Who Can Own a Gun?

Can you buy a gun even if you have a criminal record?

Adam Freedman
3-minute read

Who Can Own a Gun?

Today’s topic: The rights--and wrongs--of bearing arms.

In today’s article I’ll tackle the question: Who can own a gun?

Who Can Own a Gun?

First, let’s look at the constitutional status of gun laws. The Second Amendment to the Constitution states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

In 2008, the Supreme Court struck down a District of Columbia gun control law on the grounds that the Second Amendment does not merely protect the right of militia members--notwithstanding those opening words about a well-regulated militia--but rather, the right of each individual citizen to “keep and bear arms.”

Federal law does not outlaw guns; nor does it allow outlaws to own guns.

The Supreme Court’s ruling does not affect the vast majority of federal, state, and local gun laws that seek to regulate gun ownership but don’t amount to a total ban. In this article, I’ll focus mainly on federal laws, but there are thousands of state and local laws concerning firearms. Be sure to check all state and local laws before attempting to purchase a gun.

Can Convicted Felons Buy Guns?

Under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, certain categories of persons are not eligible to possess a firearm or ammunition. These include

  • Fugitives from justice

  • Illegal aliens

  • Unlawful users of certain drugs

  • Those committed to a mental institution

  • Those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for more than one year (which generally covers felonies)

  • Those convicted of crimes of domestic violence

The federal law not only creates a permanent ban on gun ownership for anyone convicted of a felony, it even applies to those under indictment for a felony.

Domestic Violence and Gun Laws

With respect to “domestic violence,” that term is interpreted very broadly in the context of the Gun Control Act.  In 2009, the Supreme Court held that the Act’s prohibition extends to anyone convicted of any crime involving “physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon” against a person with whom the perpetrator had a domestic relationship--even if the crime is just plain old “assault and battery” rather than a specific “domestic violence” charge.

Under the Gun Control Act, the conviction itself is enough to trigger the prohibition. It doesn’t matter whether the person actually served a sentence for the felony or crime in question.


About the Author

Adam Freedman

Adam Freedman is a lawyer and a regular contributor to Point of Law and Ricochet. Freedman’s legal commentary has been featured in The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and on Public Radio. He holds degrees from Yale, Oxford, and the University of Chicago. He is the author of The Naked Constitution (2012).

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