Gun laws in the United States regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms

December 21, 2023

Gun laws in the United States regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms. Gun laws aim to control violence through restrictions while balancing constitutional freedoms. Ongoing political debates surround how strictly guns should be regulated.

Federal Gun Laws

Federal gun laws require background checks and impose restrictions around certain weapons and ammunition capacity. These apply nationally.

Background Checks

The Brady Bill requires all licensed gun dealers to perform federal background checks on purchasers before sale can be legally completed. Checks screen for criminal records or mental health issues.

Assault Weapons Ban

Sale of semi-automatic assault rifles and certain high capacity magazines is prohibited under some prior, and potentially upcoming, federal bans. These target rapid-fire weaponry.

High Capacity Magazines

Along with assault weapons bans, proposed legislation aims to restrict ammunition cartridge capacity often associated with mass shootings. Ownership is contested politically.

State Gun Laws

Individual states regulate additional aspects of buying, selling, carrying, and using guns based on local priorities. State preemption limits city-level control.

Open Carry

Most states permit openly carrying firearms in public spaces without any license or permit needed. However, states like California prohibit open carry of handguns.

Concealed Carry

Concealed carry requires a special permit obtained after gun safety training and local law enforcement approval. Over 40 states currently allow concealed carry.

Waiting Periods

Some states mandate a waiting period as short as 1 day or as long as 2 weeks between purchasing and receiving firearms while background checks process.

Ongoing Gun Law Debates

High profile shootings prompt new legislative debates around restricting access and rights. Polarized political views yield little national consensus.

Red Flag Laws

These emergency risk protection orders temporarily restrict firearm access from those deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others. Nineteen states have adopted red flag laws.

Age Limits

Proposals lower the age eligibility for all or some types of firearm purchases. Currently under 21 can possess and use long guns like rifles legally. The handgun purchase age cutoff is 21.

Handgun Registries

Advocates argue maintaining official registries for handgun ownership enables tracking sources following crimes. Opponents cite privacy concerns and overreach.

Gun Ownership Statistics

Surveys indicate American adults who self-report owning one or more guns ranges from 25-32%, ranking worldwide rates. Handguns slightly lead rifles then shotguns.

Gun Owners

4 in 10 Americans live in a household with a gun. Ownership crosses geographic, socioeconomic, age, and political demographics. Motivations include recreation, collecting, hunting, self-defense.

Types of Firearms

Handguns make up the majority around 60-65% of civilian-owned guns. Rifle ownership follows at 35% then shotguns under 10%. Actual totals remain estimates from household surveys.

Gun Violence Statistics

While definitions and precise metrics vary, studies agree the US endures drastically higher rates of gun deaths and mass shooting events versus comparable nations.


Annually over 10,000 homicides involve firearms, composing the majority around 75% of all murders. Arguments, domestic violence, other felonies drive gun murders.


More than half of the nearly 25,000 gun deaths are suicides. Access during temporary crises presents high lethality risk with firearms that cleaner, pill-based attempts lack.

Unintentional Deaths

Estimates indicate nearly 500 annual deaths result from unintentional shootings. These predictable “accidents” spur safe storage legislation for preventing access.

Mass Shootings

While rare, these events uniquely terrorize society. Most definitions include four or more shot in one incident excluding gang, domestic violence shootings through broader lenses yield higher counts.


Gun regulation attempts balancing Second Amendment freedoms with violence prevention. Complex factors from mental health to socioeconomics, civil liberties, industry jobs explain why enacting controls proves controversial beyond solely firearms themselves. Still many propose incremental changes for mitigating deaths. Ongoing dialogue continues parsing the intricacies differentiating rifles from handguns, hunting from assault. Ultimately, cooperative compromise building mutual understanding could yield gradual progress decreasing harm.


What are the current federal gun laws?

Main federal gun laws require licensed dealers perform background checks and ban newly manufactured assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Existing assault weapons and magazines remain legal. No federal registry exists for gun ownership.

Can states override federal gun laws?

No, when state and federal gun laws conflict, the federal law has authority. However, states can impose additional gun restrictions and requirements beyond federal minimums. Over 20 states now have stricter laws than national.

What does the Second Amendment say about gun rights?

The Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Interpretations by lawmakers and courts continue debating regulating firearm access versus protecting individual freedoms.

Which states have the most restrictive gun laws?

States with the most restrictive gun laws currently include California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Illinois. However, new legislative action constantly aims to revise laws in light of recent events.

Do gun laws decrease violent crime rates?

Overall scientific evidence finds certain gun laws such as permit requirements, purchase waiting periods, firearm seizures for threatened groups, bans of assault weapons do statistically associate with decreased homicide rates. However, data limitations and research funding gaps hinder political consensus.


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