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 violent felony?
Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to gun laws that make it illegal for someone convicted of a violent felony to have a gun. A felony in general is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. In Vermont, the following offenses are considered violent felonies:
- aggravated stalking;
- domestic assault;
- first degree aggravated domestic assault;
- second degree aggravated domestic assault;
- sexual assault;
- aggravated sexual assault;
- lewd or lascivious conduct with a child;
- aggravated murder;
- aggravated assault;
- assault and robbery with a dangerous weapon;
- arson causing death;
- assault and robbery causing bodily injury;
- unlawful restraint in the second degree;
- unlawful restraint in the first degree;
- violation of abuse prevention order, but not including emergency orders;
- burglary into an occupied dwelling;
- aggravated sexual assault of a child;
- human trafficking;
- aggravated human trafficking;
- a felony violation of chapter 28 of title 13, relating to abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults;
- the attempt to commit any of the offenses listed above;
- an offense involving sexual exploitation of children;
- a conviction of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance other than marijuana; or
- the same or similar offense committed in another state (jurisdiction) if committing that offense means the person cannot have a gun under federal gun laws.1
If you are unsure if the abuser was convicted of a violent felony, you might want to talk to the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against the abuser to find out or go to the courthouse and search the conviction records.
1 13 VT ST T. §§ 4017; 5301(7)
I am a victim of domestic violence and the abuser has a gun. Is that legal?
Vermont state law says that a person cannot have or buy a gun if any of the following apply:
- s/he has been convicted of a violent felony;1
- s/he is subject to an extreme risk protection order;2
- s/he is subject to a relief from abuse order that includes firearm restrictions;3 or
s/he is on probation and his/her order of probation restricts his/her access to firearms.4
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 13 VT ST T. §§ 4017; 5301(7)
2 13 VT ST T. § 4053(2)
3 14 VT ST T. § 1103(c)(1)
4 28 VT ST T. § 252(b)(8)