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Firearm relinquishment laws are critical to prevent people from remaining illegally armed after they’ve become legally ineligible to possess firearms.

When a person becomes prohibited from possessing firearms, such as after a serious violence criminal conviction or domestic violence protection order is issued against them, it’s important that stakeholders ensure they actually follow the law and relinquish any weapons they have in their possession. This is especially critical in the context of domestic violence restraining orders where the respondent is not incarcerated and may be at significant risk of using firearms to threaten, maim, or murder a family member or intimate partner. But far too many states fail to implement standard processes to ensure that people who become legally prohibited from keeping weapons actually relinquish them.


Americans armed illegally
An estimated 100,000 Americans prohibited from possessing guns because of a felony conviction own firearms anyway.


Veronica Pear, et al., “Armed and Prohibited: Characteristics of Unlawful Owners of Legally Purchased Firearms,” Injury Prevention (2020).

A variety of state and federal gun safety laws help to ensure that at least some people with a history of dangerous or irresponsible behavior are prohibited from possessing firearms. Federal law, for instance, generally prohibits people from accessing firearms if they have been convicted of domestic violence crimes or while they are subject to certain domestic violence-related restraining orders. For more information on these laws, visit the Firearm Prohibitions and Domestic Violence & Firearms pages.

Background check laws help prevent people subject to these eligibility restrictions from being able to purchase new firearms if, for example, they have disqualifying criminal records.

Firearm relinquishment laws apply when a person becomes ineligible to keep firearms they already own.

Unfortunately, many states fail to proactively ensure that people relinquish their weapons once they are prohibited from owning them, or to even effectively notify them that they are subject to these firearm restrictions until it is too late.

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

  • One analysis found that nearly 80% of Illinois residents whose gun possession licenses were revoked may still possess guns because they failed to relinquish them and no subsequent enforcement action occurred.1
  • Data from California–one of the few states with strong record transparency and firearm relinquishment enforcement efforts–similarly suggests that every year thousands of Californians illegally fail to relinquish their guns after being legally prohibited from possessing them.2

Some states have enacted relinquishment laws targeted at disarming people 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 violent abuse.

  • Laws requiring perpetrators of domestic violence to relinquish firearms 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 ensuring firearm relinquishment occurs in domestic violence restraining order cases, the number of guns seized from these domestic violence perpetrators 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. Additionally, the vast majority of firearm-disqualifying criminal convictions, court protective orders, and mental health-related court adjudications occur in state and local courts, emphasizing the need for effective state and local processes to ensure people are properly informed of their firearm relinquishment obligations and to ensure that courts, law enforcement, and other stakeholders proactively ensure that such individuals promptly and safely relinquish their guns.


We’re in this together. To build a safer America—one where children and parents in every neighborhood can learn, play, work, and worship without fear of gun violence—we need you standing beside us in this fight.

Summary of State Law

Outside the domestic violence context, only a handful of states have enacted legislation to meaningfully ensure that people relinquish their guns after they become legally prohibited from keeping them. Seven states provide at least some 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, similarly provides a standard relinquishment process for all people whose Firearm Owner’s Identification Card was revoked or suspended by the Department of State Police as a result of a firearm-prohibiting conviction, protective order, or other firearm-prohibiting event.13

Of these states, only California, Connecticut, and Nevada expressly require all people convicted of firearm-disqualifying crimes to provide proof of compliance to courts or law enforcement verifying that they relinquished their guns after conviction.


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 directed by law to notify the sentencing judge, prosecutor and defense attorney whether the convicted defendant followed the law by relinquishing all firearms, prior to final disposition of the case. Because California is one of the few states that authorizes its law enforcement to maintain and access 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 the defendant illegally failed to relinquish any firearms, the judge will issue a search warrant directing law enforcement officers to recover the illegally retained weapons.14 Learn more about California’s firearm relinquishment laws.


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 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 people who have committed domestic Violence

Sixteen states expressly require individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors 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 Jersey (Proof of compliance required)29
  • New York30
  • Oregon (Proof of compliance required)31
  • Pennsylvania32
  • Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)33
  • Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)34

Finally, 19 states explicitly require all people subject to final 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
  • Illinois (Form attesting to compliance required to be submitted to state law enforcement)39
  • Iowa40
  • Maryland41
  • Massachusetts42
  • Minnesota (Proof of compliance required)43
  • Nevada (Proof of compliance required)44
  • New Hampshire45
  • New Jersey46
  • Oregon (Proof of compliance required)47
  • Pennsylvania48
  • Rhode Island (Proof of compliance required)49
  • Tennessee (Sworn affidavit attesting to compliance required)50
  • Virginia (Proof of compliance required)51
  • Washington (Proof of compliance required)52
  • Wisconsin (Proof of compliance required)53


Gun violence is a complex problem, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, we must act. Our reports bring you the latest cutting-edge research and analysis about strategies to end our country’s gun violence crisis at every level.

