns in his/her possession and will have to surrender any other guns to the law enforcement agency chosen by the judge within a reasonable amount of time.1 When the protective order expires, the abuser can go to the law enforcement agency that took the gun to get it back.
If the abuser’s gun is taken away by police at the scene of a domestic violence incident, which can happen whether or not the gun was used during the incident, the law enforcement officer will store the gun until the court proceedings related to the incident are over. When the case involving the domestic violence incident is over, the abuser can get the gun back unless s/he has been ordered to surrender the gun in a protection order2 or there is another legal reason that the gun cannot be returned – for example, if the abuser is convicted of a crime based on the domestic violence that would make gun possession illegal.
1 MD Code, Family Law §§ 4-505(a)(2)(viii); 4-506(f)
2 MD Code, Family Law § 4-511
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 MD Sheriff Departments page.
You can find ATF field offices in Maryland 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 MD 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 is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?
Under Maryland state law, anyone who violates the laws that make it illegal for certain people to have a gun can be guilty of a felony and punished by prison time between five and 15 years.1 Also, if there is a specific term written into your protective order that says the abuser cannot have a gun, and s/he violates the order by having a gun, s/he may be guilty of violating a protective order. At the discretion of the judge, violations of a protective order may be punished by jail time, a fine, or both.2
1 MD Code, Public Safety § 5-133(c)(2)(i)
2 MD Rules §§ 15-203; 15-205; 15-206
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.