There is broad variation between state laws with respect to gun ownership, and therefore, it’s important to know the specific regulations in your state and if you’re traveling between states.  

Gun laws in the United States vary considerably between states. The National Firearms Act is the umbrella federal law that sets broad, federal gun policy. However, the majority of gun legislation is enacted at the state level, and these laws are independent of federal laws. This has resulted in a broad variation between states, with each state taking a different approach on the main issues in these broad categories: concealed carry laws, obtaining permits, gun purchasing, and self-defense laws.

In some states, the firearms laws are less restrictive than federal laws. Individual gun owners are not exempt from federal laws, however. In most cases, it’s left to the discretion of local law enforcement about whether they’ll enforce the federal gun law. If you’re traveling this summer, you should know the laws in the states you’ll be visiting if you’re bringing your firearem.

The Supreme court has ruled in Printz v United States that local law enforcement are not obligated to enforce federal firearms laws. There are forty states that have provisions in their Constitutions or statutes that protect the right to own and bear firearms. These provisions are similar to the Second Amendment to the Ameriocan Constitution. States that do not have this protection are as follows:  California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York.


There are two ways firearms are carried in the United States, concealed carry and open carry. The names are self descriptive with an open carried firearm being visible to everyone and a concealed carry firearm being hidden from view. No federal gun law has ever covered the issuance of permits to carry firearms in the United States. The state laws governing the right to carry a firearm vary around three categories. 

  • Unrestricted – State statutes do not require a permit to carry a firearm and this category is often referred to as Constitutional Carry.
  • Shall Issue – State statutes require a permit to carry a firearm. The gun owner usually has to meet the requirements set by law such as training, minimum age, and background checks for criminal history and sometimes mental health.
  • May Issue – State statutes require a carry permit, but the laws are more restrictive than the second category, and in some states, nearly impossible to comply with.


Permits to purchase a gun are required in some states. These permits sometimes cover just handguns, but in more restrictive states, they may be extended to govern the purchase of long guns and ammunition. Illinois requires a buyer to have a Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) card to purchase any firearm or ammunition. Some states allow a concealed carry license to serve as a purchase permit. Background checks are required by federal law on all persons purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer. To facilitate these criminal background checks the FBI maintains a database where all requests are processed through a system called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.


Most states do not require registration of guns, and there is no federal gun registry, either. In fact, under federal law, a national gun registry is illegal. Eight states also have bans on any gun registry. There are at least four states and one district that have setup a registry for guns, the states are: California, Hawaii, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia.


Also known as the “Castle Doctrine,” these laws permit a person to defend themselves with deadly force, and 27 states explicitly state that a gun owner has no duty to retreat when their property is encroached. These laws also vary from state to state in their conditions such as the degree of retreat, places covered as “castles,” and if there is any non-lethal force mandated before deadly force is used by the gun owner. 

As you can see, there is great variability in gun laws by state. To explore the gun laws in your state, visit Gun Laws by States: The Complete Guide.


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