When a person becomes prohibited from possessing firearms, it’s important that states follow through and ensure removal of any existing guns those people have. But far too many states don’t take steps to disarm prohibited people—or even explicitly call for relinquishment. All states should implement strong firearm relinquishment laws to prevent dangerous and prohibited individuals from having access to deadly weapons.

Background

A variety of state and federal gun safety laws help to ensure that people with a history of dangerous or irresponsible behavior do not have access to deadly weapons like firearms. (For more information on these laws, visit the Categories of Prohibited People page.)

While such laws help prevent dangerous people from accessing guns, firearm relinquishment laws help prevent people who already own guns from retaining them after they become legally prohibited from possessing guns, such as when a gun owner is convicted of a violent crime. Unfortunately, many states rely largely on the honor system instead of proactively ensuring that people relinquish their weapons once they are prohibited from owning them.

Tens of thousands of people who have become legally prohibited from possessing firearms have failed to surrender their firearms.

  • One analysis found that nearly 80% of Illinois residents whose gun possession licenses have been revoked may still possess guns because police have not confiscated them.1
  • Similarly, data suggests that more than 20,000 Californians have failed to surrender firearms, despite becoming prohibited possessors.2

Some states have enacted relinquishment laws targeted at disarming domestic abusers who have been convicted of a domestic violence crime or who are subject to a domestic violence restraining order. Studies show that firearm relinquishment laws are critical to keeping spouses, dating partners, and family members safe from armed abusers.

  • Laws requiring abusers to turn in guns upon being prohibited from possessing them are linked to a 16% reduction in intimate partner gun homicides.3
  • Qualitative data suggests that most domestic abuse victims want firearms removed from their abusers, and most of the victims for which this was fully accomplished felt safer as a result.4

Outside the domestic violence context, only a small number of states have enacted legislation to ensure that people who have been convicted of serious crimes, or who have otherwise become prohibited from owning firearms, actually relinquish their guns. This startling gap in most states’ gun laws undermines law enforcement’s work to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the people most likely to perpetrate violence.

Furthermore, even states that have enacted relinquishment laws can suffer significant barriers to successful implementation. Some states and municipalities have established programs to improve enforcement of relinquishment laws.

  • After King County, Washington established a dedicated unit tasked with getting guns out of the hands of alleged domestic abusers subject to restraining orders, the number of guns seized from accused abusers quadrupled.5

Summary of Federal Law

There is no federal law regarding the relinquishment of firearms by people who have become prohibited from possessing them. Though people may be prosecuted and incarcerated for violating federal law by illegally retaining their firearms after a criminal conviction or other firearm-prohibiting event, federal law provides no standard mechanism to proactively ensure such individuals relinquish their firearms.

Summary of State Law

Outside the domestic violence context, only a few states have enacted legislation to meaningfully ensure that prohibited people relinquish their guns.

Seven states provide a statutory process for the relinquishment of firearms by all people convicted of firearm-prohibiting crimes:

California6
Connecticut7
Hawaii8
Massachusetts9
Nevada10
New York11
Pennsylvania12

Another state, Illinois, provides a standard relinquishment process for people convicted of serious offenses if the Department of State Police has revoked their Firearm Owner’s Identification Card as a result of the conviction.13

Of these states, only California, Connecticut, and Nevada expressly require all prohibited criminal defendants to provide proof of compliance to courts or law enforcement verifying that they relinquished their guns after conviction.

California

California enacted a strong relinquishment law through a voter ballot initiative in 2016. California’s law requires courts to instruct all people convicted of firearm-prohibiting offenses to sell or transfer any guns they possess either to a licensed firearms dealer or to a law enforcement agency, through a designated representative, within specified time frames after conviction. The dealer or law enforcement agency that receives the offender’s guns will issue a receipt verifying that the sale or transfer occurred, and the representative will then be required to transfer those receipts to an assigned probation officer.

After checking these receipts, firearm sale records, and other evidence, the probation officer is required to notify the sentencing judge whether the offender relinquished all firearms, prior to final disposition of the case. Because California is one of the few states that authorizes its law enforcement to keep a central database of firearm sale and transfer records, probation officers will in many cases be able to confirm the number of guns the person owns and needs to relinquish. If the judge finds that an offender failed to comply with the law, the judge will issue a search warrant for law enforcement officers to remove the offender’s illegally retained weapons.14 Learn more about California’s firearm relinquishment laws.

Connecticut

Connecticut generally requires any person who becomes prohibited from possessing firearms to transfer any guns he or she owns, either to a law enforcement agency or to another individual who is not prohibited from possessing firearms. If the prohibited person decides to transfer his or her guns to another individual, he or she must obtain authorization for the sale or transfer from a designated state law enforcement agency, which conducts a background check on the prospective transferee.15 The prohibited person must then submit a sale or transfer form to the agency verifying that relinquishment transpired.16 Learn more about Connecticut’s firearm relinquishment laws.

