Federal Firearms Ban for Domestic Violence Convictions

Federal law makes it a crime for someone convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor domestic violence offense to possess a firearm or ammunition.

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco
Updated July 13, 2023

Federal law bars certain people from possessing, owning, receiving, or buying guns, including people with a misdemeanor or felony domestic violence conviction and anyone subject to a domestic violence restraining order.

Federal Gun Control Act: Prohibited Persons

Federal law prohibits certain categories of people from buying or possessing firearms and ammunition. The list of "prohibited persons" includes any person:

  • convicted of a felony (crimes punishable by more than a year in jail or prison, excluding certain business-related crimes)
  • convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence, or
  • subject to a domestic violence restraining order.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives publishes a list of prohibited persons. (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(2023).)

Domestic Violence Convictions That Trigger the Federal Gun Ban

Both federal and state convictions can trigger the federal gun ban. While the felony ban is fairly straightforward, the misdemeanor ban is less so.

Felony Crimes

All felony domestic violence convictions trigger the federal firearms ban—as do most felony convictions in general—whether they occur in federal or state court. A violation of this ban is commonly referred to as a "felon-in-possession."

Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence

On the other hand, the federal firearms ban only applies to those with misdemeanor convictions that are "misdemeanor crime[s] of domestic violence."

The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence" broadly. Most misdemeanor crimes prohibiting assault, battery, and terroristic threats will fall under this definition when the offense involves:

  • the use or attempted use of force or threatened use of a weapon, and
  • a defendant and victim in a current or former domestic relationship as defined under federal law. (18 U.S.C. §921(a)(33)(2023).)

This rule holds true whether or not the statute specifically calls the offense a "domestic violence" misdemeanor as long as the underlying elements are met. (United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415 (2009).)

Learn more about federal firearm bans for misdemeanor convictions.

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders That Trigger the Federal Gun Ban

Federal law also prohibits some people who are subject to domestic violence protective orders (DVRO) from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition. States use different names for these orders, such as protective orders, relief from abuse orders, and injunctions for protection.

A protective order prohibits a person from harassing, stalking, harming, or threatening to harm an "intimate partner" or the child of an intimate partner. Intimate partners for these purposes are limited to co-parents or those who share the relationship of current or former spouses or cohabitants.

The federal gun ban doesn't apply to ex parte orders issued after the court has only heard from one side—the alleged victim. To trigger the ban, the alleged abuser must have received actual notice of a hearing on the protective order and had a chance to participate at the hearing. The order must find that the restrained person poses a credible threat of physical harm or must expressly prohibit the person from causing or threatening to cause physical harm to the intimate partner or child. (18 U.S.C. §§ 921 and 922 (2023).)

Duration of Prohibition, Restoration of Rights, and Penalty

Under federal law, defendants convicted of felony or misdemeanor domestic violence typically face a lifetime ban on owning or possessing firearms. Sometimes, the time of restriction is shorter than that. For example, gun bans triggered by domestic violence restraining orders remain in effect while the restrained person is subject to the order. (18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(2023).)

A person's gun rights can be restored after a domestic violence conviction in some jurisdictions if:

  • the conviction is expunged or set aside, or
  • the offender has been pardoned or had civil rights restored.

But states can—and do—limit the restoration of gun rights in some cases. For example, California's expungement law doesn't restore gun rights, meaning the federal ban would still apply. (Cal. Penal Code §§ 1203.4, 1203.4a (2023).)

The federal penalty for violating a domestic violence gun ban is steep—a fine, up to 15 years in prison, or both. (18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(8) (2023).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been accused of a domestic violence crime or are the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer can answer questions about your situation, advise you on how the rules of gun ownership and possession apply to your case, and advocate for you in court if necessary.

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