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Can You Still Own a Gun if Convicted of Domestic Violence?

By Alex Sirek on July 18, 2022 9:46 AM

Legally, domestic abuse or intimate partner violence is defined as a felony or misdemeanor violent crime committed by a current or former spouse of the victim, an intimate partner, or another member of the household.

Domestic abuse is not just physical abuse, such as attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. It also includes financial, sexual, and emotional abuse. Domestic violence is a violation of human and civil rights and victims deserve to feel as safe and secure as possible.

Federal firearms laws have instated new strict guidelines for felons and convicted offenders looking to purchase a gun. Let's take a look at the laws, new and old, determining who can and can't purchase a gun after a domestic violence offense.

Domestic Violence Offenses and Gun Rights

With very few exceptions, convicted domestic abusers are prohibited from purchasing firearms. Until recently, the “boyfriend loophole" provided several exceptions allowing domestic violence offenders to purchase firearms legally. For instance, it allowed abusers to purchase firearms if their victim was not a spouse, former spouse, the parent of their child, guardian of the victim, or a roommate.

Now, however, most of those exceptions are no longer an issue. Since the passage of the Senate Gun Bill in June, the loophole has been drastically tightened. This means that the vast majority of individuals with a criminal conviction for domestic violence cannot legally possess a firearm.

If the conviction is on the record, a person is prohibited from owning a firearm under both state and federal law even if the convictions are for misdemeanors. This can be particularly difficult for individuals who accept no-jail plea bargains to misdemeanor domestic violence charges in order to avoid felony charges.

For almost 50 years, federal law has been rather clear that individuals who have convictions for domestic violence charges cannot legally possess firearms. The Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 explicitly state that individuals may not own a firearm after a conviction for domestic violence, domestic assault, or equivalent crime. In addition, they are prohibited from gun ownership when domestic violence protective orders or restraining orders have been set.

Furthermore, the Lautenberg Amendment to 1968's Gun Control Act makes it a felony for anyone with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction to ship, transport, possess, or receive firearms or ammunition.

The Exceptions

The recently tightened “boyfriend loophole" does provide one exception, however. For first-time offenders, federal law removes firearm prohibitions for dating partners after five years if the accused is not convicted of another qualifying misdemeanor during that period.

As stated above, there are a few limited exceptions that allow a person to own a gun after a domestic violence conviction. If a person is subject to a domestic violence or harassment restraining order, then the prohibition on gun ownership may only be temporary while the order is in effect. In those cases, the individual will generally need to turn over their firearms to law enforcement or a registered dealer for safekeeping.

Similarly, after a conviction, most states require that all guns be turned over as well, though many states lack enforcement and logistics for doing so. Another issue involves the distinction between domestic violence convictions and simple assault or battery charges.

Furthermore, if a person is able to have their conviction overturned, expunged, pardoned, sealed, or otherwise removed from the record, then they may be able to own a gun after a domestic violence conviction.

Additionally, the Senate Gun Bill states that, if not otherwise stated, the right to keep and bear arms is restored following expungement. State laws vary, however. For example, in states like Hawaii, a gubernatorial pardon is required.

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

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