Nevada

Nevada requires any person who becomes prohibited from possessing firearms after a criminal conviction to relinquish their guns to a designated law enforcement agency, a licensed firearms dealer, or another person approved and designated by the court.17 Similar to California, Nevada requires the prohibited person to provide receipts to the court verifying that they relinquished their guns within specified time periods.18 Learn more about Nevada’s firearm relinquishment laws.

Disarming Domestic Abusers

Fifteen states expressly require all individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes to relinquish their firearms after conviction:

California (Proof of compliance required)19
Colorado (Proof of compliance required)20
Connecticut (Proof of compliance required)21
Hawaii22
Iowa23
Louisiana (Proof of compliance required)24
Maryland25
Massachusetts26
Minnesota (Proof of compliance required)27
Nevada (Proof of compliance required)28
New Jersey29
New York30
Oregon31
Pennsylvania32
Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)33
Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)34

Finally, 15 states explicitly require all abusers subject to domestic violence restraining orders to relinquish their firearms for the duration of the court order:

California (Proof of compliance required)35
Colorado (Proof of compliance required)36
Connecticut37
Hawaii38
Iowa39
Maryland40
Massachusetts41
Minnesota (Proof of compliance required)42
Nevada (Proof of compliance required)43
New Hampshire44
New Jersey45
Oregon46
Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)47
Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)48
Washington (Proof of compliance required)49
Wisconsin (Proof of compliance required)50

Disarming People Subject to Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Eleven states have enacted extreme risk protection order (ERPO) laws that authorize family members, household members, or law enforcement officers to petition courts for a civil court order temporarily prohibiting dangerous individuals from accessing firearms during crisis periods:

California51
Delaware52
Florida53
Illinois54
Maryland55
Massachusetts56
New Jersey57
Oregon58
Rhode Island59
Vermont60
Washington61

Two additional states, Indiana62 and Connecticut63, have similar but more limited laws authorizing law enforcement to obtain warrants to remove firearms from people who are found by a court to present a clear danger to themselves or others.

These laws are modeled after domestic violence restraining order laws and generally include clear and mandatory relinquishment provisions requiring people subject to ERPOs to temporarily transfer their firearms to a licensed dealer or law enforcement for the duration of the order and to provide receipts to a court or law enforcement verifying that they did so. Most of these laws authorize law enforcement to obtain warrants and promptly remove firearms from individuals who fail to comply with the law.

For more information about these laws, visit the Extreme Risk Protection Orders policy page.

Removing Illegal Guns from the Community

California’s Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS)

In addition to a strong relinquishment law, California has created and funded a unique law enforcement program called the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS) that works to proactively and methodically remove firearms from people who have illegally retained them.

California is one of the few states that authorizes its state law enforcement agency to maintain a central database of firearm sale and transfer records. By cross-referencing these firearm sale records against criminal history records, court mental health orders, and court restraining orders, state law enforcement is able to identify instances when a person who is the last purchaser of record for a firearm failed to subsequently sell or transfer that weapon after becoming prohibited. The state Department of Justice shares this information with local law enforcement and sends law enforcement officers to the prohibited person’s address to proactively remove these illegally owned firearms from the community.

In 2018, this program enabled officers to successfully remove 1,246 firearms from prohibited possessors, including nearly 150 illegally owned assault weapons.64 This proactive, cost-effective program has prevented thousands of dangerous individuals from illegally retaining firearms.

Washington

In 2018, voters in Washington approved a ballot measure that requires the department of licensing, which receives information on sales and transfers of all pistols and semiautomatic rifles, to verify annually that people who have acquired these weapons remain eligible to possess them, and to take steps to ensure anyone found ineligible does not remain in possession of firearms.65

Key Legislative Elements

By replacing a passive honor system with a proactive firearm relinquishment law, states can prevent prohibited people from illegally retaining and using firearms, and from returning back to the criminal justice system.

The strongest of these laws:

  • Are mandatory for all prohibited individuals. (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, and Pennsylvania)
  • Provide clear guidance about how to relinquish firearms. (California, Connecticut, and Nevada)
  • Expressly require proof of compliance. (California, Connecticut, and Nevada)
  • Require further enforcement action if the prohibited person fails to relinquish his or her firearms in a timely manner. (California)

Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy issued a comprehensive report in 2016 identifying these best practices in the domestic violence context.66

