Gun Laws in the United States

Gun Laws in the United States

The United States has both federal and state-level gun laws. These laws govern gun ownership and possession, manufacturing, transportation, destruction, transfer, ammunition, accessories and record keeping. The laws are upheld by both state government agencies, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Probably the most well known gun law is the 2nd Amendment which protects U.S. citizens’ right to bear arms. However, each local government has their own gun legislation, and there are exceptions to the 2nd Amendment right. For example, people with felonies or mental illness are prohibited from possessing firearms. States impose other restrictions based on a myriad of factors such as citizenship, criminal history and the results of their background check. The U.S. has seen many violent crimes in recent years specifically shooter incidents perpetrated by individuals with guns. When this happens politicians, and public interest groups debate the validity of the 2nd Amendment.

Firearm Carry Laws

Firearm carry laws refer to the rules about carrying or wearing a firearm out in public. In some cases it can be visible to others, and that is called “open carry,” and in other situations, it may be hidden in a purse or pocket, and that is called “concealed carry.” Each state has its laws regarding firearm carrying. The majority of U.S. states allow people to openly carry firearms, both handguns, and long guns into public places. In some cases, you need a permit to open carry, and in others, you do not. A few states strictly forbid the practice entirely. In other states, you can openly carry handguns but not long guns. The rules vary widely from state to state. Anti-gun lobbyists argue that open carrying of firearms can escalate situations to dangerous levels. Those who support gun rights say that carrying guns protects the innocent and gives them a fighting chance against the criminals.

Quick Facts

  • 22 States with deadly force laws
  • 7 States that ban open carry
  • 18 States with NICS check private sales
  • 8 States with firearm registry
  • 5,385,795 Total number of regged weapons for state

Open Carry in the United States

Every U.S. state has gun laws about open carry. Some of these laws have changed over the years due to violent attacks involving guns. There are four main categories of open carry gun laws.

Permissive Open Carry - these states allow you to carry a weapon (long or handgun) without any license or permit without restriction.
Licensed Open Carry - this means you have to obtain a special permit or license before you can carry your gun into public areas.
Anomalous Open Carry - these states may have laws allowing open carry, but local town law may override these with different restrictions or reversal of the allowance.
Non-Permissive Open Carry - in this instance, states forbid the open carrying of guns except in special circumstances such as hunting or for self-defense.

Open Carry Laws By State

  • Permissive Open Carrying
  • Permissive Open Carrying w/ Local Restrictions
  • Licensed Open Carrying
  • Anomalous
  • Non-Permissive

Open Carry: Handguns vs Long Guns or Rifles

31 states allow the open carrying of a handgun without any license or permit, where 15 states, including Utah, Hawaii and Iowa require some form of license or permit in order to openly carry a handgun.

Open carrying of long guns or rifles are allowed in most states, while in California, Minnesota, Florida and 4 more states carrying of long guns or rifles is prohibited.

Open carry permits for handguns
Concealed carry:
Open carry:
Open carry permits for long guns or rifles
Concealed carry:
  • No permit required or law is unrestricted
  • The permit is required for open carry
  • Carrying is prohibited

Concealed Carry in the United States

Concealed carry laws vary widely from state to state. A few states allow concealed carry without any type of permit or license; others limit the use, most states issue permits and a few may or may issue based on individual factors. States like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Arizona, Montana, and West Virginia do not require permits or licenses. States such as California, Hawaii and New York may issue permits at their discretion. The majority of states in the U.S. are “shall issue” states and will issue permits to residents if they want to carry a concealed weapon.

Concealed Carry Laws By State

  • Unrestricted (No permit required)
  • Unrestricted (limited)
  • Shall Issue
  • May Issue

Concealed Carry Permit Reciprocity Maps

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  • Shall Issue to Residents Only: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Guam, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
  • Shall Issue to Residents and Non-Residents: Arizona, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington
  • May Issue to Residents Only: California, Delaware, New York City, Virgin Islands
  • May Issue to Residents and Non-Residents: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York
  • Right Denied: American Samoa, N. Mariana Islands

Training Required for Permit

  • No training required
  • Differs by county
  • Training with live ammo
  • Training in classroom

Gun Ownership in the United States

Where the Guns Are?

Northeasterners are the least likely to own guns in the home, having 27% of households say they own a gun, following by West (34%), Midwest (35%) and South (38%).

