Gun Laws In The USA – The Complete Guide 2021

So you just got yourself a new handgun and you are wondering what the gun laws in the USA say about owning and carrying a gun in your state?

Then you are in the right place. Many states in the US have slightly different gun permit laws from one another, which you need to be familiar with so as not to contravene the law and see yourself behind bars.

At the end of this article, you will learn everything you need to know about gun laws in the USA, so keep reading!

 

Overview Of State Gun Laws

Gun permit laws in the United States vary significantly across different states in the country. Most of the gun laws are enacted by state legislators and it is clearly independent of federal laws. This has led to a wide variation of gun laws across the US in terms of gun permit laws, sales, purchase, carry laws, and self-defense laws.

Some US states have restrictive gun laws than federal laws. This doesn’t mean individuals are exempted from complying with federal laws where his/her state laws are restrictive. However, it is left for the law enforcement agencies to decide whether to enforce state or federal laws.

In a judgment passed by the country’s Supreme Court in a case instituted by Prints against the US, the court upheld that local law enforcement agencies are not obliged to enforce federal gun laws.

The second amendment to the US Constitution made it possible for over 40 states to provide legislations to protect the rights of gun owners. Some states like California, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Maryland, and Minnesota do not have such provisions.

 

Firearm Carry Laws

In the United States, firearms are carried in two ways – open and concealed carry. While open carry is visible for the naked eyes to see, the concealed carry is kept from public view. As it were, there is presently no federal law that permits carrying firearms in the US.

The onus is left for individual states to determine whether or not to issue a permit to those seeking approval to carry firearms either openly or concealed. While it is theoretical for all the 50 states to give a gun permit to all law-abiding citizens; in practice, some states make the application process tedious so that regular citizens would be excluded from carrying firearms.

States such as New York and California have a “may issue” gun laws policy that may deny regular citizens approval from carrying firearms.

 

Types Of Concealed Carry Permit

Before now, concealed carry permits were grouped into four categories, until a court of competent jurisdiction ruled that the fourth category, otherwise known as the “no issue” category was unconstitutional. Presently, the US has three categories of concealed carry permits, which are as follows:

  • Unrestricted

    : This is widely regarded as Constitutional Carry. In this category, regular citizens do not need a permit to carry firearms.

  • Shall Issue

    : This category requires regular citizens to obtain a permit before carrying firearms after meeting certain requirements such as training, age, as well as background checks.

  • May Issue

    : firearm laws under this category are restrictive. Citizens are required to obtain a permit before carrying firearms. Some states of the federation may find it difficult to implement these laws.

Often, applicants seeking firearms permits would be requested to justify why they need to bear arms. It is the prerogative of law enforcement agencies to decide whether or not to issue a permit.

A state like Hawaii is notable for refusing to issue a gun permit to residents. With different court rulings, states notable for refusing residents a gun permit are gradually taking second thoughts about the issue.

 

Open Carry

Open carry gun laws vary from one state to the other. Some states require that residents must obtain a permit before conceal or open carry. Other states do not require a permit. In states where a permit is not required, you will find that the local authorities there have a regulation to regulate the use of open-carry firearms.

There are some exceptions; like in Florida, open carry is not permitted, but if it is used for hunting, fishing, and hiking, it is allowed. Illinois and New York also have such exceptions. A state like Texas out rightly bans the use of handguns from being openly carried but allowed the use of long guns.

 

Firearm Sales & Purchases

In some states, residents are required to obtain a permit from relevant law enforcement agencies before purchasing a firearm. These permits may cover only handguns and not extended to long guns, especially in restrictive states.

For instance, in Illinois, you must present a FOID card to the dealer before buying firearms. Other states require that a resident must present a purchase permit before buying concealed carry guns.

At the federal level, background checks are required for all US citizens and non-citizens to be conducted by the dealer. The FBI has a database to facilitate the checks. All dealers submit their background checks request to the FBI for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

 

Private Sales Loophole

The background checks do not extend to private sales of firearms. To close this loophole there are currently 18 states that have enacted legislation to extend the background check law to cover private sales.

These laws usually require firearm sales to be processed through a licensed dealer or the local police. A number of states only apply these laws to handguns while others cover both handguns and long guns. A more in-depth look at private gun sales with a list of requirements per state can be found on our statistics page.

The states that currently require a background check on private gun sales are;

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington

Firearm Registration

Most states in the U.S. do not require registration of guns and there is no Federal program to register guns. In fact, under Federal law a national gun registry is illegal and eight states also have bans on any gun registry. There are at least four states and one district that have set up a registry for guns, the states are; California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Other states as listed below do not have an official gun registry but collect data on sales.

 

States With Official Gun Registries

gun laws in usa

 

  • California – The registry is maintained by the California Department of Justice and keeps information on buyers and sellers plus any firearms imported into the state. Information maintained is serial numbers, fingerprints, names, and addresses. The information is collected on handguns and long guns however if a gun was owned before 1991 there is no requirement to register it.
  • District of Columbia – All handguns and long guns are required to be registered with the Metropolitan Police.
  • Hawaii – All firearms must be registered within a 5 day period from when they are brought into the state or purchased with the county police chief.
  • Maryland – Only applies to handguns and automatic weapons which are required to be registered with the state police.
  • New York – Only applies to handguns that must be registered. There is a fee of $3 for registration and it is an offense to possess an unregistered handgun.
  • States That Collect Data on Gun Sales
  • Michigan – All sales of handguns must be registered with local law enforcement.
  • New Jersey – A copy of all purchase permits are sent to the New Jersey state police who maintain a record of all handgun transfers.
  • Washington -Licensed dealers are required to report all sales of handguns to the Department of Licensing and local law enforcement.

