Gun law in the United States

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Gun laws in the United States are found in a number of state and federal statutes. These laws regulate the manufacture, trade, possession, transfer, record keeping, transport, and destruction of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories. They are enforced by state agencies and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

In addition to federal and state gun laws some local governments have their own laws that regulate firearms. The right to keep and bear arms is protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, mass shootings in the U.S. have led to public debate about gun control laws in the U.S., since nearly all school shootings have been carried out using pistols and shotguns.[1]

Major federal gun laws[edit]

Most federal gun laws are found in the following acts:[2][3]

Overview of current regulations[edit]

Fugitives, those convicted of a felony with a sentence exceeding 2 years, or 2 year for a misdemeanor, past or present, and those who were involuntarily admitted to a mental facility are prohibited from purchasing a firearm. Forty-four states have a provision in their state constitutions similar to the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects the right to keep and bear arms. The exceptions are California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York. In New York, however, the statutory civil rights laws contain a provision virtually identical to the Second Amendment.[4][5] Additionally, the U.S. Supreme Court held in McDonald v. Chicago that the protections of the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for self-defense in one's home apply against state governments and their political subdivisions.[6]

Second Amendment[edit]

The right to keep and bear arms in the United States is protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While there have been contentious debates on the nature of this right, there was a lack of clear federal court rulings defining the right until the two U.S. Supreme Court cases of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010).

An individual right to own a gun for personal use was affirmed in the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008, which overturned a handgun ban in the Federal District of Columbia.[7] In the Heller decision, the court's majority opinion said that the Second Amendment protects "the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home."

However, in delivering the majority opinion, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote on the Second Amendment not being an unlimited right:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.[8][9]

The four dissenting justices argued that the majority had broken prior precedent on the Second Amendment,[10] and took the position that the amendment refers to an individual right, but in the context of militia service.[11][12][13][14]

In the McDonald v. City of Chicago decision in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that, because of the incorporation of the Bill of Rights, the guarantee of an individual right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws and not just federal laws.[15]

The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry guns in public for self-defense.[16] Federal appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings on this point. For example, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in 2012 that it does, saying, "The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside."[17] However, the Tenth Circuit Court ruled in 2013 that it does not, saying, "In light of our nation's extensive practice of restricting citizen's freedom to carry firearms in a concealed manner, we hold that this activity does not fall within the scope of the Second Amendment's protections."[18] More recently, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in its 2016 decision Peruta v. San Diego County that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right of gun owners to carry concealed firearms in public.[19]

Eligible persons[edit]

The following persons are eligible to possess and own guns within the United States,[20] though further restrictions apply:

  1. admitted into the United States for lawful hunting or sporting purposes
  2. possesses a lawful hunting license or permit issued by any US state
  3. an official representative of a foreign government who is accredited to the United States Government or the Government's mission to an international organization having its headquarters in the United States or is en route to or from another country to which that alien is accredited
  4. an official of a foreign government or a distinguished foreign visitor who has been so designated by the Department of State
  5. a foreign law enforcement officer of a friendly foreign government entering the United States on official law enforcement business
  6. has received a waiver from the United States Attorney General as long as the waiver petition shows this would be in the interests of justice and would not jeopardize the public safety under 18 U.S. Code § 922(y)(3)(c)[25]

Each state has its own laws regarding who is allowed to own or possess firearms, and there are various state and federal permitting and background check requirements. Controversy continues over which classes of people, such as convicted felons, people with severe or violent mental illness,[26] and people on the federal no-fly list, should be excluded. Laws in these areas vary considerably, and enforcement is in flux.

Ineligible persons[edit]

Gun Control Act (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 922(g),(n),(d)[27][28]) makes it unlawful for certain categories of people to ship, transport, receive, or possess firearms or ammunition, to include any person:

The above categories are addressed on the ATF Firearms Transaction Record 4473 background check form[32]. According to the US Sentencing Commission, approximately 5,000 to 6,000 people a year are convicted of receiving or possessing a firearm against one of the prohibitions above[33].


