Firearm Possession Laws Throughout the Country

Firearm possession laws vary widely throughout the country. There is no one rule that applies to every single state. In fact, there are very few federal firearm possession laws that apply across the entire country. Instead, from place to place, there can be very different guidance about open and concealed carry, background checks, licenses and permits, and more.

There are some efforts being made to bring some uniformity to firearm possession laws. However, these efforts are very difficult. This is partially because of how scattered and varied current laws are. With each state creating its own rules, standards, and procedures, creating a cohesive set of firearm possession laws is a large challenge.

The consequences of firearm possession laws can also vary widely from state to state. This encompasses everything from fees to legal ramifications when a gun is fired in a public place.

Whether you want to purchase a gun or are just curious about what the laws are where you live, keep reading to learn more about firearm possession laws throughout the country.

Open Carry

As with all firearm possession laws, the laws around open carrying of handguns and other firearms change from state to state. They also change depending on the type of weapon that is being carried.

When it comes to handguns specifically, there are five states that prohibit open carrying and 31 states that allow it. Fifteen more states allow open carrying, but require a license or permit.

The breakdown is as follows:

Prohibits open carry:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • South Carolina

Allow only with a license or permit:

  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah

States with other restrictions on open carrying in public places:

  • Alabama
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • Washington

The above lists only apply to handguns. There are other laws for other types of firearms, including long guns.

Long guns are things like rifles and shotguns. In most states, 44 to be exact, openly carrying a long gun is legal. Only six states and the District of Columbia ban openly carrying these firearms.

Prohibits open carry:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey

Restrict but do not ban open carry:

  • Iowa
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia

At this time, there are no federal laws restricting open carry of firearms in public. Any laws that have been passed have been done so by individual states. Even in states that restrict open carrying, there are many exceptions.

Concealed Carry

Firearm possession laws get even more complicated when it comes to concealed carry. This is the carrying of a concealed, loaded weapon in a public place. This practice has generally been restricted by states, though some states have begun loosening those laws.

Once again, laws will vary from state to state. You should look up your state’s laws. Even local gun stores may or may not be aware of the full range of laws and restrictions regarding concealed carry in your state.

One of the most confusing parts about concealed carry is the license issued to allow people to concealed carry. Some states “may issue,” meaning an issuing official gets broad power to grant or deny a permit. There is also “shall issue,” in which the issuing official is generally required to grant the permit. Sometimes, when it comes to “shall issue” permits, there is no discretion or limited discretion, depending on whether the issuing official has any authority to make their own judgment or not.

Here’s how this breaks down by state:

”May Issue”

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York

”Shall Issue” with limited discretion

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Virginia

”Shall Issue” with no discretion

  • Florida
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

No concealed carry permit required

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

In addition to this, the requirements to get a permit will vary from state to state. Some states have requirements around an application having “good moral character.” Others restrict certain locations like schools and hospitals.

Stand Your Ground

Stand your ground laws relate to lethal force and self-defense. Some states allow the use of deadly force when it is in self-defense. However, as with all firearm possession laws, the exact details will be different from state to state.

To make things even more complicated, “stand your ground” or “shoot first” laws interact with other firearm possession laws. For example, some states might have a lax view on concealed carry and stand your ground laws. This combination makes it easier to carry around and use a gun in a public place.

Florida was one of the first states to adopt stand your ground laws. The state saw an increase in firearm homicide rates and overall homicide rates following implementation of the law.

The following states have stand your ground laws:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

The opposite of a stand your ground law would be a “duty to retreat.” These laws say that people should not use deadly force in self-defense if they have a means to escape.

Background Checks

Background checks have been a contentious topic when it comes to firearm possession laws. The purpose of background checks is to keep dangerous people from obtaining firearms.

There are federal firearm possession laws when it comes to background checks. When someone purchases a firearm, the seller should contact the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to perform a background check. This background check looks for criminal records and other factors that would make a buyer ineligible.

Sometimes, people will hire an attorney in order to try to deal with hurdles they might face due to a background check. This includes things like a criminal record. An attorney would be able to help with something like expunging a criminal record.

However, some argue that there are already loopholes in federal background check laws, such as exemptions for private sales, that makes it too easy for people to evade a background check.

Red Flag Laws

The red flag laws grant courts and police the power to confiscate firearms. These firearm possession laws change from state to state, but generally come from a court order when a person is deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Unlike a system like bail bonds, where the defendant chooses to get a bond so they can be released, these laws would go into place without input from the defendant. The order more likely originates from a relative, friend, or loved one. If a person is talking about suicide or about shooting people, loved ones might reach out to authorities to request this kind of seizure of firearms.

