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.
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Under Nevada law, a person cannot own or have a gun in his/her possession if s/he:
- has been convicted of the crime of battery which constitutes domestic violence or a similar law of another state when the crime was committed against:
- a current or former spouse;
- a current or former dating partner;
- someone s/he has child in common with;
- his/her parent;
- his/her child or a child for whom s/he has legal guardianship;
- has been convicted of a felony in Nevada or any other state;
- has been convicted of a stalking in Nevada or any other state and the court entered an “admonishment of rights” (explained here), which prohibits the abuser from having or using a firearm;
- has a Nevada extended order for protection against domestic violence against him/her – or a similar order from another state – and the order includes a statement that the abuser is prohibited from having or using a firearm while the order is in effect;
- is a fugitive from justice;
- is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any controlled substance;1
- has been adjudicated as mentally ill or has been committed to any mental health facility; or
- is illegally or unlawfully in the United States.2
Also, federal laws, which apply to all states, restrict a person’s right to have a gun under certain circumstances such as when the abuser has been convicted of certain domestic violence-related crimes or if you have an order of protection against the abuser that meets certain requirements. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 N.R.S. § 202.360(1)
2 N.R.S. § 202.360(2)
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 crime that is punished more severely than a misdemeanor. A felony under Nevada state law is any crime that is punishable by death or by imprisonment in the state prison.1 A felony is defined under federal law as a crime that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.2
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 local criminal courthouse and try to search the records.
1 N.R.S. § 193.120(2)
2 18 USC § 3559(a)