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. In North Carolina, a felony is any offense that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year in the state prison or a death sentence.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 where s/he was convicted and search the conviction records.
For information on how a felony is defined under federal law, please see the Federal Gun Laws page.
1 NCGS § 14-1
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Do I have legal options for getting the gun away from the abuser?
North Carolina law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
- Is on probation and does not have the court’s written permission to possess a firearm;1
- Has been convicted of a felony;2
- Has been found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity;
- Has been determined to not have the mental capacity to proceed in a criminal case;3
- Is an illegal drug user or an addict;
- Has been found to be mentally incompetent by a judge or has been committed to any mental institution;
- Is an illegal immigrant in the United States or has renounced his or her citizenship; or
- Has been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions.4
If any of these situations apply to the abuser, it may be illegal for him/her to have a gun. Also, if you have a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against the abuser, you can ask the judge to order that the abuser cannot have or buy a gun as part of the DVPO. Go to I have a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? for more information.
In addition, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict an abuser’s right to have a gun if you have a restraining order against him/her that meets certain requirements. Go to Federal Gun Laws for more information.
1 NCGS § 15A-1343(b)(5)
2 NCGS § 14-415.1(a)
3 NCGS § 14-415.3(a)
4 NCGS § 14-404(c)