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. You will need to read both state and federal laws to see which ones, if any, the abuser might be violating. To fully understand all of the legal protections available, it is important that you also read the Federal Gun Laws pages.
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?
Ohio state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if s/he:
- is under 18 years of age (or under 21 for a handgun) but there are certain exceptions for military and law enforcement officers;1
- is a fugitive from justice;
- has been indicted or convicted of any felony drug offense, or has been found to have committed such an offense as a minor;
- is drug-dependent, in danger of drug dependency, or a chronic alcoholic;
- has been committed to a mental institution or has otherwise been found to be mentally ill, defective, or incompetent by a court;2
- is a violent career criminal, meaning s/he has been convicted of two or more unrelated violent felonies in the prior eight years;3 or
- has been indicted or convicted of one of the following “violent felonies,” or has been found to have committed such an offense as a minor:
- aggravated murder;
- voluntary manslaughter;
- involuntary manslaughter;
- felonious assault;
- aggravated assault;
- making terroristic threat;
- aggravated robbery;
- has been indicted or convicted of one of the following crimes but only as a felony, not as a misdemeanor, or has been found to have committed such an offense as a minor:
- sexual battery;
- unlawful sexual conduct with minor;
- gross sexual imposition;
- domestic violence.4
Additionally, a judge in Ohio can include gun restrictions as part of a protection order. The law allows a judge to order any relief that is “equitable and fair” to protect the victim of abuse.5 If the judge includes gun restrictions in your temporary or final protection order, then it may be unlawful for the abuser to have or buy a gun. You can read more in the Guns and Protective Orders section.
There are also certain Ohio state law restrictions about who can get a concealed handgun license in Ohio. In order to qualify for a concealed handgun license, in addition to the restrictions listed above, the person must meet all of the following:
- s/he is legally living in the United States (and has not renounced his/her U.S. citizenship);
- s/he either lives in Ohio or is employed in Ohio;
- s/he is at least twenty-one years old;
- s/he is not a fugitive from justice;
- s/he has not been convicted of, and is not currently charged or indicted with, committing certain felony or misdemeanor offenses as an adult or as a minor (you can see which offenses in If the abuser has been convicted of a crime, can s/he keep or buy a gun?);
- s/he has not been discharged from the armed forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions;
- s/he certifies that s/he has read the Ohio firearms safety pamphlet, has completed a firearms safety course, and needs a firearm for defense; and
- s/he is not currently subject to a civil protection order, a temporary protection order, or a protection order issued by a court of another state.6
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 Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.211(A)-(B)
2 Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.13(A)
3 Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.132
4 Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.132(A)(2)
5 Ohio Rev. Code § 3113.31(E)(1)(h)
6 Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.125(D)(1)
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 Ohio, any crime punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year is a felony, along with any offense that the state’s statutes classify as a felony.1
1 Ohio Rev. Code § 2901.02