Seventeen states currently have red flag laws. California and New York were among the first states to adopt red flag laws. Some states have adopted these firearm possession laws following mass shootings in places such as schools.

While there have been attempts to pass federal red flag laws, these types of firearm possession laws have never made it all the way through Congress.

One sticking point has been due process. While some in law enforcement will argue these laws have saved lives, some balk at the idea that there is not due process. These concerns have stopped some states from adopting red flag laws, while others have enacted or strengthened such laws.

Licenses and Permits

Many states require a license or permit to own a firearm. That process may even include the presence of a notary to validate the process.

However, there are no current federal laws that would require someone to have a license before buying a firearm.

There are four main categories of gun licenses among states: permit to purchase, license to own, firearm safety certificate, and registration.

For “permit to purchase,” a buyer needs to get a license or permit for at least some firearm purchases. Ten states go about firearm possession laws this way.

Three states use “license to own,” which is a requirement that someone gets a license to own firearms. This is stricter than the permit to purchase, as it must remain valid the entire time the person owns the firearm.

Only two states require a firearm safety certificate. In California and Washington, a prospective firearm buyer must first get a certificate showing they got safety training. This may have been through firearm training courses or other means. For California, this restriction applies to all firearms, though for Washington it only applies to semiautomatic rifles.

There is one more registration law and it is only used by the District of Columbia. Washington, D.C.’s, registration law is a license requirement for prospective firearm buyers.

Other states will have license or permit laws only for certain types of firearms, but others have no license or permit laws at all. Some states with licensing laws have experienced drops in firearm homicide and suicide rates, though some people will cross state borders to get a gun from a state with weaker laws.

What Happens When Something Goes Wrong

When it comes to firearms, things can go wrong. This can result in injuries, which might even cause legal ramifications. Sometimes someone who shouldn’t have a gun gets their hands on one. That could be someone who cannot legally own a weapon or it could be a child who unfortunately got into a safe or drawer. This can result in disastrous consequences.

Injury and death are obviously the most severe ramifications of firearms ending up in the wrong hands. However, most personal injury cases don’t go to trial. Only 4 or 5% actually go to trial, with about 95% getting settled pre-trial.

Still, if you are involved in an accident involving a firearm, you may need to contact a law firm. This is true whether you are the person with the firearm or the person who is injured by it.

In terms of firearms, civil liability often comes into play. The firearm industry has petitioned to get immunity from civil liability type lawsuits, though there are some exceptions, such as for negligent sellers and manufacturers.

Still, that means a lot of lawsuits regarding firearms fall on individuals and entities other than the industry itself.

This can prompt people to seek a criminal defense attorney. With how complicated and varied firearm possession laws are, defendants often need an attorney to know just what legal ramifications they may be facing.

It does not always come down to the individual, however. There have been states and groups who have tried to sue manufacturers, sellers and other entities after something like a mass shooting. These lawsuits have had mixed results. Sometimes firearm possession laws have gotten more strict as a result of these lawsuits, but sometimes those results have been challenged and laws have actually gotten more lax.

In Case of an Emergency

There can also be emergencies that are medical rather than legal. Sometimes this is an accident, but it can also be a deliberate gunshot aimed at someone.

If someone is shot, they will require medical services immediately. It’s important to call 911 as quickly as possible to try to get them help as rapidly as you can.

When it comes to gunshot wounds, the wound will need to be cleaned thoroughly and packed with gauze. A dressing and antibiotics will also be important to keep the wound clean and allow it to heal. In some cases, surgery is required to remove the bullets or fix damaged bones, organs, and tissues.

Sometimes, even our furry friends can unfortunately end up in harm’s way. You should seek domestic animal medical care if an animal is shot. As with humans, the sooner you can get the wound addressed, the better.

A Wide Range of Laws and Consequences

As we have seen, there is a range of firearm possession laws and statutes throughout the country. You should look up the laws where you live to get the precise information you need.

These laws are also often in flux, either due to challenges or new additions. It is important to keep up to date on firearm possession laws if you want to know the latest news. Some laws are even being examined by the highest courts, which could result in ruling that cause broader changes in firearm possession laws.

For now, however, firearm possession laws largely hinder on what each state decides is right for it and its citizens. Because of this patchwork of different laws, it can be challenging to keep on top of what is currently legal or illegal in regards to firearms. Each state should provide information on its laws that you can find online. Staying abreast of the news may also help you keep on top of firearm possession laws where you live.

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