Notes
  1. Annie Sweeney, Stacy St. Clair, Cecilia Reyes, and Sarah Freishtat, “More than 34,000 Illinoisans Have Lost their Right to Own a Gun. Nearly 80% May Still be Armed,” The Chicago Tribune, May 23, 2019, https://bit.ly/2HQpFqJ. ⤴︎
  2. “APPS 2018: Annual Report to the Legislature,” California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, March 1, 2019, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/apps-2018.finaldocx.pdf. ⤴︎
  3. M. Zeoli, et al., “Analysis of the Strength of Legal Firearms Restrictions for Perpetrators of Domestic Violence and Their Associations With Intimate Partner Homicide,” American Journal of Epidemiology 187, no. 11 (2018): 2365–2371. ⤴︎
  4. Katherine A. Vittes, et al., “Removing Guns from Batterers: Findings from a Pilot Survey of Domestic Violence Restraining Order Recipients in California,” Violence Against Women 19, no. 5 (2013): 602–616. ⤴︎
  5. Chris Ingalls, “New Rapid Response Team Disarms Accused Abusers,” King 5 News, February 8, 2018, https://kng5.tv/2VKdFMH. ⤴︎
  6. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  7. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  8. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b). ⤴︎
  9. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 129D. ⤴︎
  10. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  11. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 370.25. ⤴︎
  12. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1)(i). ⤴︎
  13. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/8 and 430 ILCS 65/8.3. ⤴︎
  14. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  15. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  16. Id. ⤴︎
  17. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  18. Id. ⤴︎
  19. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  20. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-801(8). ⤴︎
  21. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  22. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b). ⤴︎
  23. Iowa Code § 724.26(4). ⤴︎
  24. 2018 La. SB 231 (signed by the governor May 20, 2018), enacting La. Code. Crim. P. Title XXXV, Art. 1001(A)(1), (2). ⤴︎
  25. 2018 Md. Chap. 251. ⤴︎
  26. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 129D. ⤴︎
  27. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.749, subd. 8(e)-(g), 609.2242, subd. 3(f)-(h). ⤴︎
  28. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  29. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-27. ⤴︎
  30. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 370.25. ⤴︎
  31. 2019 OR HB 2013. ⤴︎
  32. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1)(i). ⤴︎
  33. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5.4, 12-29-5(d), (h). ⤴︎
  34. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-111. Specific procedures for relinquishment of firearms are detailed under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-625. ⤴︎
  35. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389. If no request is made by a law enforcement officer, the relinquishment must occur within 24 hours of being served the order, either by surrender to a law enforcement officer or sale to a licensed gun dealer. The court may grant an exemption from the relinquishment requirements for a particular firearm if the respondent can show that it is necessary as a condition of continued employment and that the current employer is unable to reassign the respondent to another position where a firearm is unnecessary. Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(h). If the respondent declines to relinquish possession of any firearm based on the assertion of the right against self-incrimination, as provided by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the court may grant use immunity for the act of relinquishing the firearm as required. Proof : Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(d). Cal. Fam. Code § 6389(c)(2); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 527.9(a),(b), (d); see also Cal. Penal Code §§ 136.2(d), 29825(d); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code §§ 527.6(t)(2), 527.8(r)(2); 527.85(r)(2); Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15657.03(t)(2). ⤴︎
  36. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5, 18-1-1001(9), 18-6-801(8). ⤴︎
  37. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  38. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7(f). ⤴︎
  39. Iowa Code § 724.26(4). ⤴︎
  40. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(f). ⤴︎
  41. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B. ⤴︎
  42. Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.201, subd. 3(d), 518B.01, subd. 6(g). ⤴︎
  43. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33.031(1)(a), 33.033(2). ⤴︎
  44. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:5(I). ⤴︎
  45. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28(j); 2C:25-29(b). ⤴︎
  46. 2019 OR HB 2013. ⤴︎
  47. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4); 15-15-3(a)(4). ⤴︎
  48. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-625. Any such person who knowingly fails to do so is subject to a Class A misdemeanor. Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-625(h)(2). ⤴︎
  49. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9.41.800, 9.41.804. ⤴︎
  50. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.1285(3), (4). ⤴︎
  51. Cal. Penal Code §§ 18150 . ⤴︎
  52. Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 7701, 7704. ⤴︎
  53. Fla. Stat. § 790.401(1)(a), (2)(a). ⤴︎
  54. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat 67/35, 430 Ill. Comp. Stat 67/40. ⤴︎
  55. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-601(E)(2). ⤴︎
  56. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131R. ⤴︎
  57. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-20 et seq.,. ⤴︎
  58. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 166.527. ⤴︎
  59. R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-1, et seq. ⤴︎
  60. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 4051, et seq. ⤴︎
  61. Rev. Code Wash. §§ 7.94.030(1) and 7.94.020(2). ⤴︎
  62. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-47-14-2. ⤴︎
  63. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c(a). ⤴︎
  64. “APPS 2018: Annual Report to the Legislature,” California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, March 1, 2019, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/attachments/press-docs/apps-2018.finaldocx.pdf. ⤴︎
  65. Washington initiative 1639. ⤴︎
  66. See “Firearm Removal/Retrieval in Cases of Domestic Violence,” Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, Feb. 2016, http://efsgv.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Removal-Report-Updated-2-11-16.pdf. ⤴︎