While the right to bear arms is detailed in the US Constitution — and most state constitutions as well — it only applies to law-abiding citizens. In fact, there are many different ways that your firearm rights can be stripped, forfeited, or suspended. Generally, this happens as a result of some type of bad behavior, though it can also occur as a result of illness or unrelated legal issues. Let’s take a look at the most common ways you can lose your firearm rights, and what you can do to get them back.
What Happens When You Lose Your Rights?
If a court revokes your firearm rights, you must immediately surrender all of your firearms to the authorities—usually your local sheriff. The court or your attorney will explain the proper steps. When in doubt, ask the authorities. This is vital, because it is a felony to possess a firearm when you are not allowed to do so, and you will likely be sent to prison if you are caught in possession.
In some situations, when you lose your firearm rights you may be able to transfer your weapons to an acquaintance, but this varies depending on where you live and the circumstances of your case, so are sure to clarify your options with your attorney. If you do transfer your firearms to somebody you know, you still cannot access them. Even being in the same room with a firearm or a firearm in the middle of the assembly after you’ve lost your rights may not be permissible and punishable by law. However, relinquishing your firearms to someone you know can be a good option for long-term “storage” if you anticipate eventually getting your rights restored, and you want to be able to reacquire your collection someday.
Ways You Can Lose Your Firearm Rights
These are the most common reasons people lose their rights:
1. Felony Convictions
If you are convicted of any felony, you will automatically lose your firearm rights. Felony convictions are one of the most common ways people lose these rights. That’s because felonies are quite a broad range of crimes, not just the big ones like murder. Other felonies include animal cruelty, perjury, forgery, and tax evasion, just to name a few. While being convicted of a major felony usually means that you can never regain your firearm rights, with most felonies, you can eventually petition a court to restore your gun rights.
2. Court Protection Orders
If a court determines that you pose an extreme risk to others, or yourself, it may choose to issue a protection order that suspends your firearm rights. This suspension can be either temporary or indefinite. Oftentimes, when you lose your firearm rights in this manner, the suspension turns into an annulment of your rights on a longer-term basis, either due to a subsequent criminal conviction or commitment to a mental health facility.
Whenever someone loses their rights this way, it usually means they are suffering through a very difficult and stressful time in their life. Losing their firearm rights might seem humiliating, but it is actually an incredible stroke of luck, as it gives a person a chance to step back and reassess where they are at, and avoid doing something that can never be undone.
3. Domestic Violence Convictions
In most places, any domestic violence conviction—including misdemeanors—results in a loss of firearm rights. The law does this for the obvious reason that domestic assault often escalates to gun violence, and it is in everybody’s interests to prevent things from escalating to that level.
Depending on the specific conviction, and the laws in your state, you may or may not be able to restore your firearm rights in the future — this is a question for your attorney.
In some states, like Washington, “domestic violence” doesn’t just apply to romantic partners or children: it can also include any roommate. College students who get into a fight often learn the hard way that the consequences are far more serious than they would have ever guessed.
4. Vehicular Convictions
Like with domestic violence, certain vehicular criminal convictions can also cause you to lose your firearm rights, even if the conviction is only a misdemeanor. Vehicular assault is a common example, especially if drugs or alcohol are involved.
5. Drug Convictions & Addiction
Another type of misdemeanor that can cause you to lose your firearm rights in many places is drug offenses. Most states have tough laws on drug-related crimes with even harsher penalties If you are convicted of a drug offense, you can expect to lose your gun rights. In most cases, however, you will be able to get them restored in the future.
In some places, a documentable drug addiction can also be grounds for having your firearm rights revoked.
6. Mental Illness
If a court commits you to a mental health facility, acquits you of a crime by reason of insanity, or otherwise deems you mentally unsound, your firearm rights will be revoked. Assuming you didn’t do anything else to lose these rights, these rights can often be restored in the future, provided you can prove to a court that you are mentally competent.
How to Get Your Firearm Rights Back
The process for restoring your firearm rights varies from state to state, as do the specific conditions you must meet to begin the restoration process. Generally speaking, however, there are four actions you must take before you can begin to consider regaining your firearm rights:
- Complete your prison sentence, parole, or probation (if applicable).
- Comply with all court-ordered penalties, including paying all fines and restitution.
- Complete a mandatory waiting period to have your rights restored (in the case of a criminal conviction), which can range from two years to a decade or more depending on the type of crime.
- File a petition with the court to have your rights restored, once you are eligible to do so.
This process is a lot easier with the help of a firearm rights attorney who can help you navigate the complexities and red tape of the legal system.
If something in your past caused you to lose your firearm rights, it’s worth speaking to an attorney to see if you can get those rights restored. Most attorneys will give you a free consultation, so you have nothing to lose but a few minutes on the phone.