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. In Missouri, a felony is a crime that is punishable by death or imprisonment of one year or more or a crime that is listed as a “felony” in the law.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 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 556.061(26)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Missouri state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
- has been convicted of a felony in Missouri, or convicted of a crime in another state that would be a felony if it were committed in Missouri;
- is a fugitive from justice;
- is habitually intoxicated with alcohol or other substances; or
- is declared mentally incompetent by a judge.1
Note: The gun restriction for people who have committed a felony may not apply to antique firearms, which is defined as a firearm manufactured in or before 1898.2
Missouri law does not specifically grant judges the ability to order that an abuser is not allowed to have or buy a gun in a final order of protection. However, the law does say that a final order can include terms that a judge thinks are needed to keep a victim safe.3 Therefore, if you plan to file for an order of protection, you may want to be sure to specifically ask the judge to include as a term of the order that the abuser cannot have firearms in order to keep you safe. It will be up to the judge whether or not to include this.
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 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 571.070.1
2 Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 571.070.3; 571.010(1)
3 Mo. Rev. Stat. § 455.050.1