The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) and the 1997 Omnibus
Consolidated Appropriations Act contain federal firearms laws related to
domestic violence. VAWA makes it a crime for a person who is the subject
of a domestic abuse restraining order to transport, receive, or possess
firearms or ammunition which have come across state or federal borders.
The Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 made several amendments
to the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968. The amendments prohibit the
possession of firearms and ammunition by persons convicted of state or
federal misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence and the distribution of
firearms and ammunition to such persons. Unlike the provisions in VAWA, law
enforcement officers and other governmental officials are NOT EXEMPT
from the amendments. As of the effective date, September 30, 1996, any
person convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor may no longer possess a
firearm or ammunition. This technical support packet includes information on
these two federal laws.
Note that the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 1997 amendments to the Gun Control Act of 1968. Also, legislation has been introduced to eliminate the retroactive application and add the exemption for the use of firearms for official purposes.
For information or assistance, contact the Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project or your local ATF office.
There are two separate federal firearms laws which relate to domestic
violence. These are the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) and the
Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 which amends the Federal
Gun Control Act of 1968.
The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 contains a provision which prohibits the subject of a domestic violence restraining order from possessing firearms and ammunition. Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), anyone subject to a qualifying restraining order cannot possess a firearm or ammunition. Intimate partners include spouses, former spouses or significant others, but do not include significant others with whom the defendant has NOT cohabited. A qualifying court restraining order is one where:
|has, 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.|
Law enforcement officers and governmental employees (such as security
guards or military personnel) art not exempt from this law with respect to
their receipt or possession of firearms or ammunition. Therefore, law
enforcement and other government employees who have been convicted of a
qualifying misdemeanor will not be able to lawfully possess or receive
firearms or ammunition or any purposes, including performing their official
Furthermore, the law makes it unlawful for any person, including governmental agencies, to sell or otherwise issue firearms or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the person has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of violence.
As of September 30, 1996, the new law went into effect. However, the prohibition also applies to persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence AT ANY TIME PRIOR to September 30, 1996. Therefore, as of the effective date, any person who has EVER been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence may no longer possess a firearm or ammunition.
With respect to all persons convicted, the law would NOT apply if the conviction is defective procedurally due to representation or trial issues, such as the person's constitutional rights to counsel and/or a jury trial were not knowingly and intelligently waived. Also, the law would not apply if the conviction has been expunged, set aside, pardoned, or the person has had his or her civil rights restored and the person is not otherwise prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.