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 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. A felony under Minnesota state law is 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 courthouse and search the conviction records.
1 MN Statutes § 609.02(2)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Minnesota state law also makes it illegal to own a gun in many other situations. It may be illegal for him/her to have a gun under Minnesota state law if the abuser:
- was convicted of a “crime of violence” as defined in MN Statutes § 624.712(5), either as an adult or as a juvenile, either in Minnesota or similar crimes in another state;
- was convicted of a crime in another state similar to Minnesota’s crime of domestic assault (subdivision 3) or Minnesota’s assault in the 5th degree (subdivision 3) or was convicted in Minnesota of assault against a family or household member or domestic assault (subdivision 8);
- was convicted of a felony;
- was convicted of a drug-related misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor;
- is an adult or juvenile who was charged with a “crime of violence” as defined in MN Statutes § 624.712(5) and placed in a pretrial diversion program, s/he cannot possess a gun while in the pretrial diversion program;
- was convicted in any state of any of the following gross misdemeanors: gang violence, bias assault, false imprisonment, neglect or endangerment of a child, burglary, stalking, setting a spring gun, and riot;
- is a user of unlawful drugs;
- is a fugitive from justice;
- is an undocumented immigrant or who was a U.S. citizen and gave up (renounced) his/her citizenship;
- has been dishonorably discharged from the military;
- has been convicted of assaulting a family or household member while using a firearm, then s/he can’t possess a gun for the period determined by the trial court judge;
- was deemed mentally ill by a judge and committed to a treatment facility or was found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness;
- was committed by a judge for drug treatment;
- is a peace officer who has been informally admitted to drug treatment, unless the head of the treatment facility provides a certificate that the officer is discharged;
- is prohibited from having a firearm under federal law;1 or
- is specifically prohibited from possessing a firearm in an active order for protection that
- instructs the abuser not to harass, stalk, or threaten you, or engage in other conduct that would place you in reasonable fear of bodily injury; and
- includes a finding, in the judge’s determination, that the abuser represents a credible threat to your physical safety or prohibits the abuser party from using, attempting to use, or threatening to use physical force against you.2
Note: If more than three years have passed without further convictions then a person who falls into categories 2, 4, or 6 may be able to possess a gun at that time. Also, a person’s right to possess a firearm could eventually be given back, or “restored,” by a judge if s/he falls into categories 12 through 14 listed above.3
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 MN Statutes § 518B.01(6)(g)
2 MN Statutes § 624.713(1)
3 MN Statutes § 624.713(1), (4)