State & Federal Gun Laws
While the 2nd Amendment states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” – that statement applies at the federal level, but each state defines gun laws in their own way. We’re here to help you get clear on everything from permits to waiting periods, concealed carry, restrictions, transport laws, and more. We also highlight important federal gun legislation which has shaped gun rights through the years.
Table of Contents
Gun Laws by State
Federal Gun Legislation
Are Foreign Citizens Authorized to Purchase Ammunition in
the United States?
A foreign citizen who is in the United States as a permanent resident alien is authorized to purchase ammunition in the United States provided he or she is not otherwise prohibited from possessing it under the Gun Control Act (e. g., a felon).
For other prohibited persons, see 18 U. S. C. §§ 922( g) and (n). A foreign citizen who is in the United States in a nonimmigrant alien status is prohibited from purchasing ammunition unless he or she qualifies under one of the exceptions contained in the Gun Control Act (see 18 U. S. C. § 922( y)( 2)), or has obtained a waiver from the Attorney General as set forth in the law (see 18 U. S. C. § 922(y)(3)).
The most common exception in the Gun Control Act is for a nonimmigrant alien who has a hunting license or permit that was lawfully issued in the United States.
The hunting license or permit can be from any state in the United States – it does not have to be from the state where the nonimmigrant alien is purchasing the ammunition.
The nonimmigrant alien prohibition applies to any alien in the United States in a nonimmigrant status, whether or not that alien was required to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Some examples of nonimmigrant aliens are persons traveling temporarily in the United States for business or pleasure, persons studying in the United States who maintain a residence abroad, and temporary foreign workers.
Significantly, the nonimmigrant alien does not have to establish state residency to purchase ammunition. Therefore, unlike with firearm sales, the alien does not have to provide the seller with documentation demonstrating that he or she has resided in the State for 90 days.
Finally, the removal from the United States of ammunition purchased in the United States may be subject to the export license requirements of either the State Department, Office of Defense Trade Controls (handgun/ rifle ammunition)( 202-663-2714) or the Commerce Department, Bureau of Export Administration (shotgun ammunition)( 202-482-4811).
For specific information on the exportation of ammunition, you should contact the appropriate state and/ or Commerce Department office. www.atf.gov/firearms
Federal legislation and gun control – a brief history
The first Federal legislation related to firearms was the Second Amendment, ratified in 1791. For 143 years, this was the only Federal legislation regarding firearms.
The next Federal firearm legislation was the National Firearms Act of 1934. This Act created regulations for the sale of firearms, established taxes on their sale, and required registration of some types of firearms such as machine guns.
In the aftermath of the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted.
This Act regulated gun commerce, restricting mail-order sales and allowing shipments only to licensed firearm dealers. The Act also prohibited felons, those under indictment, fugitives, illegal aliens, drug users, those dishonorably discharged from the military, and those in mental institutions from owning guns.
The law also restricted the importation of Saturday night specials and other types of guns, and limited the sale of automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons conversion kits.
McClure-Volkmer Act of 1986.
The Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, was passed in 1986.
It changed some restrictions in the 1968 Act, allowing federally-licensed gun dealers, as well as individual unlicensed private sellers, to sell at gun shows, while continuing to require licensed gun dealers to require background checks.
The 1986 Act also restricted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms from conducting repetitive inspections, reduced the amount of recordkeeping required of gun dealers, raised the burden of proof for convicting gun law violators, and changed restrictions on convicted felons from owning firearms.
In the years following the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, people buying guns were required to show identification and sign a statement affirming that they were not in any of the prohibited categories. Many states enacted background check laws that went beyond the federal requirements.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1993 imposed a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, allowing a background check.
The Brady Act also required the establishment of a national system to provide instant criminal background checks, with checks to be done by firearms dealers. Restrictions, such as waiting periods, are opposed by many, who argue that they impose costs and inconveniences on legitimate gun purchasers, such as hunters.
Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
Semi-automatic versions of the AK-47 assault rifle were affected under the 1994 ban.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994, included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, and was a response to public concern over mass shootings.
This provision prohibited the manufacture and importation of some semiautomatic firearms that exhibited military-style features such as a folding stock, pistol grip and flash suppressor, as well as magazines holding more than ten rounds.
A grandfather clause was included that allowed firearms manufactured before 1994 to remain legal. A short-term evaluation by University of Pennsylvania criminologists, Christopher S. Koper and Jeffrey A. Roth, did not find any clear impact of this legislation on gun violence.
However, Koper and Roth cite the grandfather clause and the infrequent use of these weapons in crimes as factors limiting the effectiveness of the ban, making it difficult to discern an effect.
Given the short study time period of the evaluation, the National Academy of Sciences also advised caution in drawing any conclusions. In September 2004, the assault weapon ban expired, with its sunset clause.
The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban
The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, ‘the Lautenberg Amendment’ , prohibited anyone previously convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from owning a firearm.
It also banned shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence.
This law also outlawed the sale or gift of a firearm or ammunition to such a person. It was passed in 1996, and became effective in 1997.
Some opponents believe that the law conflicts with the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and this law has modified the Second Amendment to a revocable privilege from fundamental protection.