 

Stand Your Ground Laws

Stand Your Ground, commonly known as “Castle Doctrine” laws that permit a person to defend themselves with deadly force and with no duty to retreat has been enacted in 27 states. These laws vary from state to state in the conditions that it may be used such as the degree of retreat, places covered, and if there is any non-lethal force required before using deadly force.

 

Most of these laws will have some of the following conditions;

  • An attempt to forcibly and unlawfully enter an occupied vehicle, business, or residence.
  • The intruder cannot have been provoked by the occupants of the home.
  • There must be a reasonable belief by the occupants of the home the intruder will cause death or serious bodily harm to them. There are a few states that allow stand your ground laws to be used for less serious felonies such as burglaries or arson.
  • The intruder is required by most of these laws to be acting unlawfully.
  • These laws cannot be used against law enforcement officers who are legally carrying out their duties. Such as when they are forcibly entering premises to arrest a person.

To use the law occupants must be legally in the building or vehicle. If they are a fugitive or helping another fugitive then they cannot defend themselves with deadly force.

 

Duty To Retreat Gun Laws

A man inspects a handgun inside of the Beretta booth during the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana

Some states in the United State require that when you are being attacked, you should retreat before using deadly force only when there is no option of retreat. If a Castle Doctrine law is implemented, when you are being threatened, you do not need to retreat, especially if the location is your office or house, and you’re legally entitled to such places.

Some states require that a person must first retreat if attacked and only use deadly force in there is no option of retreat or retreat would put the person in danger.

 

Below is a table of the state by state gun carry laws in the USA

 

Alabama

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Alaska

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required No No Policy is unrestricted
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Arizona

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Arkansas

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is unrestricted when on a journey
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No license required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 California

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “May Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Guns can be openly carried in some rural counties
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

 Colorado

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Connecticut

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue” due to court rulings
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Partial Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

 

Delaware

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “May Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

District Of Columbia

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Partial Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

 

Florida

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms No No Florida law bans any firearm registration
Open Carry allowed No No There are some exceptions like during hunting or fishing
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Georgia

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Partial Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

Hawaii

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Partial Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

 Idaho

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms Yes Yes Sales are recorded
Open Carry allowed Yes Partial Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

 Illinois

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes Yes Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes Purchases need a FOID card
Registration of firearms Yes Yes
Open Carry allowed No No
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Dealer is required to verify purchasers FOID card

Indiana

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Permit is required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Iowa

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Kansas

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Kentucky

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Carry permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Louisiana

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Maine

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required No No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Maryland

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes N/A Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms Yes No  
Open Carry allowed Yes No No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Partial  

Massachusetts

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes Yes  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes No No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Michigan

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required.
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Minnesota

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Mississippi

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required.
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Missouri

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Montana

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required No No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Nebraska

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes No  

Nevada

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes  

 

Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

New Hampshire

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

New Jersey

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Carry permit is required for handguns
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

New Mexico

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required.
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

New York

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required Yes No  
Registration of firearms Yes No  
Open Carry allowed No Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes  

North Carolina

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required.
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 North Dakota

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Ohio

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Oklahoma

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Requires a permit for handguns
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Oregon

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

Pennsylvania

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Rhode Island

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required but can be restricted by some local authorities
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

South Carolina

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Requires permit for handguns
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes Sales must be through a licensed dealer

South Dakota

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Tennessee

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Texas

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Requires a permit for handguns
Background checks on private gun sales required Yes Yes  

Utah

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Vermont

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Virginia

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

 Washington

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in a holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

West Virginia

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes Firearm must be in holster
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Wisconsin

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required Yes No Policy is “Shall Issue”
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit is required
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

Wyoming

Subject Handguns Long Guns Notes
Permit required No No Residents do not need a permit to conceal or open carry
Purchase permit required No No  
Registration of firearms No No  
Open Carry allowed Yes Yes No permit is required for residents
Background checks on private gun sales required No No  

FAQs

 

Q: Where are the strictest gun laws in the USA?

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest you would come across in the States. However, it ranks seventh, in terms of the lowest death rate due to gun violence. Additionally, Cali funds community programs that help reduce gun-related violence.

Other strict states when it comes to gun laws include Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. Besides these, Hawaii is another state that lays strict guidelines on the possession of firearms.

If you are looking to get yourself a firearm in Massachusetts, it is mandatory to get a permit from the local PD. This can take weeks (sometimes months!) of verification. From background checks to interviews, the authorities leave no stone unturned when granting these permits.

 

Q:  Why should gun laws be changed in the USA?

Despite stricter laws being already implemented in the US, a majority of Americans want stricter laws. The primary reason is the increased gun violence around the country.

Between 2017 and 2019, there has been an 8% increase in the demand for gun laws to be tightened. President Joe Biden announced in a speech the need for “common-sense steps” to reduce gun violence.

According to research, 121 guns are in circulation for every 100 Americans. This makes us the world’s most heavily armed society. To guard the public against gun violence, stricter gun laws have become essential.

 

Q: Is it legal to walk around with a gun in America?

You can carry firearms openly in around 30 states in the US. You don’t need a permit or license but, in some cases, the weapon must not be loaded. 13 states require you to have a license or permit to walk around with a gun.

According to the state laws, the following states prohibit the open carry of weapons:

  • California
  • Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • South Carolina

 

In the following states, you can walk around with a gun only if you have a license or permit:

  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Besides these, some states prohibit the open carry of guns in public places like:

  • Alabama
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Washington

That said, each state has a law against carrying different types of firearms. Long guns, pistols, and handguns are all accounted for separately in most states.

 

 Conclusion

There you have it! Gun laws are meant to regulate the use of firearms and vary from state to state. So, depending on the state you live in, you should check whether a permit is required before you open carry a gun…

What was your first experience handling a firearm? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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