WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get in touch with a domestic violence advocate in your community for more information on gun laws in your area. Go to the NH Places that Help page to find resources in your state.
State Gun Laws
What is the difference between federal and state gun laws?
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.
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
It depends. If you have a Protective Order against your abuser, or if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor, then Federal law states that it is illegal for your abuser to buy, own or have a gun in their possession.1
In addition, New Hampshire state law says that a person cannot have a gun if s/he:
- Has been convicted of a felony for a crime of violence;
- Has a victim protection order against him/her (from any state);
- Has been convicted of a drug-related crime; or
- Has been convicted of three or more felonies (any type of felony).2
Note: There are certain requirements that your PO order must meet for it to qualify under federal law. See the next question to read more about what those requirements are.
1 18 USC Sec. 922(g)
2 RSA §§ 159:3 & 3-a
Guns and protective orders
I have a Protective Order against the abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun?
No. According to Federal law, if you have a protective order that was issued by a New Hampshire civil court against your abuser, s/he cannot have a gun in their possession, or buy a new gun.1
In order for your PO order to qualify under Federal law, the defendant (person who the PO is against) must:
- Be served (given) notice of the court hearing. In other words, the defendant must have been given paperwork that told him or her about the hearing.
- Have an opportunity to attend the court hearing.
Note: The abuser does not have to be at the hearing, but s/he has to have the opportunity to come to the hearing.
- Be an “intimate partner” of the victim, which includes:
- A current or former spouse
- A person with whom you share a child
- A person you live with or have lived with in the past
- Note: NH state law also allows you to get a protective order against a current or former dating partner, which means if you have a protective order against a current or former dating partner, the firearm ban will still apply under NH state law.2
If your PO order has expired, it is no longer a valid order under Federal law, which means the firearm ban also does not apply.
This law may not apply to law enforcement officials, military personnel, and other government employees who use guns while performing official duties.3 If your abuser is a police officer, member of the military, or someone else who uses a gun for their job, talk to your local domestic violence program about your options. To find a local program please visit NH Advocates and Shelters page under the Places that Help tab on the top of this page.
Note: If your abuser violates the protective order in any way, NH state law says that the police must take any guns or ammunition that your abuser has or uses while violating the protective order.4 Remember that having a gun while being subject to a protective order is a violation in itself.
1 18 USC § 922(g)(8)
2 N.H. Rev. ST. 173-B:1(X)
3 18 USC Sec. 925 (a)(1)
4 N.H. Rev. Stat. Section 173-B:9(b)
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 (PO) that your abuser cannot own, buy or have a gun in order for the law to be enforced, it may make it easier if it is written. New Hampshire state law specifically says that a person who has a PO order against them cannot have a license to own or buy a gun, which means that they cannot buy a new gun or keep the one they already have. However, sometimes it is not always clear to law enforcement officials that your abuser’s gun should be taken away when the PO is issued. There are a couple steps you can take to help make this clear:
- If your abuser has a gun, tell the judge how many guns he has, and if he has ever threatened you with a gun(s).
- Before leaving the courthouse, check to make sure that the gun restriction is written on your PO order.
In New Hampshire, your abuser cannot get his gun(s) back without the approval of the court. This applies whether the gun is stored with the police or a private individual. You will have an opportunity to be at the hearing when the court decides whether or not to return your abuser’s gun(s).1
1N.H. Rev. Stat. 173-B:5 (X)
The abuser did not show up for the PO hearing. Can his/her gun still be taken away?
Yes. Your abuser does not have to come to the hearing in order for the law to apply to him, but he does have to be given notice of the hearing and an opportunity to attend.1
In addition, New Hampshire has 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 will enter an emergency protective order that allows a peace officer to take your abuser’s guns away.2
1 United States v. Bunnell 106 F. Supp. 2d 60 (D. Me. 2000), aff’d 280 F. 3d 46 (1st Cir. 2002)
2 RSA § 173-B:4
I have a Temporary/ Ex parte PO order against the abuser. Do I have to wait until I receive a permanent order before my abuser's gun is taken away?
