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Federal law establishes a baseline national standard regarding individuals’ eligibility to acquire and possess firearms. Under federal law, people are generally prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms if they have been convicted of a felony or some domestic violence misdemeanors, or if they are subject to certain court orders related to domestic violence or a serious mental condition. However, federal law merely provides a floor, and has notable gaps that allow individuals who have demonstrated significant risk factors for violence or self-harm to legally acquire and possess guns.

North Carolina law is generally weaker than federal law in this area but includes some restrictions on possession of all firearms as well as somewhat stronger requirements for qualifying for a permit to purchase a handgun.

Firearm Prohibitions for All Firearm Types:

North Carolina generally restricts people from possessing, purchasing, or accessing firearms of all types if they have been convicted, acquitted by reason of insanity, or determined to lack mental capacity in a proceeding for:

  • Most felonies under North Carolina law, except those pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, or restraints of trade, unless the person has been pardoned or had their firearms rights restored by a court; or
  • Criminal convictions in other states or under federal law that were punishable where committed by more than one year imprisonment, if the crime is substantially similar to a crime defined as a felony in North Carolina.1

North Carolina law also prohibits people from accessing firearms of all types if they have been acquitted by reason of insanity or determined to lack mental capacity in a proceeding for a misdemeanor assault by pointing a gun.2 People convicted of this assault crime (as opposed to those acquitted or determined to lack mental capacity for prosecution) are not restricted from accessing firearms, however.

In the context of domestic violence-related court orders: North Carolina authorizes (but does not require) courts to prohibit possession of firearms by people subject to certain domestic violence protective orders. If a court orders a person to refrain from accessing firearms pursuant to a domestic violence protective order, North Carolina makes it a crime to violate that order by owning, possessing, purchasing, receiving, or attempting to possess, purchase or receive, a firearm, machine gun, ammunition, or permits to purchase a handgun or carry a concealed handgun.3 See the Domestic Violence & Firearms in North Carolina page for more information. (Federal domestic violence laws apply broader restrictions on firearm access by people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or subject to final domestic violence protective orders).

North Carolina law provides that in any case where a juvenile is placed on probation, the court may prohibit the juvenile from possessing a firearm.4 North Carolina law provides that a court imposing regular conditions of probation must prohibit the defendant from possessing a firearm without the written permission of the court.5 North Carolina law makes it a “controlling condition” for the release of a person from prison before the termination of his or her maximum prison term that the person not possess a firearm unless granted written permission by the Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission (“Commission”) or a post-release supervision officer.6 Similarly, a North Carolina statute states that the Commission may require that a parolee refrain from possessing a firearm unless granted written permission by the Commission or the parole officer.7

Eligibility Standards for Handgun Permits:

Generally, a person may not purchase a handgun in North Carolina without obtaining a permit to purchase a handgun or a concealed handgun permit.8 Pursuant to state law, a person is generally ineligible to receive a permit to purchase a handgun if he or she:

  • Is under an indictment or information for, or has been convicted of, a felony (except for felonies for antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, or restraints of trade), unless the person has been pardoned or had their rights restored under state law;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of or addicted to marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug;
  • Has been adjudicated mentally incompetent or been committed to a mental institution, unless his or her rights have been restored under state law;9
  • Is unlawfully in the United States;
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States under dishonorable conditions;
  • Has renounced his or her United States citizenship; or
  • Is subject to a court order that:

(1) Was issued after a hearing of which the person received actual notice, and at which the person had an opportunity to participate; (2) Restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner of the person or child of the intimate partner of the person, or engaging in other conduct that would place an intimate partner in reasonable fear of bodily injury to the partner or child; and (3) Includes a finding that the person represents a credible threat to the physical safety of the intimate partner or child; or by its terms explicitly prohibits the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the intimate partner or child that would reasonably be expected to cause bodily injury.10

An applicant for a handgun purchaser permit must also present evidence that he or she is of good moral character, however, a 2015 law prohibits sheriffs from examining an applicant’s conduct or criminal history from more than five years before the date of application when evaluating a person’s moral character.11

For information on the background check process used to enforce these provisions, see the North Carolina Background Check Procedures and Licensing sections.

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  1. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-415.1.; 14-415.3. See also, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.4 (regarding restoration of firearm rights).[]
  2. N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-415.3; 14-34.[]
  3. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-269.8.[]
  4. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-2510.[]
  5. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1343(b)(5).[]
  6. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1368.4.[]
  7. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1374.[]
  8. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-402.[]
  9. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 122C-54.1.[]
  10. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-404(c).[]
  11. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-404(a)(2).[]