Domestic Violence: Firearms
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that’s used by one person to gain or maintain control over another person, typically a spouse, intimate partner, child, other family member, or cohabitant. Domestic abusers often use physical force and weapons, such as knives and firearms, to gain control over their victims.
Both federal and state laws prohibit violent domestic offenders from owning or having contact with firearms, as firearms are often used to threaten, injure, and even kill the victims of domestic violence. Specifically, abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a firearm, and domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are twelve times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or mere bodily force.
Firearms and Federal Domestic Violence Laws
The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 makes it illegal to possess a firearm after conviction of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or domestic assault. Under the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), it’s illegal for individuals who have been convicted of a domestic-violence related incident -- or who have an order of protection against them -- to possess a firearm. Additionally, under VAWA an abuser can be convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor if he or she used or attempted to use "physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon." Federal firearms law also prohibits the shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving of firearms or ammunition by domestic abusers. Military and law enforcement personnel are not exempt from this law, even if they carry weapons when they are on duty.
Firearms and Restraining Orders
Under federal domestic violence firearms laws, it’s illegal for a person to possess a firearm while subject to a court order restraining them from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or the partner's child. A person providing a firearm to someone subject to a restraining order will also be in violation of the law. If you believe your abuser possesses a gun in violation of the restraining order you have against him or her, you should contact local police immediately. However, the following restrictions apply:
- The abuser should be a current or ex-spouse, the mother or father of your child, or have lived with you at some point.
- The abuser should have been notified about the restraining order hearing so that he or she had an opportunity to attend.
- The restraining order should identify the abuser as a threat to you or your child's physical safety.
- The restraining order should specifically prohibit behavior that threatens or creates a fear of physical injury.
- The ban doesn’t apply if your abuser is in law enforcement, the military, or government employment in which guns are issued as part of the official duties of the position.
State laws can provide additional protection to the victims of domestic violence, and state gun control laws vary significantly. If you’re in fear for your safety because you believe your domestic abuser has access to a firearm, contact your local police station right away. If you have questions about domestic violence or gun control laws, you should consider contacting an experienced attorney or the legal aid resources in your state. For more information, see Findlaw's Get Help with Domestic Violence.