Learn More

Disarming People Subject to Extreme Risk Protection Orders

States with Extreme Risk Protection Orders
19 states and the District of Columbia have extreme risk protection order laws, which allow temporary removal of an at-risk person’s access to guns.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted extreme risk laws that authorize family members, household members, certain community members, and/or law enforcement officers to petition courts for a civil court order temporarily prohibiting individuals who have demonstrated an extreme risk of violence or self-harm from accessing firearms for a temporary period.

Most of 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 court 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.

Third Party Relinquishment

When people become prohibited from possessing firearms, states generally require them to relinquish their firearms to law enforcement or a federally licensed dealer. However, some states also allow people to relinquish their firearms to a third party, such as a friend or family member.

Seven states allow third party firearm relinquishment when a person becomes subject to an extreme risk protective order.

  • California
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Eighteen states allow third party firearm relinquishment when people are convicted of domestic violence crimes or become subject to protective orders.

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Eight states allow third party firearm relinquishment in other circumstances, such as when an individual is convicted of a felony or involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

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 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, mental health-related court 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 2023 alone, this program enabled dedicated agents to successfully remove 1,443 firearms from prohibited possessors, including dozens of illegally owned assault weapons.54 This proactive, cost-effective program has prevented thousands of dangerous individuals from illegally retaining firearms and, doubtless, saved lives.


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.55

Key Legislative Elements

By replacing a passive honor system with a proactive and effectively coordinated firearm relinquishment law, states can inform people about their legal obligations and prevent prohibited people from illegally retaining and using firearms to perpetrate violence.

The strongest relinquishment laws:

  • Are mandatory for all people who become prohibited from accessing guns.
  • 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.56

  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,[]
  2. See “APPS 2020: Annual Report to the Legislature,” California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, March 1, 2020,[]
  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. See also, Carolina Díez, et al., “State Intimate Partner Violence-Related Firearm Laws and Intimate Partner Homicide Rates in the United States, 1991 to 2015,” Annals of Internal Medicine 167, no. 8 (2017): 536-543.[]
  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,[]
  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).[]
  13. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. §§ 65/8; 65/8.2; 65/8.3.; 65/9; 65/9.5(a), (b).[]
  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. §§ 18-1-1001(9), 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. La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. § art.1002.[]
  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. Or. Rev. Statutes § 166.259.[]
  32. 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6105(a)(2); 6105.2.[]
  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).[]
  37. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-36k(a).[]
  38. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-7(f).[]
  39. Illinois law requires the State Police to suspend or revoke and seize FOID Cards from any person who is, or was at the time the FOID was issued, subject to a court “protective order” issued under the laws of Illinois or any other jurisdiction, including a domestic violence order of protection, stalking no contact order, civil no contact order, or Firearms Restraining Order. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/8.2; 430 ILCS 65/1.1 (defining “protective order”). People subject to these revocation orders are required to relinquish firearms and prohibited from possessing or acquiring firearms without a FOID card. 430 Ill. Comp. Stat. 65/9.5.[]
  40. Iowa Code § 724.26(4).[]
  41. Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(f).[]
  42. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 209A, § 3B.[]
  43. Minn. Stat. §§ 260C.201, subd. 3(d), 518B.01, subd. 6(g).[]
  44. Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33.031(1)(a), 33.033(2).[]
  45. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 173-B:5(I).[]
  46. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:25-28(j); 2C:25-29(b).[]
  47. Or. Rev. Statutes §§ 166.256.[]
  48. 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6108(a.1)(1), (a)(7); 2017 Pa. HB 2060.[]
  49. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 8-8.1-3(a)(4); 15-15-3(a)(4).[]
  50. 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).[]
  51. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-308.1:4.[]
  52. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 9.41.800, 9.41.804.[]
  53. Wis. Stat. §§ 813.1285(3), (4).[]
  54. “Armed and Prohibited Persons System Report 2023,” California Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General,[]
  55. Washington Initiative 1639.[]
  56. See “Firearm Removal/Retrieval in Cases of Domestic Violence,” Prosecutors Against Gun Violence and the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, Feb. 2016,[]