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Prohibit People With Dangerous Histories From Having Guns


Prohibit People With Dangerous Histories From Having Guns

What does it solve?

People with dangerous histories must be prohibited from having guns. Federal law prohibits gun possession by certain categories of people. States also set standards for who is too dangerous to have guns. People prohibited by federal or state law will fail a background check if they try to buy a gun from a licensed dealer.

Federal law prohibits certain categories of people from having guns, including:

  • Convicted felons.
  • Abusers under final domestic violence restraining orders, or convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes, if they have been married to, lived with, or have a child in common with the victim.
  • People with dangerous mental illness.
  • Fugitives from justice.
  • Unlawful drug users.

While federal law applies in every state, without matching provisions in state law, in-state officials generally cannot enforce them. States can also fill gaps left by federal law and set even stronger standards.

How it works

Federal and state laws should block people with dangerous histories from having guns.

Federal law should be amended to fill dangerous gaps in the law that enable people with dangerous histories to have guns. States should also pass laws matching the federal prohibitions, and should fill gaps left by federal law.

  • Abusive dating partners. Federal law prohibits domestic abusers from having guns only if the abuser has been married to, has lived with, or has a child in common with the victim—it does not cover abusive dating partners. The exclusion of abusive dating partners from the firearm prohibition is especially outdated given the changing nature of relationships.
  • People under extreme risk protection orders.
  • Convicted stalkers. Federal law prohibits people convicted of felony stalking from having guns, but not people convicted of misdemeanor stalking crimes.
  • People convicted of hate crimes.
  • People with mental illness that pose a risk to themselves or others. Federal law and state law should clarify that the prohibition extends to people involuntarily committed to outpatient treatment. Federal law should also clarify that certain records held by Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration qualify as federally prohibiting mental health records.
  • People under 21 should not be able to buy a gun. Laws may provide exceptions for 18-20 year-olds purchasing certain types of long guns in limited circumstances.
  • People recently convicted of a violent misdemeanor. Federal law prohibits people convicted of a felony or a domestic violence misdemeanor from having guns, but does not otherwise block people recently convicted of a violent crime. 
  • People under emergency domestic violence restraining orders. While federal law prohibits abusers under domestic violence restraining orders while a long-term order is in place, it does not prohibit those during the earlier, emergency order phase. While people under these emergency orders must have ready access to the courts, they should be prohibited from having guns during this highly dangerous period.
  • People with outstanding warrants. People under outstanding warrants should be blocked from buying a gun, and from having a gun if they know about the warrant.
  • Other people who pose a risk to public safety. Several states screen for any dangerous history among gun permit applicants. These are important protections that ensure new gun buyers do not pose a serious danger to themselves or others.

By the numbers


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