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. For purposes of Michigan’s firearm possession law, a felony is defined as a violation of, or an attempt to violate, any state or federal law that is punishable by prison time of four years or more.1
Michigan’s concealed carry license law says that a felony is a crime that that is punishable by death or imprisonment for one year or more, or one that the United States or another state considers a felony. This does not include crimes listed as misdemeanors.2
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 MCL § 750.224f(9)(b)
2 MCL §§ 28.425b; 761.1; 750.7
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Michigan state law does not automatically make it illegal for an abuser to have a gun if there is a protection order issued against him/her. A judge does have the option of including a firearm restriction in a personal protection order (“PPO”). If there is a firearm restriction included in a personal protection order, then the respondent in that order cannot have a gun for the period of time that the PPO is in effect.1
In Michigan, a person who was convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment of four years or more can only lawfully have or buy a gun or ammunition if three years have passed since s/he:
- paid all of the fines s/he was given when convicted;
- has served the term of his/her prison sentence; and
- successfully completed parole or probation.2
If the crime that the person was convicted of is a “specified felony,” then five years must pass since the completion of fines, prison sentence, and probation or parole.3 A “specified felony” means:
- s/he used, attempted, or threatened to use physical force when committing the crime;
- the crime involved a controlled substance, a firearm, or an explosive; or
- the felony is burglary of an occupied dwelling, breaking and entering an occupied dwelling, or arson.4
Michigan state law also says that a person cannot have a license to carry a concealed pistol if s/he:
- is under age 21;
- is not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident;
- is subject to a court order regarding mental illness or competency, see section 28.425b(7)(d) of the law for more information;
- has been convicted of a felony, punishable by death or imprisonment of one year or more;
- has been convicted of a crime listed in section 28.425b(7)(h) of the law within the past eight years, or a charge for any of the listed crimes is currently pending;
- has been convicted of a crime listed in section 28.425b(7)(i) of the law within the past three years, or a charge for any of the listed crimes is currently pending;
- is subject to an active personal protection order;
- has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces;
- has been subject to an order of involuntary commitment in a mental health center or is under an order of legal incapacity in any state;
- is currently diagnosed with a mental illness that includes an assessment that the individual presents a danger to himself/herself or others, regardless of whether or not s/he is receiving treatment for the mental illness;
- has been acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity or mental illness; or
- the licensing board believes that it would be otherwise harmful to the safety of the applicant or others for the applicant to possess a concealed pistol based on clear and convincing evidence of repeated violations of this law, crimes, personal protection orders or injunctions, police reports or other clear and convincing evidence of the actions/ statements of the applicant.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 MCL § 600.2950(1)(e)
2 MCL §§ 750.224f(1); 750.224f(3)
3 MCL §§ 750.224f(2); 750.224f(4)
4 MCL §§ 750.224f(10)
5 MCL § 28.425b(7)