State Gun Laws

Not surprisingly, state gun laws vary greatly from state to state. Most gun laws focus on three categories: (1) laws prohibiting the possession of firearms by certain people; (2) laws regulating the sale and transfer of firearms; and (3) the possession of firearms in public places.

  • State laws prohibiting the purchase or possession of firearms

Every state except Vermont has state laws that ban the transfer or sale of firearms to a convicted felon. In most states, the gun laws use the traditional definition of felony which include crimes that are punishable by more than one year of incarceration. Some states have additional specified crimes, including misdemeanors, that will also prevent people from possessing firearms. For example, in Indiana, persons with convictions for resisting arrest may not possess a firearm. Overall, twenty-three states have gun laws that include some misdemeanors as crimes that will prohibit the transfer, purchase or possession of a firearm.

  • State laws regulating the sale and transfer of firearms

The Brady Act is a federal law that requires all federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) to conduct background checks on all potential buyers of firearms. However, it is estimated that 40 percent of all firearms purchases are from private sellers, and therefore not subject to background checks pursuant to federal law. Every state, however, except Vermont, has state laws that require some sort of background checks for potential gun purchasers or possessors.

Eleven states require some sort of waiting period between the purchase of a firearm and the delivery of the firearm. These laws apply to the sale of all firearms, handguns only, long guns only, or handguns and assault weapons; and vary in length from 48 hours to two weeks for delivery. There are three additional policy considerations that are triggered with current state laws requiring waiting periods:

  • is the “cooling-off” period established of sufficient duration between the sale of a firearm and delivery
  • valid permits to possess a firearm do not exempt a purchaser from the waiting period
  • transfer of the firearm must not occur until after the required background checks have been completed regardless of any waiting period.

State laws regulating firearms in public places

Various state laws regulate what circumstances, if any, in which a person may carry a concealed weapon in public. Only two states, Illinois and Wisconsin, do not allow the carrying of concealed weapons. Two other states, Alaska and Vermont, do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon, while the remaining states allow for concealed weapons, but only with a valid permit.

Only three states, Florida, Illinois, and Texas, prohibit the open carrying of handguns in public. Thirty-five states allow persons to carry handguns in public without a permit, but three of those states require the handgun be unloaded. The remaining twelve states allow for the open carry of handguns but require a valid permit. Most states, however, do have exceptions that prohibit the open carry of handguns in certain places such as schools and school zones, state-owned buildings, courthouses, places where alcohol is served or sold, and on public transportation.