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?
South Carolina state law defines felonies by dividing them into 6 classes, Class A through Class F. Class A felonies are punishable by jail time of up to 30 years, and Class F felonies are punishable by jail time of up to 5 years. The other 4 classes have maximum prison sentences of between 5 and 30 years.1
1 S.C. Code § 16-1-20(A)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
South Carolina law makes it illegal for someone to have or buy any firearm or ammunition if s/he:
- was convicted in South Carolina (or of a similar crime in another state) of domestic violence in the first degree or domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature;
- was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the second degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and the judge:
- was convicted in South Carolina of domestic violence in the third degree (or of a similar crime in another state) and at the time of sentencing, the judge:
- specifically ordered that the person is prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition; or
- has a valid order of protection issued against him/her from South Carolina (or from a court in another state, tribe, or territory) and at the time of the hearing, the judge did both of the following:
In addition, South Carolina state law says that a person cannot have or buy a handgun if s/he:
- has been convicted of a “crime of violence” in any state or territory, which includes:
- manslaughter (except negligent manslaughter arising out of traffic accidents);
- assault with intent to kill, commit rape, or rob;
- assault with a dangerous weapon; or
- assault with intent to commit any offense punishable by imprisonment for more than one year;
- is a fugitive from justice (someone who fled from any law enforcement officer to avoid prosecution or imprisonment for a crime of violence);
- is a drug addict or an alcoholic;
- has been declared mentally incompetent by a judge;
- is under 18 years old (with some exceptions for members of the Armed Forces or for those under the immediate supervision of a parent or adult instructor);
- has been declared unfit to carry or possess a gun by a circuit court or county court judge in South Carolina; or
- is a member of a “subversive organization.”2
Note: The prohibitions against having a firearm or ammunition, as explained in numbers 1 - 4, above, generally only last for a limited period of time.3 See If the abuser is prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition, how long does the prohibition last? for more information.
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 S.C. Code § 16-25-30(A)
2 S.C. Code §§ 16-23-30(A)(1) & (B); 16-23-10(3),(4)
3 S.C. Code § 16-25-30(E)