Restore Gun Rights in Your State
If you’ve been convicted of any kind of serious crime, there is a good chance you have lost your rights to purchase and possess a firearm.
The good news is that although laws vary from state to state, there are several possible ways that you can seek to have your gun rights restored. Some states reinstate gun rights automatically if a criminal record is expunged. Other states require a mandatory multi-year waiting period before reinstatement. And still others require the completion of all terms of sentencing, including the completion of parole and probation, before allowing a person to petition authorities for the restoration of rights.
In certain instances, state laws regarding getting gun rights back will be in conflict with federal laws regarding restoration, meaning that a person could be cleared at one level, but not the other. That’s why it is essential to check your state’s gun restoration laws before attempting to move forward with the restoration process.
Why you might be denied the right to purchase or possess a firearm
Most people understand that convicted felons can’t purchase or possess a firearm due to federal firearms prohibitions. However, not everyone knows or understands that this prohibition can extend to many other people as well, including those who do not have criminal convictions.
Under federal law, felonies are defined as crimes that are punishable by sentences of more than one year. Convicted felons are banned from purchasing and possessing a firearm, even if the sentence they received was less than one year, as long as the crime could have been punished by a sentence of more than one year.
In many cases, a person does not even need to be convicted of a felony. They only need to be under indictment.
Under federal laws, misdemeanors are defined as having a sentence of less than one year, but a ban can still be in effect for those who are convicted of domestic violence crimes which are defined as the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threat of a deadly weapon against current or former spouse, parent, guardian, co-habitor, a person who shares a child in common, or someone who is any of these similar circumstances. This also includes someone who is under a court order that restrains them from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or a child of that partner.
There are many other instances when a person can be federally prosecuted as a felony for possessing firearms. They include:
Any person who is considered a fugitive from justice
- A person who unlawfully uses or who is addicted to a controlled substance
- Any person who has been diagnosed with a mental health condition that has rendered them incompetent or not criminally responsible as part of a criminal case. This also includes people of have been marked as having subnormal intelligence, mental illness, is considered a danger to him or herself or to others or lacks the mental capacity to manage their own affairs.
- An alien who is in the United States unlawfully or who has been admitted under a nonimmigrant visa
- Any person who has been discharged from the United States armed forces under dishonorable conditions.
- Any person who has been a U.S. citizen and has renounced their citizenship
The maximum prison sentence for violating these conditions is 10 years according to federal statutes, except for “under indictment” situations where the maximum sentence is five years.
Federal firearm prohibitions also extend to misdemeanors involving domestic violence. To meet the elements of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime, the elements are generally the same as a felony offense involving the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, and the crime is committed against a current or former spouse, parent, guardian or by a person whom the victim shares a child in common.
State laws vary widely with some states having much more strict gun prohibition laws than others. If you travel outside of your home state and want to carry a gun, you should check applicable local and state laws. While you may not be prohibited from purchasing and possessing a firearm in your home state, you could be in violation of gun laws in another state without even realizing it.
State laws can also be complex regarding firearm bans, especially as they relate to federal laws regarding firearm bans. If you are seeking restoration of your gun rights, or need more clarification on why you are banned at a state level, you should consult a gun rights attorney who specializes in these types of cases.
What if I am wrongfully denied the right to purchase and possess a firearm?
The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is an agency under the auspices of the FBI and administers a system that checks names to determine if prospective firearm purchasers should be disqualified from purchasing or possessing firearms.
If a person has been denied a firearm transaction, they may request an appeal. You can hire a firearm attorney to assist you, or you can complete this task on your own. Deciding on whether or not to retain legal counsel will depend on the nature and the complexity of your request. If you retain a guns rights lawyer, you will need to give them access to your criminal records so that they can assist you. The FBI has an online Authorization to Release Criminal History Information and Release of Liability Form that you should complete and submit to expedite your process.
You must make the request in writing, using the NICS Appeal Request Form. To file an application to restore your gun rights, you will need your name, mailing address, and NICS Transaction Number (NTN) supplied by the Federal Firearms Licensee.
To prove that you are not the same person in comparison to the record on file used in the background check, you are also encouraged to provide a set of your fingerprints. Fingerprints can be rolled by any local law enforcement agency and must contain the NTN, a legible signature of the person taking the fingerprints and the agency name. You can get a copy of a fingerprint card by going here.
The form you complete also has room for attachments, and those who are appealing are encouraged to submit police reports, expungements, restoration of rights, completion of sentences, or other documentation that supports the individual’s appeal. To avoid any delays, it is strongly suggested that you submit certified documentation.