  • WEST - 34%
  • MIDWEST - 35%
  • NORTHEAST - 27%
  • SOUTH - 38%

Gun Owners in the US

Gun ownership across America is spread out pretty evenly with specific regions having more or less a propensity towards gun ownership. Surprisingly, only about 25% of Americans own guns, and 3% of them possess the majority of our stockpile. The average gun owner owns roughly three guns. The most significant number of firearms (38%) are owned by residents in Southern states like Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, and Arkansas. From Maine to D.C., the Northeast has the fewest amount of guns, only (27%). The West and Midwest have almost an equal number of gun owners as residents with 34% and 35% of the total.

Characteristics of Gun Owners

Three-in-ten adults say they own a gun. % say they...
  • Personally own a gun
  • Don't own a gun but someone else in their household does
NET Gun in household
All adults
Ages 18-19
High school or less
Some college
Bachelor's degree +

Note: Figures may not add to subtotals indicated due to rounding. Whites and blacks are non-Hispanics. Hispanics are off any race. "Some college" includes those with an associate degree and those who attended college but did not obtain a degree.

Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted March 13-27 and April 4-18, 2017.

"America's Complex Relationship With Guns"


Many adults who don’t currently own a gun could see themselves owning one in the future. % say they...
  • Currently own a gun
  • Do not currently own a gun. Could see owning a gun in the future
  • Do not currently own a gun. Could never see owning a gun

Note: Share of respondents who didn't offer an answer shown but not labeled. Those who don't currently own a gun but have owned one in the past were asked whether they could see themselves owning a gun again.

Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted March 13-27 and April 4-18, 2017.

"America's Complex Relationship With Guns"


Top Reasons for Owning a Gun

Majority of gun owners, 67% say they own a gun for protection reasons, 38% are owning a gun for hunting uses and only 8% say the reason they own a gun is their job.

All gun ownersUrbanSuburbanRural
For protection:67%71%71%62%
For hunting:38%27%34%48%
For sport shooting:30%31%30%30%
As part of a gun collection:13%12%11%15%
For their job:8%12%6%7%

Source: Survey of U.S. adults conducted March 13-27 and April 4-18, 2017.

"America's Complex Relationship With Guns"


Gun Control and Gun Violence Statistics

America is the only county where the right to bear arms is constitutionally guaranteed. However, the U.S. is also the country with the highest number of gun-related deaths. America accounts for only 4.4% of the world’s population but owns almost 50% of the guns. Shockingly, the U.S. experiences six times more homicides by firearms than Canada and 16 times more than Germany. Even with the federal and state gun laws, since 2012, America has seen more than 1600 shooter incidents. In the states where more people own guns, there are more mass shootings. Oddly the crime rate in America is going down, but gun-related deaths are rising. States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths.

Public Opinion on Gun Policies

  • Total satisfied % 2001-2018
  • Dissatisfied, want stricter % 2001-2018
  • Dissatisfied, want less strict % 2001-2018

Deaths by Firearm-Related Injuries

  • Male
  • Female

NICS System and Statistics

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used to run background checks on individuals who want to purchase a firearm. The system was developed because of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. NICS is a massive database of information to help determine if someone is legally fit to own a firearm. People with mental health issues, felonies, or other infractions with the law are not permitted to own guns. More than 1.5 million people have been denied gun ownership because of the NICS system. Other factors are considered when someone fills out an application and if the person is not a citizen of the U.S. or they have been discharged from the military they may not qualify. NICS takes the guesswork out of determining who should and should not own firearms.

Active Records in the NICS Indices and NICS Denials

# or % of active records by record types
RankProhibited Category DescriptionTotal
1Illegal/Unlawful Alien7,732,462
2Adjudicated Mental Health5,564,006
3Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years3,765,766
4State Prohibitor1,232,434
5Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction168,875
6Under Indictment/Information124,969
7Protection/Restraining Order for Domestic Violence74,256
8Unlawful User/Addicted to a Controlled Substance46,127
9Renounced U.S. Citizenship45,739
10Dishonorable Discharge16,369
11Fugitive from Justice1,883
Total Active Records in the NICS Indices18,772,886
# or % of denials by prohibited category descriptions
RankProhibited Category DescriptionTotal
1Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years828,308
2Fugitive from Justice183,139
3Unlawful User/Addicted to a Controlled Substance144,150
4Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction143,822
5State Prohibitor86,006
6Protection/Restraining Order for Domestic Violence59,390
7Under Indictment/Information54,328
8Adjudicated Mental Health37,530
9Illegal/Unlawful Alien25,249
10Federally Denied Persons File6,295
11Dishonorable Discharge1,180
12Renounced U.S. Citizenship100
Total Federal Denials1,569,497

Gun Background Checks for Private Gun Sales

  • Transfer of handguns
  • Transfer of all firearms
  • Voluntary checks
  • No checks on private sales

Gun Laws By State