Far too many states have no standard process in place to guarantee the removal of firearms once an individual becomes prohibited from possessing them. All states should implement strong firearm relinquishment laws to prevent domestic abusers and other dangerous individuals from accessing deadly weapons.

Background

Americans across the ideological spectrum agree that people with a history of dangerous or irresponsible behavior should not have access to deadly weapons like firearms. A variety of gun safety laws at the state and federal level seek to enforce that consensus by prohibiting firearm possession by people with a history of violence or domestic abuse, as well as those with severely impairing mental illness. (For more information on these laws, visit the Categories of Prohibited People page.)

While strong background check laws help prevent dangerous people from gaining access to a firearm, firearm relinquishment laws help prevent people who already own guns from retaining these guns after they become legally prohibited from possessing them, 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.

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. The strongest of these laws require prohibited abusers to verify that they complied with the law by submitting receipts to a court or law enforcement agency demonstrating that they sold or transferred any guns in their possession. Domestic violence firearm relinquishment laws are critical to keeping spouses, dating partners, and family members safe from armed abusers. They are also most effective in states where law enforcement is able to access a central database of firearm sale records to verify how many guns the prohibited abuser owned and was required to relinquish.

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.

The consequences of this gap are dangerous and costly. Instead of proactively removing weapons from prohibited people, many states instead pay enormous costs to prosecute and incarcerate those who law enforcement happen to find in illegal possession of guns. Before California passed a comprehensive gun relinquishment law, for instance, state taxpayers were paying about $285 million per year to incarcerate inmates whose most serious offense was illegal weapon possession.1 These numbers do not include the thousands more arrested and incarcerated for crimes related to the use of illegally owned firearms.2

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:

California3
Connecticut4
Hawaii5
Massachusetts6
Nevada7
New York8
Pennsylvania9

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.10

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. Effective January 1, 2018, 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.11 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.12 The prohibited person must then submit a sale or transfer form to the agency verifying that relinquishment transpired.13 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.14 Similar to California, Nevada requires the prohibited person to provide receipts to the court verifying that they relinquished their guns within specified time periods.15 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)16
Colorado (Proof of compliance required)17
Connecticut (Proof of compliance required)18
Hawaii19
Iowa20
Louisiana (Proof of compliance required)21
Maryland22
Massachusetts23
Minnesota (Proof of compliance required)24
Nevada (Proof of compliance required)25
New Jersey26
New York27
Pennsylvania28
Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)29
Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)30

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)31
Colorado (Proof of compliance required)32
Connecticut33
Hawaii34
Iowa35
Maryland36
Massachusetts37
Minnesota (Proof of compliance required)38
Nevada (Proof of compliance required)39
New Hampshire40
New Jersey41
Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)42
Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)43
Washington (Proof of compliance required)44
Wisconsin (Proof of compliance required)45

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:

California46
Delaware47
Florida48
Illinois49
Maryland50
Massachusetts51
New Jersey52
Oregon53
Rhode Island54
Vermont55
Washington56

Two other states, Indiana57 and Connecticut58, also 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 just two years, between 2013 and 2015, this program enabled officers to successfully remove 11,561 illegally owned guns, nearly 500 illegally owned assault weapons, and over one million rounds of illegally owned ammunition from California’s communities.59 This proactive, cost-effective program has prevented thousands of dangerous individuals from illegally retaining firearms.

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.
  • Provide clear guidance about how to relinquish firearms.
  • Expressly require proof of compliance.
  • Require further enforcement action if the prohibited person fails to relinquish his or her firearms in a timely manner.