Appeals can be filed online here or by mail. To submit a request by mail, send your completed appeal to:
FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division
National Instant Criminal Background Check System Section
Appeal Services Team
P.O. Box 4278
Clarksburg, West Virginia 26302-4278
If you are denied or your request is delayed, after you file an appeal, you should receive a response from NICS with the specific reason why you are being delayed or denied approval within five business days. Those reasons why you could be delayed or denied mean that an NICS background check has been matched with a similar name and description of a record containing a state or federal prohibition.
Federal prohibitions include:
- A conviction in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term of more than one year
- A fugitive from justice
- An unlawful user or addicted to any controlled substance
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
- Illegal aliens unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa
- Dishonorable discharge from the Armed Forces
- Has renounced U.S. citizenship
- Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner
- Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
- Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
In addition to federal prohibitions, the NICS can also delay or deny a firearms transfer based on state laws as well.
You will receive written notice once your appeal has been processed. The NICS does not provide status updates and appeals are processed in the order they are received.
To prevent future denials based on erroneous information or extended delays in a background check approval, the NICS allows applicants to maintain their information in Voluntary Appeal File (VAF). Under normal circumstances the NICS is not allowed by law to maintain records of overturned appeals, meaning that a person who makes several requests would have to otherwise submit complete documentation everytime they request an appeal of a delayed or denied firearms transfer application. The VAF allows NICS to maintain information about themselves to avoid the use of future erroneous information or to prevent extended approval delays or denials. For more information on how to have the NICS create a VAF file, go here.
For more information on NICS appeals, you can go to their website here.
A brief overview of gun restoration laws in selected states
There are many states that restore gun rights to felons, however, each state has its own unique set of conditions and processes that must be met before gun rights can be restored.
Restore Gun Rights in California – Current state laws may restrict you from owning a gun after a felony conviction, some misdemeanor convictions and domestic violence offenses, restraining orders and where mental illness is involved. Restoration of gun rights may take place when some felonies are reduced to misdemeanors or convictions are expunged from a person’s record. Convictions of some violent misdemeanors take away ownership rights for 10 years. A governor’s pardon is available in certain selected instances.
5150 Gun Rights — In California, mental health can impact your firearms rights. A 5150 hold, a legal process of temporarily and involuntarily holding an individual for a mental health evaluation, can make it difficult to have access to firearms because it bars that person from possessing a firearm for five years following the incident. To restore gun rights in California following a 5150 hold, you must file a petition within your county courts (know that the process slightly varies among counties). From there, a judge will determine if your rights can be restored based on your mental health history and behaviors.
Restore Gun Rights in Florida — Gun restoration laws in Florida are dependent upon what kind of conviction you have, and how long it has been since completing your sentence. You must file a petition with the Florida Office of Executive Clemency (also known as applying for Restoration of Civil Rights) to restore gun rights in Florida, and you must have completed a waiting period of eight years before filing. In addition, successful petition filers cannot have any penalties or detainers totaling more than $1,000 from any kind of criminal conviction, traffic violation or victim restitution.
Restore Gun Rights in Illinois – In Illinois, a person must have a Firearm Owners Identification Card to legally possess firearms and ammunition. Convicted felons may appeal to the State Police for the issuance of a card, but if the denial or revocation is based on any number of serious offenses, a petitioner must appeal the decision in the circuit court of the county where they live.
Restore Gun Rights in Indiana – Gun ownership restoration depends if you were convicted of a felony or domestic violence charge, as well as other additional factors. Federal laws prohibit the possession and use of guns for those who are convicted of domestic violence, but because state laws are less restrictive than federal statutes, a person may petition courts to have their gun rights restored. Although Indiana recently enacted a “Second Chance Law” pertaining to the expungement of criminal records, this does still not provide a way to restore federal firearm rights for serious or violent felonies.
Restore Gun Rights in Kentucky — In Kentucky, gun rights for any person with a felony conviction are time-dependent. If you were convicted after January 1, 1975, you cannot own a handgun, while anyone convicted after July 15, 1994, cannot own any firearm. To restore gun rights in Kentucky, offenders with Class D felonies can file for felony expungement or restoration of civil rights, which cannot happen any earlier than five years after completing a sentence. Individuals with federal felonies are not eligible.
