Minnesota Courts Can Take Domestic Abusers’ Guns

An order for protection or misdemeanor conviction can be grounds to bar owning firearms

Domestic abuse victims, as well as their loved ones, must be proactive to limit the threat of potential future abuse, and one of the best ways of doing so is by learning the laws that are meant to protect them.

Seeking a protection order (OFP), which prohibits any contact from the abuser, is often the first step in protecting victims of domestic abuse. But there are other caveats at play with such orders, including preventing abusers from owning firearms.

What the law says

Federal law prohibits many domestic abusers from possessing firearms and ammunition. The law applies to victims who were in a relationship with the abuser, including:

  • Spouses
  • Former spouses
  • Unmarried parents
  • Significant others who live, or have lived, together

In order for the firearm prohibition to be enforced against an abuser, the abuser must have had actual notice of a protection hearing. This means that the abuser was served with notice of the hearing and was given an opportunity to appear. It doesn’t matter if the abuser chose not to appear at the hearing. Protection orders are often issued without a hearing, but in those cases, the abuser will not be prevented from possessing firearms. There must be an actual hearing.

The federal law requires the language of the order to restrain the abuser from harassing, stalking, threatening or engaging in conduct that would place the victim or child in reasonable fear of bodily injury. Further, the order must include language or a finding that the abuser is a credible threat to the physical safety of the victim or victim’s child.

Even if there is no protective order in place, the abuser is subject to the firearm prohibition if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor “crime of domestic violence.” The crime must include an element that the abuser used or attempted to use physical force. The crime need not be labeled domestic abuse, but may include any crime of physical force, including assault and battery.

How long will the abuser be prohibited from owning a gun?

Victims must be aware of the expiration date of their protective order. Once the protective order expires, the abuser can get their guns back. However, the firearm prohibition against abusers convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence will stay in effect until the conviction is expunged, set aside or pardoned.

In the past, abusers were on their honor to voluntarily give their weapons to a third party. Changes to Minnesota law in 2014 now require the abuser give their firearms to law enforcement, a federally licensed dealer or third party (that may lawfully possess firearms). This extra enforcement applies to abusers subject to an OFP or misdemeanor conviction for crime of domestic violence. The abuser has three days from issuance of the protective order or conviction to transfer their weapons. If the abuser chooses a third party to transfer their firearms, that third party is required to complete an affidavit and is subject to criminal and civil penalties if the abuser gains access to the firearms.

For victims who believe it is important their abuser be barred from possessing guns, there are several potential traps in the law that could exempt the abuser from being subject to the firearm prohibition. Those victims should talk to an experienced family law attorney who can assist victims in ensuring the abuser is prevented from keeping their guns.

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