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Legal Information: Federal

Federal Gun Laws

August 12, 2022

What is the definition of a domestic violence misdemeanor?

Throughout these gun law pages, we will refer to the fact that it is illegal to carry a gun if a person has been convicted of a “domestic violence misdemeanor,” also referred to as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A misdemeanor may have different definitions in each state, but basically it is a crime with a shorter possible sentence than a felony. In general, a misdemeanor could be a “domestic violence misdemeanor” if:

  1. the abuser is or was a family or household member, which includes:
  • your current or former spouse;
  • your parent or guardian;
  • a person with whom you have a child in common;
  • a person who is like a spouse, parent, or guardian to you; or
  • a person with whom you have a current or recent former dating relationship; and
  1. s/he was charged with a misdemeanor because the crime involved:
  • the use or attempted use of physical violence or “force;” or
  • the threatened use of a deadly weapon.1

Note: The word “force” in the list above does not have to be violent force. “Offensive touching,” such as the type that comes under many crimes of battery, is considered to be force.2

The crime may not have to specifically mention “domestic violence” in order for it to be considered a domestic violence misdemeanor and for the federal firearm law to apply.3 The relationship that the victim has with the offender could determine whether or not the misdemeanor is a “domestic violence misdemeanor.” For example: If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his wife, it is probably illegal for him to buy or have a gun. If Bob is convicted of a misdemeanor assault against his neighbor, he may still be able to have or buy a gun.

For tips on how to figure out if the abuser was convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor, go to How can I find out if the abuser has been convicted of a crime? For more information, or if you are still confused, you might want to contact the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit at 1-800-903-0111, ext. 2.

1 18 USC § 921(a)(33)(A); see Buster v. United States, 447 F.3d 1130 (8th Cir. 2006) (for discussion of defining “as a spouse”)
2 See United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405, 188 L. Ed. 2d 426 (2014)
3 See United States v. Hayes, 555 U.S. 415, 129 S.Ct. 1079 (2009)