Guide to Laws About Weapons in the United States

GunYou have a right to own a firearm for lawful purposes (like self defense), and the government may not unnecessarily restrict this right. However, like most rights, the right to own a firearm is NOT absolute, and the government may place SOME restrictions on it.1U.S. Constitution, 2nd amendmentDISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (2008)
478 F. 3d 370

Most states and cities have various restrictions on firearms and other weapons (see our California guide). Because of the unfortunate frequent mass shootings, particularly school shootings, many gun laws around the country are changing. Some of these are mentioned below, but for more details, see

1. Gun bans

Can the government ban guns?

The government can ban certain types of guns, and many states ban assault weapons. And the government can ban weapons from certain areas, such as schools, or prohibit certain people from possessing weapons. But under the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the government cannot have a complete and total ban on guns reasonably used for self-defense purposes.2U.S. Constitution, 2nd amendmentDISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (2008)
478 F. 3d 370

2. Who may not own a firearm?

Throughout the country, you may not own any kind of gun if you3U.S. Code Title 18, Section 922(g):

  • have been convicted of a felony4crime that involves possible punishment of more than 1 year or any crime involving domestic violence
  • are a fugitive from justice
  • illegally use any drug or are addicted to any drug
  • have been determined by a court to be mentally ill or have been committed to a mental institution
  • are not a citizen or legal permanent resident (in other words, you must either be a citizen or have a green card to own a firearm; but see exceptions)
  • have been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • renounced your American citizenship
  • are subject to a restraining order related to an intimate partner and/or partner’s child

3. Where can someone “openly carry” their firearm?

“Open carry” means carrying a gun in public, in plain view. In the states that allow open carry, there are often restrictions, such as required license or permit, or certain areas such as big cities may ban open carry within the city.

  • Handgun Open Carry: All but 5 states & DC allow open carry of handguns. The states that currently ban it are: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina. But even those states that allow open carry usually still prohibit it in certain locations including schools, government facilities, public transportation, etc.5See more at and Wikipedia
  • Long gun Open Carry: All but 6 states (slightly differs from above) & DC allow open carry of long guns. The states that currently ban open carry of long guns are: California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey.6See more at

4. Background checks

Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to perform background checks on anyone who wants to buy a gun.7Brady Act The dealer must place an inquiry through the national background check system to do this. However, if the dealer is not notified one way or another within 3 business days as to whether the prospective gun purchaser is eligible to buy a gun, the dealer may sell the gun to the buyer.818 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1)

Private seller/Gun show loophole: A person who sells guns only “occasionally” (called a private seller) is NOT required to do a background check under federal law. Private sellers commonly sell at gun shows. This loophole accounts for between 20-40% of all gun sales in the country.

Universal background checks require background checks for the recipient in all transactions or transfers of guns, including private sales and gun shows. Although federal law does NOT currently provide for universal background checks, as of April 2018 it IS required in 9 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington) and DC. In these states, this requirement applies at the point of sale for all sales and transfers of all classes of firearms, whether they are purchased from a licensed dealer or an unlicensed seller.

5. Gun Manufacturers

Can you sue a gun maker if one of its products is used in a crime?

While a federal law specifically shields gun companies from lawsuits when their guns are used in crimes, the companies may still be sued based on the way their weapons are marketed.

6. Other Weapons

Are switchblades illegal?

It is illegal to make, sell, or distribute a switchblade throughout the country.9exceptions relate to the Armed Forces or individuals with only one arm; see 15 USC Sections 1242-44

In some states, it is also illegal to possess a switchblade or butterfly knife.

Related Pages

Guide to Weapons Laws in California


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