An Overview of Gun Restrictions on Domestic Violence Offenders

Posted On May 12, 2020 Domestic Violence

Gun control laws are a helpful preventive measure for severe injury to the millions of Americans subjected to abuse and domestic violence every year. If an abuser has access to a firearm in a household, the likelihood that a woman is killed increases by 500%.

Given the observed and expected increase in domestic violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic response, protecting victims of domestic violence has become even more important than ever.

Which states have restrictions on the possession and purchase of guns for those charged with domestic violence? With the help of data visualization agency 1Point21 Interactive, we conducted a comprehensive analysis of all laws in the United States with said protections.

Federal Laws

It is important to note that there is already a federal law in place that establishes restrictions on the possession of firearms. The Lautenberg Amendment expressly prohibits those who are convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or own firearms. According to the law, a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is one that “has the use of attempted use of physical force or threatened use of a deadly weapon as an element.”

Additionally, the offender must fit one of the following criteria:

  • He/she must be a spouse (current or former), parent, or guardian of the victim.
  • He/she must share a child with the victim.
  • He/she must live (or previously lived) with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian.
  • He/she must be in a situation similar to that of the spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

Although the Lautenberg Amendment provides basic protections to domestic abusers, it provides a very narrow scope of protection, along with many limitations. In addition to the narrow offender criteria, the law also does not specify any procedures for the surrender of firearms, declaring that such procedures are up to state and local government discretion.

State Laws

Due to the limitations of federal law, many states have enacted their own laws to fill in any gaps that federal laws do not fill. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have laws in place that offer more comprehensive restrictions to domestic violence offenders.

The provisions outlined in many of these state laws address many of the elements of gun restriction that the federal law has failed to cover. This includes:

Relinquishment of Guns

Despite prohibiting the possession of firearms, federal law does not actually ensure that such laws are enforced, with no policies in place for the relinquishment of guns.

Although this direction is generally left to the states, just 16 states have laws that require the relinquishment of firearms and ammunition if the offender is convicted of a domestic violence crime:

  • California*
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut*
  • Hawaii*
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts*
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada*
  • New Jersey*
  • New York*
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania*
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee

Some of these states take gun control laws further in regards to crimes – the seven asterisked states prohibit the purchase and possession of firearms if the offender has been charged with any violent misdemeanors.

Protective Orders

Although the federal law restricts those formally charged with domestic violence crimes, it fails to address offenders who may be abusers – but are not otherwise charged of any crimes of domestic violence.

State laws try to compensate for this by instituting restrictions for abusers who are subject to protective orders. Also known as restraining in orders in some states, these orders prevent those who are abusers from being in close vicinity to their victims.

All but these 8 states have some form of law in place to restrict those who have protective orders issued against them: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wyoming.

It is also important to note that these restrictions are not the case in all applicable states – many require convincing evidence in which the respondent poses a credible and imminent threat in order for the law to apply.

The “Boyfriend Loophole”

The fairly narrow criteria for offenders in federal law has created what is called a “boyfriend loophole” – the notion that federal law does not apply to those who are simply dating or are an unmarried couple. Unfortunately, the truth is that those who are dating partners or unmarried partners in a relationship may also be victims to domestic violence.

23 states attempt to close the boyfriend loophole with their gun restriction laws.

Of those, 19 states prohibit dating partners who have been convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from owning or buying firearms and/or ammunition – and 22 states prohibit dating partners who may be subject to protective orders.

Additionally, some states may have additional requirements for dating partners. For example, for dating partners charged with domestic violence crimes, Texas and Washington require some form of cohabitation between partners in order for any firearms restrictions to apply.

Stalkers

Some state laws also enforce gun restrictions on those who have been charged with stalking, a misdemeanor. Under federal law, those with stalking convictions may still be in possession of firearms if the charge was not in the context of a relationship – despite stalking being a strong indicator of future domestic violence.

Just 9 states prohibit the possession and purchase of guns and ammunition for those who have been charged with a misdemeanor offense for stalking:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island

State By State Laws

Each column indicates whether or not that state has laws that impose firearms restrictions related to listed type of offender.

State Domestic Violence Offenders Firearms Must Be Surrendered? Abusers Subject to Protective Orders? Stalkers? Dating Partners?
Alabama Yes No Yes No No
Alaska No No Yes – only under specific conditions No No
Arizona No No Yes No Yes
Arkansas No No No No No
California Yes Yes – all violent crimes Yes Yes Yes
Colorado Yes Yes Yes No No
Connecticut Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Delaware Yes No Yes No Yes
Florida No No Yes No No
Georgia No No No No No
Hawaii Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Idaho No No No No No
Illinois Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Indiana Yes No Yes No No
Iowa Yes Yes Yes No No
Kansas Yes No Yes No Yes – 5-year prohibition
Kentucky No No No No No
Louisiana Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Maine Yes No Yes No No
Maryland Yes No Yes No No
Massachusetts Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Michigan No No Yes No No
Minnesota Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Mississippi No No No No No
Missouri No No No No No
Montana No No Yes No No
Nebraska Yes No Yes No Yes
Nevada Yes Yes Yes No No
New Hampshire No No Yes No No
New Jersey Yes Yes Yes No Yes
New Mexico Yes No Yes Yes No
New York Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
North Carolina No No Yes No No
North Dakota No No Yes Yes No
Ohio No No Yes No No
Oklahoma No No No No No
Oregon Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pennsylvania Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Rhode Island Yes Yes Yes Yes No
South Carolina Yes No Yes No No
South Dakota Yes No Yes No No
Tennessee Yes Yes Yes No No
Texas Yes No Yes No Partial – only if victim is current or former household member
Utah Yes No Yes No Yes
Vermont No No Yes No Yes
Virginia No No Yes No No
Washington Yes No Yes No Partial – only if victim has cohabitated with abuser
Washington, D.C. Yes No Yes No Yes
West Virginia Yes No Yes No Yes
Wisconsin No No Yes No No
Wyoming No No No No No

Red Flag Laws

In cases where persons are suspected to be considering a mass violence action or self harm, some states have enacted Extreme Risk Protective Orders, sometimes known as Red Flag Laws.  Each of the 19 states with red flag laws has specific language for who can order them and how long firearms are restricted.

Closing Thoughts

Despite state efforts to curb gun ownership among those who are domestic violence offenders, it is clear that not enough is being done to ensure a nationwide effort. Many states still do not implement the measures necessary to curb gun violence in abusive households. For example, Georgia explicitly does not prohibit the possession and purchase of firearms among any offenders – and has no such state laws limiting gun control for abusers.

Additionally, even states that do implement laws do so with half-measures in place. Alabama has state laws in place to restrict violent offenders from buying and owning guns, but they do not require offenders to surrender or relinquish any guns they may already have. Worse, they do not explicitly require courts to properly notify domestic abusers when they are no longer allowed to own or buy guns.

Much still needs to be done nationwide to ensure laws are in place to protect the most vulnerable members of our population.

If there are any questions regarding violence in domestic abuse cases, it may be highly recommended to contact a legal professional specializing in family law.

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