Under United States law, any company or gunsmith which in the course of its business manufactures guns or gun parts, or modifies guns for resale, must be licensed as a manufacturer of firearms.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Weapons used in mass shootings in the U.S. 1982–2017 | Statistic". Statista. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
  2. ^ "Federal Gun Control Legislation – Timeline". Retrieved 2013-11-14.
  3. ^ "Crime Control: The Federal Response". Retrieved 2013-11-14.
  4. ^ Volokh, Eugene (2006). "State Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms Provisions". UCLA School of Law. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  5. ^ "New York Civil Rights – Article 2 – § 4 Right to Keep and Bear Arms". Law and Legal Research. March 30, 2010. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  6. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 28, 2010). "Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling", New York Times. Retrieved February 21, 2015.
  7. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (June 27, 2008). "Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights", The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  8. ^ Scalia, Antonin (June 26, 2008). "District of Columbia et al. v. Heller, Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 07–290. Argued March 18, 2008" (PDF): 2. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
  9. ^ Cooper, Matthew (January 19, 2013). "Why Liberals Should Thank Justice Scalia for Gun Control: His ruling in a key Supreme Court case leans on original intent and will let Obama push his proposals". National Journal. National Journal Group. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  10. ^ Linda Greenhouse (2008-06-27). "Justices Rule for Individual Gun Rights". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-27.
  11. ^ See "District of Columbia v. Heller: The Individual Right to Bear Arms" (PDF) (comment), Harvard Law Review, Vol. 122, pp. 141–142 (2008): "Justice Stevens filed a dissenting opinion, agreeing with the majority that the Second Amendment confers an individual right, but disagreeing as to the scope of that right. ... Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer joined Justice Stevens's opinion."
  12. ^ Bhagwat, A. (2010). The Myth of Rights: The Purposes and Limits of Constitutional Rights. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9780195377781. Justice Stevens begins his opinion by conceding Justice Scalia's point that the Second Amendment right is an 'individual' one, in the sense that '[s]urely it protects a right that can be enforced by individuals.' He concludes, however, that all of the historical context, and all of the evidence surrounding the drafting of the Second Amendment, supports the view that the Second Amendment protects only a right to keep and bear arms in the context of militia service.
  13. ^ Bennett, R.; Solum, L. (2011). Constitutional originalism : A Debate. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 29. ISBN 9780801447938. In both dissents, the clear implication is that if the purpose of the Second Amendment is militia—related, it follows that the amendment does not create a legal rule that protects an individual right to possess and carry fire arms outside the context of service in a state militia.
  14. ^ Schultz, D.A. (2009). Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 201. ISBN 9781438126777. Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the debate over the Second Amendment was not whether it protected an individual or collective right but, instead, over the scope of the right to bear arms.
  15. ^ Liptak, Adam (June 28, 2010). "Justices Extend Firearm Rights in 5-to-4 Ruling", The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  16. ^ Liptak, Adam (April 15, 2013). "Justices Refuse Case on Gun Law in New York", The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  17. ^ Long, Ray; Sweeney, Annie; Garcia, Monique (December 11, 2012). "Concealed Carry: Court Strikes Down Illinois' Ban", Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  18. ^ Associated Press (February 23, 2013). "Court Finds No Right to Conceal a Firearm", The New York Times. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  19. ^ Nagourney, Adam; Eckholm, Erik (June 9, 2016). "2nd Amendment Does Not Guarantee Right to Carry Concealed Guns, Court Rules", The New York Times. Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  20. ^ "May a nonimmigrant alien who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa possess a firearm or ammunition in the United States?". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  21. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(13)(A) ("The terms 'admission' and 'admitted' mean, with respect to an alien, the lawful entry of the alien into the United States after inspection and authorization by an immigration officer.") (emphasis added); Matter of D-K-, 25 I&N Dec. 761, 765-66 (BIA 2012); see also Matter of Campos-Torres, 22 I&N Dec. 1289 (BIA 2000) (en banc) (regarding a firearm violation); Matter of Serna, 20 I&N Dec. 579, 584 (BIA 1992) (same); Matter of Granados, 16 I&N Dec. 726 (BIA 1979) (same).
  22. ^ "Board of Immigration Appeals". U.S. Dept. of Justice. March 16, 2018. Retrieved 2018-11-12. BIA decisions are binding on all DHS officers and immigration judges unless modified or overruled by the Attorney General or a federal court. See also 8 C.F.R. 1003.1(g) ("Decisions as precedents.") (eff. 2018).
  23. ^
  24. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  25. ^ "18 U.S. Code § 922 – Unlawful acts". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  26. ^ "House Votes To Overturn Obama Rule Restricting Gun Sales To The Severely Mentally Ill". Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  27. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  28. ^
  29. ^ a b 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(20) ("The term 'crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year' does not include—(A) any Federal or State offenses pertaining to antitrust violations, unfair trade practices, restraints of trade, or other similar offenses relating to the regulation of business practices, or (B) any State offense classified by the laws of the State as a misdemeanor and punishable by a term of imprisonment of two years or less...."); see also 18 U.S.C. § 927 ("Effect on State law").
  30. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  31. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1365(b) ("An illegal alien ... is any alien ... who is in the United States unlawfully....").
  32. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  33. ^ This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  34. ^ "Firearms – Frequently Asked Questions – Manufacturers". 2015. Archived from the original on July 10, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2015.

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