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.
How does Maine state law classify felony and misdemeanor crimes?
Maine classifies crimes by categories of seriousness A through E, with A being the most serious and E the least.1 The terms felony and misdemeanor are not used in Maine statutes.2 According to federal law, a felony is a crime punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.3 In Maine, Class A, B, and C crimes are punishable by more than one year in prison.1
1 ME ST T. 17-A § 1604(1)
2Maine Legislature website
3 18 USC § 3559
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Under Maine state law, it is illegal to have or buy a firearm if any of the following apply:
- As an adult, s/he was convicted of, or found “not criminally responsible by reason of insanity” for, any of the following:
- domestic violence assault;
- domestic violence criminal threatening;
- domestic violence terrorizing;
- domestic violence stalking;
- domestic violence reckless conduct;
- a crime in Maine that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year or a similar crime in another state;
- a federal crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year;
- a crime in another state that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year, not including misdemeanor crimes that are punishable by a prison sentence of two years or less; or
- any crime committed while using a firearm or other dangerous weapon in Maine, in another state, or in the Passamaquoddy Tribe or Penobscot Nation;1
- As a juvenile, s/he was found to have engaged in conduct that would have been considered any of the above-mentioned crimes if s/he committed the act as an adult;2
- There is a protection order against him/her where the victim is an “intimate partner,” which the law defines only as: 1) a current or former spouse; 2) someone s/he has a child in common with; or 3) someone who s/he currently lives with or used to live with. It does not cover other dating partners. The protection order must have been issued after notice and a hearing in Maine or in any other state, U.S. territory, commonwealth or tribe, and it must do both of the following:
- order the abuser to not:
- harass, stalk, or threaten an intimate partner or a child of his/her intimate partner; or
- act in a way that would place the intimate partner in reasonable fear or bodily injury to himself/herself or to his/her child; and
- include a determination that s/he represents a credible threat to the physical safety of an intimate partner or child; or
- specifically prohibit the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against an intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury;3
- order the abuser to not:
- S/he was involuntarily committed to a hospital because s/he was found to present a likelihood of causing serious harm;
- S/he was found to be “not criminally responsible by reason of insanity” for any crime;
- S/he was found to be “not competent to stand trial” for any crime;
- S/he is a fugitive from justice;
- S/he illegally uses, or is addicted to, any controlled substance and as a result cannot possess a firearm under federal law (18 USC § 922(g)(3));
- S/he is illegally in the U.S. or s/he was admitted under a nonimmigrant visa and is prohibited from possession of a firearm under federal law (18 USC § 922(g)(5));
- S/he was a U.S. citizen and gave up his/her citizenship; or
- S/he has been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces.4
Additionally, anyone who has a protection from abuse order against him/her that prohibits him/her from having a firearm or other dangerous weapon- regardless of the relationship with the victim- would also be prohibited from having a firearm or dangerous weapon while that protection order is in effect.5 If the abuser violates the terms of the order by having a gun or dangerous weapon after being notified of the order, the police can make an arrest and it can be a Class C or D crime.6
After a certain amount of time passes, a person who was convicted of a crime could regain the right to get a firearm by applying for a permit. See If the abuser is prohibited from getting a firearm permit due to a criminal conviction, does the prohibition expire after a certain amount of time? for more information.
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 ME ST T. 15 § 393(1)(A-1), (1-B)
2 ME ST T. 15 § 393(1)(C)
3 ME ST T. 15 § 393(1)(D); 18 USC § 921(a)(32)
4 ME ST T. 15 § 393(1)(E) - (J)
5 ME ST T. 19-A §§ 4108; 4110
6 ME ST T. 19-A § 4113; 17-A § 506-B(3)