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?
According to Utah law, a felony is a crime that the state statutes list as a capital felony, or a felony in the first, second, or third degree.1 A felony is a crime punishable by imprisonment for one year or more.2
1 UT Code § 76-3-103
2 UT Code § 76-3-203
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Utah state law says that a person cannot have a firearm or other dangerous weapon if s/he:
- a current or former spouse, parent, guardian, someone with whom s/he has a child in common;
- someone with whom s/he is or was living together (“cohabitating”) as if the person were a spouse, parent, or guardian; or
- someone who is “similarly situated” to a spouse, parent, or guardian; or
- has a final protective order or a child protective order against him/her that was issued after a hearing, and the order:
- includes a term that prohibits harassing, stalking, threatening, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner or a child of the intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury; and
- includes a finding that the respondent/defendant represents a “credible threat” to the physical safety of an intimate partner or a child of the intimate partner; or
- specifically prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily harm against an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner;
- has been convicted of a felony;
- is on probation or parole for a felony;
- is on parole from a juvenile secure care facility;
- within the last 10 years has been adjudicated delinquent for an offense, which if committed by an adult would have been a violent felony;
- is illegally or unlawfully in the United States.
- is illegally using a controlled substance;
- is on probation for a conviction of possessing a controlled substance;
- is in possession of a dangerous weapon and is knowingly and intentionally illegally possessing a controlled substance;
- has been found “not guilty by reason of insanity” for a felony offense;
- has been found “mentally incompetent to stand trial” for a felony offense;
- has been judged “mentally defective” or has been committed to a mental institution;
- has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces; or
- has renounced his/her citizenship after having been a citizen of the United States.1
In addition, the state can deny, suspend, or revoke a permit to carry a concealed firearm if:
- the person has been or is convicted of:
- a felony;
- a crime of violence;
- an offense involving the use of alcohol;
- an offense involving the unlawful use of drugs or other controlled substances;
- an offense involving moral turpitude, which is an act or behavior that seriously violates the accepted standards of the community, like theft or sex crimes for example;
- an offense involving domestic violence; or
- has been or is judged by a state or federal court as mentally incompetent;
- is a danger to himself/herself or others, as evidenced by past behavior of violence, threats of violence, or a prior conviction involving weapons; or
- falls under one of the other categories listed above in numbers 1 - 15.2
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 a protective order against the abuser that meets certain requirements. Go to Federal Gun Laws to get more information.
1 UT Code §§ 76-10-503(1)-(3); 76-10-501(6)(a)
2 UT Code § 53-5-704(2)(a), (3)(a)