If the abuser's gun is taken away, what will happen to it?
Washington state law says that when a person is required to surrender his/her firearms, they can be surrendered to the sheriff, the chief of police, the abuser’s attorney (if s/he has one), or to any person chosen by the judge.1 If the firearms are given to law enforcement, it may be possible for you to be notified prior to the firearms being returned. The law says that a family or household member can use “an incident or case number” to request notification from law enforcement when the firearm is going to be returned.2 The same case number (or “cause number”) that is on your protection order should also be on the order to surrender, proof of surrender, and receipt for the weapons.
From the moment you are notified (by telephone, email, text message, or another method), law enforcement must wait at least 72 hours before returning the firearm.3
1 R.C.W. § 9.41.800(7)
2 R.C.W. § 9.41.340(1)
3 R.C.W. §§ 9.41.340(1)(a); 9.41.345(3)(b)
Who do I notify if I think the abuser should not have a gun?
If you think the abuser is violating state firearm laws, you can call your local police or sheriff department or the State Police. If you think the abuser is violating federal firearm laws, you can call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
You can find contact information for sheriff departments in your area on our WA Sheriff Departments page.
You can find ATF field offices in Washington on the ATF website. For reporting illegal firearm activity, a person can also call 1-800-ATF-GUNS (1-800-283-4867). Many ATF offices have victim advocates on staff (called “victim/witness coordinators”) and so perhaps you may ask to speak one of these advocates if you are having a hard time connecting with (or receiving a call back from) an ATF officer.
A local domestic violence organization in your area may also be able to answer your questions and assist you in talking to the necessary law enforcement officials. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our WA Advocates and Shelters page.
Note: Generally, the abuser does not have to have knowledge of the law in order to be arrested for breaking the law. If the abuser has or buys a gun in violation of the law, the abuser can be arrested, whether or not s/he knows that s/he was in violation of the law.1
1United States v. Lippman, 369 F. 3d 1039 (8th Cir. 2004); United States v. Henson, 55 F. Supp. 2d 528 (S.D. W.V. 1999)
What will happen if the abuser tries to purchase a gun?
Before purchasing a gun from a licensed firearm dealer, all buyers must undergo a criminal background check that is processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used by federal firearms licensees (FFLs), such as firearms dealers or pawnbrokers, to instantly determine whether someone is eligible to receive (own, possess, transport) firearms or explosives.1 If the abuser has a qualifying protection order against him/her, or has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence misdemeanor in any state, those records should be in the NICS, which should prevent the abuser from legally buying a gun. Not all states have automated record keeping systems, making it more difficult to process the criminal background check, and some criminals and abusers do slip through the system. Also, it is important to know that background checks are not required for private and online gun sales and so in those situations, the seller is not looking in the NICS.
If the abuser is able to purchase a gun and you believe that s/he should not be able to have one under the law, you can alert the police, and ask that his/her gun be taken away and perhaps the police will investigate. Generally, it is not a good idea to assume that because the abuser was able to buy a gun, it is legal for him/her to have one.
What is the penalty for violating state or federal firearm laws?
The penalty for unlawful possession of a firearm depends on the circumstances. If the abuser was convicted of a felony that is a considered a “serious offense” under the law (or if s/he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for such offense), s/he can be guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm in the first degree, which is a class B felony. A class B felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.1
The abuser can be guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm in the second degree, which is a class C felony if:
- s/he was convicted of a felony that is not a “serious offense” (or if s/he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for such offense);
- s/he was convicted of certain misdemeanor crimes against a family or household member (assault in the 4th degree, stalking, and more);
- s/he possesses a firearm while there is a protection order in effect against him/her that meets certain requirements;
- s/he was involuntarily committed for mental health treatment;
- s/he is under eighteen years of age; or
- s/he is free on bond or personal recognizance pending trial, appeal, or sentencing for a “serious offense.”2
A class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.3
Also, anyone who has or buys a gun in violation of the federal firearm law can be punished by a fine, jail time for up to 10 years, or both.4 For more information, see our Federal Gun Laws page.
1 R.C.W. §§ 9.41.040(1); 9A.20.021(1)(b)
2 R.C.W. § 9.41.040(2)(a),(c)
3 R.C.W. § 9A.20.021(1)(c)
418 USC § 924(a)(2)