Maybe. NH state law allows a judge to order your 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 your abuser from buying a gun while the temporary order is in place, and may even issue a warrant to have your 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.
If there is no specific mention of a firearm restriction in the temporary (ex parte) order, then you may have to wait until you are given a permanent order. Under federal law, if the judge gave you an ex parte temporary order of protection (which means that no advance notice was given to the abuser), which is commonly done, it could still be legal for him/her to have a gun under federal law. However, if the judge scheduled a court hearing and gave notice of the hearing to the abuser before giving you the temporary order of protection, it is possible that it is illegal for him/her to have a gun under federal law. The order of protection must also meet certain other requirements, though. Read I have a Protective Order against my abuser. Can s/he keep a gun or buy a new gun? to find out more.
1 N.H. Rev. Stat. 173-B:4(1)(a)(9)
2 N.H. Rev. Stat. 173-B:4(II)
Guns and criminal convictions
If the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or felony, can s/he keep or buy a gun?
No. Under Federal law, if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, s/he cannot have or buy a gun.1 If you’re not sure if your abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, see What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?
In addition, New Hampshire state law says that your abuser cannot have a gun if he:
- has been convicted of a felony for a crime of violence
- has been convicted of a drug-related crime; or
- has been convicted of three or more felonies (any kind) in NH.2
1 18 USC 922(g)(9)
2 RSA § 159:3-a
What crimes are considered domestic violence misdemeanors?
A crime is considered a domestic violence misdemeanor under Federal law if it:
- Can be defined as a misdemeanor under federal or state law; and
- Involves physical violence or force, or includes threats made with a deadly weapon; and
- Was committed by a current or former spouse; a parent or guardian of the victim; a person with whom the victim shares a child; a person living with the victim as a spouse, parent or guardian; or a person who has a similar relationship with the spouse, parent or guardian of the victim.1
Note: The crime does not have to specifically mention “domestic violence” in order for it to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor, and for the federal firearm law to apply. The relationship that the victim has with the offender is what determines whether or not the misdemeanor is a “domestic violence” misdemeanor.
For example: If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his wife, he may no longer have or buy a gun. If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his neighbor, he may still be able to have or buy a gun.
118 USC 921(a)(33)
What is the definition of a felony?
A felony under Federal law is a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.1 In New Hampshire, a felony is generally a crime committed by a person that is punishable by a sentence of more than one year in jail.2
1 18 USC § 3559
2 RSA § 625:9(III)
If a law enforcement officer or other government employee is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, can s/he own, have or buy a gun?
No. Law enforcement officers and other government officials who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor cannot own, have or buy guns for any purpose, including their official duties, according to federal law.1
118 USC 925 (a) (1)
How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor?
Domestic violence misdemeanor records are open to the public, but they are not always easy to access. If you know the exact courthouse where your 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 records are also kept in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS). However, no one other than law enforcement officials and licensed firearm sellers are allowed to search the NCIS.
More information and where to get help
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
1 United 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 is the penalty for violating the federal firearm law?
Anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.1
118 USC 924 (a) (2)
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
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.
The abuser uses a gun for his/her job. Does the law still apply?
Maybe. If your abuser is a law enforcement officer, military employee or government employee, then s/he might be able to continue to use their gun for work purposes, but not for personal use.
However, if your abuser has been convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor, then under federal law, your abuser cannot buy or have a gun, even if s/he is a police officer or a military employee.1
If you are confused or not sure whether your abuser can still use their gun for work purposes, you can talk to a domestic violence advocate in your area or call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit to find out more information: 1-800-903-0111
To find a domestic violence advocate in your area, please go to our NH Advocates and Shelters page under the Places that Help tab on the top of this page.
118 USC 925 (a)(1)
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