Opponents of this law tend to describe the law by the name “the Lautenberg Amendment.” The law applies to everyone, including police officers and military personnel, and can cause difficulties by prohibiting active duty military and police from carrying guns, due to prior civilian misdemeanor convictions.
Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, police and National Guard units in New Orleans confiscated firearms from private citizens in an attempt to prevent violence.
In reaction, Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 in the form of an amendment to Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007. Section 706 of the Act prohibits federal employees and those receiving federal funds from confiscating legally-possessed firearms during a disaster.
[House Report 109-699 – Making Appropriations For The Department Of Homeland Security For The Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2007, And For Other Purposes. The Library of Congress> THOMAS Home > Bills, Resolutions]
Federal Form 4473
A Firearms Transaction Record, or Federal Form 4473, is a United States government form that must be filled out when a person buys a firearm from a Federal-Firearm License holder (such as a gun store).
For knowingly making any false statement or representation on Federal Form 4473, the penalty is 10 years.
Traveling with Firearms
Additional information about the carriage of firearms, firearm parts and ammunition, as well as other air travel tips, can be found at www.tsa.gov or by contacting the TSA Contact Center toll- free at 1-866-289-9673 or by email at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov
Transporting Firearms & Ammunition
You may only transport firearms, ammunition and firearm parts in your checked baggage. Firearms, ammunition and firearm parts are prohibited from carry-on baggage.
There are certain limited exceptions for law enforcement officers who may fly armed by meeting the requirements of Title 49 CFR § 1544.219. Law enforcement officers should read TSA policies on traveling with guns.
The key regulatory requirements to transporting firearms, firearm parts or ammunition in checked baggage are:
- You must declare all firearms to the airline during the ticket counter check-in process.
- The firearm must be unloaded.
- The firearm must be in a hard-sided container.
- The container must be locked.
- We recommend that you provide the key or combination to the security officer if he or she needs to open the container. You should remain present during screening to take the key back after the container is cleared. If you are not present and the security officer must open the container, the TSA or the airline will make a reasonable attempt to contact you. If the TSA can’t contact you, the container will not be placed on the plane. Federal regulations prohibit unlocked gun cases (or cases with broken locks) on aircraft.
- You must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging that is specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition.
- You can’t use firearm magazines/clips for packing ammunition unless they completely and securely enclose the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed portions of the magazine or by securely placing the magazine in a pouch, holder, holster or lanyard).
- You may carry the ammunition in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as you pack it as described above.
- You can’t bring black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms in either your carry-on or checked baggage.
The TSA and other authorities strictly enforce these regulations. Violations can result in criminal prosecution and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
Airlines may have their own additional requirements on the carriage of firearms and the amount of ammunition that you may have in your checked baggage. Therefore, travelers should also contact the airline regarding its firearm and ammunition carriage policies.
Also, please note that many other countries have different laws that address transportation and possession of firearms. If you are traveling internationally, please check with the authorities at your destination about their requirements.
Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Safety Administration
Gun Control Act of 1986 – The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA)
The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits firearms ownership in the United States of America by certain broad categories of individuals thought to pose a threat to public safety. However, this list differed between the US House and the US Senate versions of the bill, and led to great confusion.
This list was later augmented, modified, and clarified in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.
The 1986 list is:
- Anyone who has been convicted in any court of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding 1 year, excluding those crimes punishable by imprisonment related to the regulation of business practices.
- Anyone who is a fugitive from justice.
- Anyone who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance.
- Anyone who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.
- Any alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or an alien admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa.
- Anyone who has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions.
- Anyone who, having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced his or her citizenship.
- Anyone that is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner. (Added in 1996, with the Lautenberg Amendment*)
- Anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. (Added in 1996, with the Lautenberg Amendment*)
- A person who is under indictment or information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year cannot lawfully receive a firearm. Such person may continue to lawfully possess firearms obtained prior to the indictment or information.
[* The Lautenberg Amendment bans shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence, or who is under a restraining (protection) order for domestic abuse. This law also makes it unlawful to sell or give a firearm or ammunition to such person.]
These provisions are stated in the form of questions on Federal Form 4473. A Firearms Transaction Record, or Federal Form 4473, is a United States government form that must be filled out when a person buys a firearm from a Federal-Firearm License holder (such as a gun store).
For knowingly making any false statement or representation on Federal Form 4473, the penalty is 10 years.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 created a national background check system to prevent firearms sales to such prohibited persons.
Firearm “Straw Purchase”
A straw purchase is any purchase where a person purchases a firearm for another person who is not eligible to purchase it.
Although it usually refers to the purchase of illegal firearms, the term can refer to almost anything bought or sold illegally.
In the United States, straw purchases are a felony violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968 for both the straw purchaser (who can also be charged with lying on Federal Form 4473) and the ultimate possessor.
A Firearms Transaction Record, or Federal Form 4473, is a United States government form that must be filled out when a person buys a firearm from a Federal Firearm License holder (such as a gun store). For knowingly making any false statement or representation on Federal Form 4473, the penalty is 10 years.
Federal Law – Firearms
(US CODE TITLE 18 > PART I >CHAPTER 44-FIREARMS) www4.law.cornell.edu
US Federal Code
Library of Congress
US Supreme Court
National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Information
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms – Prohibited Persons and Gun Types
1968 Gun Control Act as amended by the Brady Law
Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, ATF