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.60

Notes
  1. Jay Atkinson, et al., “Prison Census Data as of December 31, 2013,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, May 2014, Table 2, http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Reports_Research/Offender_Information_Services_Branch/Annual/Census/CENSUSd1312.pdf. The California Dept. of Finance estimated that in 2013–14, it cost an average of $60,032 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison in California. Multiplying that number by 4,742 generates an estimated annual cost of $284.67 million to incarcerate this population. See “Budget Brief: A Mixed Picture: State Corrections Spending After the 2011 Realignment,” California Budget & Policy Center, June 2013, Table 2 (citing data from the California Dept. of Finance), http://calbudgetcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/130625_A_Mixed_Picture_Corrections.pdf. ⤴︎
  2. See note 18, Marowitz, “Special Report,” 5; See note 21, Atkinson, “Prison Census Data,” Tables 2, 7, 12. ⤴︎
  3. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  4. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  5. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b). ⤴︎
  6. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 129D. ⤴︎
  7. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  8. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 370.25. ⤴︎
  9. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1)(i). ⤴︎
  10. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/8 and 430 ILCS 65/8.3. ⤴︎
  11. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  12. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  13. Id. ⤴︎
  14. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  15. Id. ⤴︎
  16. Cal. Penal Code § 29810(a). ⤴︎
  17. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-801(8). ⤴︎
  18. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  19. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7.3(b). ⤴︎
  20. Iowa Code § 724.26(4). ⤴︎
  21. 2018 La. SB 231 (signed by the governor May 20, 2018), enacting La. Code. Crim. P. Title XXXV, Art. 1001(A)(1), (2). ⤴︎
  22. 2018 Md. Chap. 251. ⤴︎
  23. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, §§ 129B, 129D. ⤴︎
  24. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.749, subd. 8(e)-(g), 609.2242, subd. 3(f)-(h). ⤴︎
  25. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 202.361. ⤴︎
  26. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-27. ⤴︎
  27. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 370.25. ⤴︎
  28. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6105(a)(1)(i). ⤴︎
  29. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-5.4, 12-29-5(d), (h). ⤴︎
  30. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-111. Specific procedures for relinquishment of firearms are detailed under Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-3-625. ⤴︎
  31. 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). ⤴︎
  32. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-14-105.5, 18-1-1001(9), 18-6-801(8). ⤴︎
  33. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a). ⤴︎
  34. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7(f). ⤴︎
  35. Iowa Code § 724.26(4). ⤴︎
  36. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(f). ⤴︎
  37. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B. ⤴︎
  38. Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.201, subd. 3(d), 518B.01, subd. 6(g). ⤴︎
  39. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33.031(1)(a), 33.033(2). ⤴︎
  40. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:5(I). ⤴︎
  41. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28(j); 2C:25-29(b). ⤴︎
  42. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4); 15-15-3(a)(4). ⤴︎
  43. 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). ⤴︎
  44. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9.41.800, 9.41.804. ⤴︎
  45. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.1285(3), (4). ⤴︎
  46. Cal. Penal Code §§ 18150 . ⤴︎
  47. Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 7701, 7704. ⤴︎
  48. Fla. Stat. § 790.401(1)(a), (2)(a). ⤴︎
  49. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat 67/35, 430 Ill. Comp. Stat 67/40. ⤴︎
  50. Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-601(E)(2). ⤴︎
  51. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 140 § 131R. ⤴︎
  52. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-20 et seq.,. ⤴︎
  53. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 166.527. ⤴︎
  54. R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-8.3-1, et seq. ⤴︎
  55. Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 4051, et seq. ⤴︎
  56. Rev. Code Wash. §§ 7.94.030(1) and 7.94.020(2). ⤴︎
  57. Ind. Code Ann. § 35-47-14-2. ⤴︎
  58. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c(a). ⤴︎
  59. SB 140 Supplemental Report of the 2015-16 Budget Package, Armed Prohibited Persons System 5, 7
 (Jan. 1, 2016), available at http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/publications/sb-140-supp-budget-report.pdf. ⤴︎
  60. See “Firearm Removal/Retrieval in Cases of Domestic Violence,” Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, Feb. 2016, http://freepdfhosting.com/dd20d34ca8.pdf. ⤴︎