Skip to main content

Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Domestic Violence and Guns

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 (regardless of whether the weapons are actually used to inflict physical injuries).

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.

This article explores the intersection of domestic violence and guns, including information about restraining orders and differences in state laws.

Guns and Domestic Violence Laws at the Federal Level

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.

Domestic Violence, Guns, 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.

Guns and Domestic Violence: Additional Resources

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.

More Questions About Domestic Violence and Guns? Contact an Attorney

When it comes to domestic violence, you don't want to take any chances as the dangers increase when emotions flare. Hence the many federal and state laws restricting access to firearms in domestic violence cases. For more help and to learn more about protecting yourself and your loved ones, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney near you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options