Restore Gun Rights in Louisiana — Louisiana prohibits anyone with a felony conviction of owning a firearm, though gun rights can be restored. The state does restore gun rights through a governor’s pardon or expungement, but only after 10 years has passed since completing a felony jail sentence. In addition, there must not be any other felony convictions within that time period. Even if gun rights in Louisiana are restored, anyone convicted of a felony is not eligible for a concealed carry permit, regardless of how much time has passed.
Restore Gun Rights in Michigan — If you have been previously convicted of a felony in Michigan, you can apply to have your gun rights restored after three to five years, depending on the kind of crime. You have a legal right to apply for gun rights restoration once per year, though correctly filing the first time will help you in subsequent applications if you are initially denied. Michigan requires that you have paid all fines related to the conviction, completed all sentencing requirements such as probation and parole, and present a record of good behavior.
Restore Gun Rights in Minnesota – Under state law, convicted felons are prohibited from possessing firearms, but rights are automatically restored for felonies that are not “crimes of violence” upon discharge. Federal and state laws both ban possession of firearms for domestic violence convictions, although rights can be restored upon the successful petition of restoration of firearm rights if a person can show good cause.
Restore Gun Rights in New Jersey — New Jersey allows some individuals with felony convictions to have their records expunged so that they can restore their gun rights. After filing for a restoration of civil rights and privileges (a form of pardon), you may be eligible to once again own a firearm. Eligibility is determined based on the kind of felony conviction you may have and how much time has passed. But, in New Jersey, even if your record has been expunged, it is possible to still be denied a firearms purchase because applicants must note that they previously had their firearms rights revoked.
Restore Gun Rights in New York – Possession and purchase of firearms are lost after a felony conviction or a serious offense. However, rights may be restored by obtaining a Certificate of Good Conduct, Certificate of Relief or by a pardon. Class A-1 or violent felons are not eligible for firearm possession. Once a person’s civil rights are restored at the state level, they are eligible to possess a firearm at the federal level.
Restore Gun Rights in Ohio – Gun rights can be restored by applying to the court of common pleas where a person resides, as long as a person has completed his or her sentence and is no longer on parole, probation or supervision. Courts consider the seriousness of an offense and how long since it took place, as well as a petitioner’s criminal history and whether restoration is in the public’s best interests.
Restore Gun Rights in Oklahoma — In Oklahoma, anyone with a felony conviction is prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm unless they have received a governor’s pardon. To obtain a pardon, individuals cannot have a violent crime conviction and cannot have been sentenced for another felony since receiving a pardon. Oklahoma allows anyone with a pardoned felony conviction and restored gun rights to own a firearm and apply for a concealed carry permit.
Restore Gun Rights in Oregon – Oregon has adopted a liberal policy when it comes to restoring gun rights after a criminal conviction. Expunging your criminal record automatically restores your gun rights, and in some cases, gun rights can be restored even when expungement is not available, but this is at the individual discretion of a judge who reviews the request. Eligibility hinges on not being convicted of a serious or violent offense, completing the terms of sentencing and maintaining Oregon residency for at least one year.
Restore Gun Rights in Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania has strict gun ownership and restoration laws, making it a state where it is more difficult to have gun rights restored. In some cases, misdemeanor convictions and mental health background may lead to you having gun rights denied. To regain gun rights in Pennsylvania, you can apply for restoration through a county court following a pardon or if 10 years have passed since completing a crime sentence. You will need to present a reason for why you should have your rights restored, and a judge will determine your eligibility.
Restore Gun Rights in Texas – State laws automatically restore gun possession and purchase rights five years after release from confinement or probation. But this only applies to possessing a firearm where the person lives. When an offender has their conviction set aside, fully restores gun rights under state and federal law. A governor’s pardon may also restore gun rights as well.
Restore Gun Rights in Washington – You lose all rights to gun purchase and possession in the state if you are convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor violent crime. Under certain circumstances, you can file a petition to have those rights restored, except if for cases involving certain serious offenses. Class A felony or sex offender convicts can never petition for restoration, while other convictions require a three or five year waiting period as well as the completion of all terms of probation.
If your state is not listed here, you can do an Internet search to find more information, or you can go here for a brief state-by-state overview.
Laws are continuing to change…
Fueled by lobbyists from both sides, the debate over gun control and firearm rights restoration will continue to make headlines for months and years to come. While there are already many avenues that exist on how to get gun rights back after a felony conviction or certain misdemeanor convictions, the best course of action is to stay on top of legislation at the state and federal levels. In addition, there are many guns rights lawyers who advocate for greater firearm freedom in society, and in some instances, retaining their services can put you on a path to restoring gun rights if you meet all predefined conditions.