Domestic Violence

A common question among survivors of family violence is “Can you buy a gun if convicted of domestic violence?” It’s understandable to wonder if a person who was convicted of domestic violence will be allowed to purchase a firearm. And while the short answer is generally “no,” the specific laws and potential enforcement—or lack thereof—tend to vary by state.

What Is Domestic Violence?

From a non-legal perspective, domestic violence refers to abuse that takes place in an intimate relationship. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence,

Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.

Legally, domestic violence refers to felony or misdemeanor crimes involving violence committed by the victim’s family member. Typically, “family” is defined as two people who have or have had a dating relationship, members of the same family, or are members of the same household, but the exact definition varies on a state-by-state basis.

Does Someone Convicted of Domestic Violence Have to Turn Their Guns In?

Once convicted, the person generally must “dispossess” themselves of firearms. While this does not generally require someone to turn the firearms over to the police/state, it often takes the shape of a sale or gift of all firearms to another. It’s important to note that many states don’t have a solid methodology in place for this process. That means a lot of domestic abusers unlawfully keep the guns already in their possession and nothing is done about it.

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Can Someone Convicted of Domestic Violence Own a Gun?

Generally, not under federal law. Under the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996, which was an amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968, people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are prohibited from possessing firearms. The amendment is also known as the Lautenberg Amendment and makes it a felony for someone convicted of such crime to possess, ship, or transport guns or ammunition in interstate commerce. The amendment has no expiration date, and receiving relief from the restrictions imposed is a rare occurrence. This ban includes related crimes as the Gun Control Act defines “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” as any state or federal misdemeanors that have:

as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.

Does a Restraining Order Stop Someone from Owning Guns?

Generally, yes. Federal law criminalizes the possession of firearms by persons under an order that: restrains them from “harassing,” “stalking,” “threatening,” or placing in “reasonable fear of bodily injury”; includes a finding that the person represents a credible threat; or “prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force” against an intimate partner or child of such person. The person must receive notice and an opportunity to participate in the hearing on the order. Many states also criminalize the possession of firearms while under a restraining order. In practice, this means virtually everyone under an active restraining order has (at least temporarily) lost their right to possess firearms.

Does U.S. LawShield® Cover Self-Defense Related to Domestic Violence?

Yes. U.S. LawShield® provides Legal Defense for Self Defense® for any legal weapon used in self-defense scenarios, including lawfully defending yourself from an attack involving domestic violence.

Can My Abuser Have Guns?

We’ve answered these questions from a legal perspective regarding convictions, and restraining orders, but there are other things to consider. For example, it’s vital to keep in mind that people willing to engage in criminal acts are often also okay with breaking the law when it comes to possessing a firearm. Just because a person is legally barred from having a gun doesn’t mean they don’t have one—it simply means it’s against the law for them to have it.

People who are comfortable with criminal behaviors frequently continue those behaviors in other ways. Please remember, when seconds count, the police are minutes away. Being able to legally defend your life is important. If you are in an unsafe place and need help, you can call 1-800-799-7233 to speak to someone at the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Their website can be found at If you are concerned about their website appearing in your browser history, consider using a computer at your local library or some other location away from your house. If you can’t leave your home, private mode on your personal computer is another option.

U.S. LawShield® provides Legal Defense for Self Defense®. Membership includes the ability to speak directly with an Independent Program Attorney and ask questions regarding self-defense legal matters and firearms. If you’re not yet a member, click here to take a closer look at the benefits. You may also call us at 877-448-6839.


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Domestic Violence and Gun Ownership FAQs

Federal law specifically prohibits possession of a firearm if the person is convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or a state crime that is classified as a misdemeanor under state law and is punishable by two years or less imprisonment. It’s also important to note that many states also prohibit individuals from possessing firearms after the individual has been convicted of other misdemeanor offenses, such as violent or firearm-related crimes. It’s important to be familiar with your state’s specific laws regarding gun ownership.

Generally speaking, if a state felony charge is dismissed, then the individual is no longer prohibited from possessing a firearm. However, this can vary from state to state and is dependent on the specific circumstances surrounding the dismissal. Additionally, even if you are not prohibited from possessing a gun under state law, you must also confirm you are not prohibited under federal law (for example, because a restraining order is still active). Therefore, it is important that you speak with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your specific situation and assist you with restoring your gun rights.

If the assault charge does not involve a “family member,” then generally your gun rights will not be affected. It’s important to keep in mind that each state has different laws regarding gun rights, so it is imperative that you are familiar with your state’s laws.

The term “battery” is a broader offense that involves the intentional act of touching or making contact with another without the person’s consent. Domestic battery is battery that involves the perpetrator’s family member.

If the perpetrator of the crime is the victim’s family member, whether it is designated as domestic violence, domestic battery, domestic assault, or some other variation, then it will likely affect your ability to buy and/or possess a gun.

A charge of plain assault not involving a family member will generally not prohibit you from buying or possessing a gun. Again, this can vary by state, so it is important to know the laws of your state.

A person convicted of a crime of domestic violence should immediately speak to an attorney experienced in gun rights to determine the status of possession rights and whether any exceptions may apply. Many states do not have a specific method in place for what a person should do with their guns upon becoming a prohibited person. However, it is crucial that a prohibited person not be in possession of, or have access to, any type of firearm.

A misdemeanor crime of domestic violence includes any state or federal misdemeanor that involves the “use or attempted use of physical force, or threatened use of a deadly weapon” committed by a person who is the victim’s current or former spouse, intimate partner, parent, guardian, or similarly situated individual.

Felony domestic violence occurs when a person has caused serious physical injury or harm to a family member. Additionally, there are situations where a misdemeanor may convert into a felony if certain aggravating factors are present. Common aggravating factors include injury or threats with a deadly weapon, crimes causing injury to children, and crimes involving sexual abuse.

If a person who is legally able to possess a firearm lives with a prohibited person, they must ensure that the prohibited person does not constructively possess the firearm. This means the person must keep the firearm in a locked safe where the prohibited person cannot gain access and ensure the prohibited person does not know the combination or have access to the safe key. State laws may vary on what constitutes “possession” under these circumstances, so be sure to consult with an attorney.

The information provided in this publication is intended to provide general information to individuals and is not legal advice. The information included in this publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication without the prior written consent of U.S. LawShield, to be given or withheld at our discretion. The information is not a substitute for, and does not replace the advice or representation of a licensed attorney. We strive to ensure the information included in this publication is accurate and current, however, no claim is made to the accuracy of the information and we are not responsible for any consequences that may result from the use of information in this publication. The use of this publication does not create an attorney-client relationship between U.S. LawShield, any independent program attorney, and any individual.