Image of a crossbow and an archery target with arrows in it. The caption reads "can a felon own a crossbow, answers here."

Like anyone else, felons have hobbies and sometimes those hobbies involve weapons. In fact maybe their crime also involved weapons, but that’s another story… But felons are people, too, and they often enjoy playing or hunting with dangerous toys! Maybe it’s swords, perhaps it’s shooting rifles at the range, or it could even be going out into the woods for a hunting trip with a bow or crossbow. That’s why we  covered going to shooting ranges and regular bows previously but wanted to also explore crossbows. Can a felon own a crossbow? That’s the question this article aims to address!


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Can a Felon Own a Crossbow?

First let’s consider one big issue…is a crossbow a firearm?


Well, actually let’s define “firearm…”:


A firearm is “designed to expel a projectile or projectiles by the action of an explosion, expansion of gas or escape of gas.” But this generic definition excludes most pneumatic guns, spring guns, paintball guns or B-B guns, most USCG or ICC safety signal guns, and most antique weapons…and the intent of this article is not to give an encyclopedic breakdown of what’s a firearm and what is not. For our purposes, the above definition is enough for now…

(Source: http://www.justanswer.com )

And we know that felons are banned from owning firearms!


Yes, we know generally what a firearm is, and of course we know that, due to federal law (the 1968 Gun Control Act, to be specific), convicted felons can’t own or sell firearms unless they’ve applied to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to have that right restored (which is only possible “if it does not deem the applicant dangerous to public safety” and “restoration is not contrary to the public interest.” So a felon might have other rights restored, but they must specifically seek firearm ownership restoration rights, and it usually takes a waiting period of eight years from their sentence completion date.

Okay, now we’re ready for the big question…

Is a crossbow a firearm?

It is a vital concern, because obviously anyone with felony conviction loses, by default, some (but not all) of their constitutional rights. And one of these lost constitutional rights is, as mentioned, the right to bear firearms for a certain period of time. The felon maybe able to get their right restored, but in general it is not. Thus we need to know how a crossbow is classified–firearm or not? It has a trigger and fires a projectile. And if you’ve ever seen one, you know it obviously has the ability to kill a man easily, just like a handgun. But there’s no gas or explosion involved.

So we know that most states don’t allow felons to possess firearms, but under federal law, crossbows aren’t labelled as firearms. Good news for felons who like to go hunting! If a felon is able to obtain a hunting license in whatever state they reside in, then there should be no issue using a crossbow for that hunting, so long as permits and proper tags are acquired and, of course, the hunting season in open.

State Laws and Felon Crossbow Ownership

There are always exceptions to every rule. Not all states allow felons to possess crossbows, such as New York, which doesn’t allow felons to own weapons period. Whether that has been an effective strategy in their efforts to reduce crime is very debatable… Some states ban crossbow hunting regardless of a person’s criminal background, such as Oregon.


On the other hand, Texas has certain restrictions in certain counties, so you not only have to know the state law but also the local county laws.

Meanwhile, Washington State actually holds “lotteries” for hunting privileges for felons.

(Source: www.reference.com )

For this reason, it is important to check your local state laws before going out crossbow shopping! You can inquire through your local jurisdiction’s police department or even with a qualified attorney. But just remember, if you are a felon in possession of a crossbow, and your state specifically prohibits you from owning that such weapons, then you will not be able to claim “ignorance of the law” if you are caught. The last thing a felon wants is a quick ticket back to jail, and owning a weapon you aren’t legally allowed to own is a surefire way to get into trouble.

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Hunting with a Crossbow

If your state does allow ownership of a crossbow, your main concern is ensuring you have a proper seasonal license to hunt with a bow or crossbow. Read the rules, dot every “i” and cross every “t” and when in doubt, ask a qualified attorney or your parole officer for help!

Because you can see that while crossbow ownership by felons is allowed, more or less, in the United States, every state has its own laws. It can be confusing, so check whether or not a crossbow ownership is legally allowed first.


Getting back to firearm ownership, that really the main issue to be wary of for felons, because often times if a crossbow is around, other weapons might be, too. In general, a felon can only apply to have their firearm ownership rights restored after waiting for eight years from the time of their sentence completion. In other words, at a minimum you’ll have to wait eight years…and even then your application may not be approved.

The reason I mention this again is because, as stated, if a crossbow is present, other hunting weapons such as rifles could be. Indeed in terms of firearms, felons want to be very careful of being around others who are using them. Spending time hunting with friends can be fun, but if you don’t have a right to bear arms due to a prior felony conviction, then you want to exercise caution so that it does not appear as if you are using any firearms yourself. It is even dangerous for felons to be at a shooting range!

Constructive Possession and Weapons

The term “constructive possession” is applicable in such circumstances. Constructive possession is essentially anytime a person is able to take control of a nearby firearm, for example if you are with friends out in the field one Sunday morning and one of them leaves a rifle unattended near you while they stroll off to the truck for a beverage…you thus have ready access to that weapon in that timeframe. You can pick it up and use it and therefore you have “constructive possession” of that rifle…which could land you in legal hot water.

Maybe nobody is around, maybe it doesn’t seem like any big deal. But is it worth gambling another prison sentence over? No, probably not. If you are a convicted felon in that situation, ask your friend to maintain positive control over their own weapon, and you’ll maintain control of your crossbow if that’s what you’re using. Don’t put yourself at risk!

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As always, our standard disclaimer–we are not here to offer legal advice, so when in doubt, felons and other hunters who might be on probation should call up their probation officer before going out on a hunting trip.