Legal Information: New Hampshire

New Hampshire State Gun Laws

State Gun Laws

Basic info

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?

A felony is a crime that is punishable by more than one year in prison.1

1 RSA § 625:9(III)

I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?

New Hampshire state law says that a person cannot have a gun if s/he has:

  • a protective order against him/her;1
  • been convicted of a felony that harms another person or involves property;
  • been convicted of a drug-related crime; or
  • been convicted of three or more felonies under homicide, assault, sexual assault, arson, burglary, robbery, extortion, child sexual abuse images, or controlled drug laws.2

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, 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 to get more information.

1 RSA § 173-B:5(II)
2 RSA §§ 159:3; 3-a(I)

Guns and protective orders

I have a temporary ex parte protective order against the abuser. Can the abuser have a gun?

New Hampshire state law allows a judge to order the abuser to give up any guns or deadly weapons that s/he has while the temporary (ex parte) order is in place.1 The judge can also prohibit the abuser from buying a gun while the temporary order is in place and may even issue a warrant to have the abuser’s home searched if there is reason to believe that the guns have not been given up.2 It will be up to a judge to decide if any of these orders are necessary for your safety.

1 RSA § 173-B:4(1)(a)(9)
2 RSA § 173-B:4(II)

I have a final protective order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?

New Hampshire state law requires a judge to order the abuser to give up any guns or deadly weapons if the judge finds that the abuser has committed an act of abuse against the victim and issues a protective order.1 The abuser cannot have or purchase any firearms or ammunition while the order is in place. The judge also has the power to issue a search warrant authorizing a peace officer to take (seize) any weapons, firearms and ammunition, if there is probable cause to believe that the defendant didn’t hand them over as ordered.2

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 RSA § 173-B:5(I)(a)
2 RSA § 173-B:5(II)

Is there anything I can do to make it more likely that the abuser's gun is taken away when I get a protective order?

While it does not need to be written on your protective order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun in order for the federal law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written. There are a couple steps you can take to try to help make this clear:

  1. If the abuser has a gun, be sure to make a request on your petition for an order of protection that his/her gun(s) be taken away and held while your order of protection is in effect. You can write this request under the “Other” section of what you ask the judge to do. You may also want to write how many guns the abuser has and if s/he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
  2. Ask the judge to specifically write in your protective order that the abuser cannot buy or have a gun while the order is in effect. There will most likely be a box that the judge can check off.
  3. Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written (or checked) on your order. It also may be helpful if the judge explains what will happen to the abuser’s guns, who will take them, and where they will be held once you leave the courthouse, and a time frame in which the guns must be turned over. If the judge agrees to add language that the abuser cannot keep his guns while the order of protection is in effect, you may also want to ask that the judge:
  • require the abuser to give his/her guns to the police, or require the police to go to the abuser’s house and get them;
  • make it clear to both you and the abuser how long the guns will be kept away from the abuser;
  • order that the police notify you when the guns are returned to the abuser.

Guns and criminal convictions

If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?

New Hampshire state law says that the abuser cannot have a gun if s/he has been convicted of:

  • been convicted of a felony that harms another person or involves property;
  • been convicted of a drug-related crime; or
  • been convicted of three or more felonies under homicide, assault, sexual assault, arson, burglary, robbery, extortion, child sexual abuse images, or controlled drug laws.1

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 RSA §§ 159:3; 3-a

How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime?

Criminal records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access. If you know the exact courthouse where the abuser may have been convicted, you can go to the courthouse and ask the clerk of court for access to those records.

Domestic violence misdemeanor and felony records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NICS. Your local police department may be willing to search NICS for you if you ask, but they are not required to do so.

To read more about the NICS, please see the question What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

The abuser isn't supposed to have a gun...Now what?

If the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?

If a protective order is issued against the abuser, s/he will be ordered to give his/her firearms to law enforcement at the time the order is granted. Once the protective order ends, the abuser can request a hearing within 15 days of the protective order expiring and request that any firearms and deadly weapons be returned from law enforcement. Law enforcement cannot return the firearms without an order from the judge allowing them to be released. You will get written notice of the date that the hearing is scheduled in court and have an opportunity to be at the hearing when the judge decides whether or not to return the abuser’s gun(s).1

1 RSA § 173-B:5(X)

Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?

If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the state police. If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our NH Sheriff Departments page.

You can find ATF field offices in New Hampshire on the ATF website. For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867). Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.

A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our NH Advocates and Shelters page.

Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law. If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.1

1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)

What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?

Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from legally buying a gun. Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system. Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.

If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.

1National Criminal Justice Reference Service website

What is the penalty for violating state firearm laws?

It is a class B felony for the abuser to have a firearm in his/her possession if the abuser has been convicted of:

  • been convicted of a felony that harms another person or involves property;
  • been convicted of a drug-related crime; or
  • been convicted of three or more felonies under homicide, assault, sexual assault, arson, burglary, robbery, extortion, child sexual abuse images, or controlled drug laws.1

A class B felony is punishable by one to seven years in prison.2

If the abuser has a firearm while a protective order is issued against him/her, s/he may be in violation of that order. Violating the terms of a protective order is a class A misdemeanor.2 A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison.3

1 RSA §§ 159:3; 3-a
2 RSA § 625:9(III)(a)(2)
3 RSA §§ 625:9 (IV)(a); 173-B:9(III)

More information and where to get help

I do not have a protective order against the abuser, and s/he has not been convicted of a crime. Is there anything I can do?

In New Hampshire, there is a law that says if you can show that you are in immediate and present danger of abuse (such as by calling the police, and having the police determine that you are in danger), the court may enter an emergency protective order that allows a peace officer to take your abuser’s gun(s) away.1

This emergency protective order may also allow a peace officer to search for any firearms that your abuser may not have given up voluntarily.1 Let the officer know if there are more guns in the house that your abuser has not given up voluntarily. This emergency protective order only lasts until the end of the next business day. In order for it to continue, you must file a petition for a protective order.

If none of these situations apply, you can still make a plan for your safety. See our Safety Tips page for more information. You can also contact your local domestic violence program for additional help. You may want to talk to them about whether leaving the area - either long term or for a little while - might help improve your safety. To find a shelter or an advocate at a local program, please visit the NH Advocates and Shelters page under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page.

For additional information on gun laws in New Hamshire, you can go to the Giffords Law Center website.

1 RSA § 173-B:4

I've read through all of this information, and I am still confused. What can I do?

Trying to understand both Federal and State law can be confusing. There are people who can help you better understand the law and your rights under the law.

  • You can write to our Email Hotline.
  • You can contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. See our NH Places that Help page.
  • You can also contact the National Center on Full Faith and Credit to get more information about the federal firearm law and how it applies to you: 1-800-903-0111

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