Gun owners, dealers, and collectors must follow state and federal laws if they wish possess a firearm, or run a business selling guns.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Gun owners often cite the Second Amendment when arguing against state or local gun law restrictions.
Federal Gun Laws
Federal law restricts who can own, possess, or sell a gun. The National Firearms Act makes it unlawful for a person to have a firearm that is not specifically registered to them.
Under the Brady Act, you cannot have a gun for personal or business if you:
1. Were convicted of a crime punishable by being in prison for more than one year;
2. Are a fugitive from justice;
3. Are addicted to, or illegally use, any controlled substance;
4. Have been ruled mentally defective by a court, or are committed to a mental institution;
5. Are an illegal alien living in the United States unlawfully;
6. Received a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces;
7. Renounced your U.S. citizenship, if you are a U.S. citizen;
8. Are subject to a court restraining order that involves your 'intimate partner,' your partner's child, or children; or
9. Were convicted of domestic violence in any court of a misdemeanor.
State Gun Laws
State gun laws vary considerably. Some states have many more firearms restrictions than others. Some gun owners who visit other states will be granted reciprocity and recognition for any "right to carry" gun laws they had in their home state. Not all states grant such rights. "Right to carry" laws are federal and state constitution provisions that recognize a gun owner's right to use her or his gun for defensive purposes.
Some states give gun owners more rights than others do. For example, twelve states currently prohibit employers from firing employees who leave guns locked in their personal vehicles on company property. That means 38 other states do allow companies to restrict employees from having weapons in their cars or trucks on company property.
States also have laws that either allow or prohibit you from openly carrying a gun in public. These are called "open carry" laws. Generally, states fall into one of four categories:
- Permissive Open Carry States - Allow you to carry a gun without a permit or license.
- Licensed Open Carry States - Allow gun owners to carry firearms openly only after they are issued a permit or license.
- Anomalous Open Carry States - Carrying a gun openly may be generally lawful under state law, but local governments may pass their own gun laws that are more restrictive than the state's laws.
- Non-Permissive Open Carry States - Carrying a gun openly is against state law, or is legal only in limited circumstances (e.g., while hunting) or when legally used for self-defense.
If you just moved to a state with an open carry law, there is often a waiting period before you can apply for an open carry permit.
Open carry restrictions are often the subject of lawsuits filed by gun owners against states where they reside.
See FindLaw's "State Gun Control Laws" for a directory of gun laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If you have additional questions, be sure to contact a gun rights attorney near you.
Guns and Your Legal Rights
If you are charged with the illegal possession of a gun, or have been accused of a firearms-related crime, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
Some of the legal factors that an attorney can review with you include:
- What being charged with violating a state or federal gun law means, including elements of the crime, potential defenses, and the length of any possible criminal sentence.
- If you or your loved ones are victims of gun violence, whether you can recover damages from the assailants and their employers.
Gun Laws: Getting Legal Help
- Click here to learn how a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you if you are charged with the illegal gun possession or use of a firearm.
- To find an experienced criminal defense attorney, use the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page, or click here.
Gun Safety Tips
- Follow local, state, and federal gun laws. If you own or sell guns, you must still use extreme care when handling them. Mistakes happen, and guns have the potential to seriously injure or kill.
- If you are outside your home state, check applicable local and state laws regarding gun ownership, possession, and use.
- Make sure that you get safety training and practical experience to supplement your lawful gun possession and ownership.
- Like any dangerous weapon, guns have the ability to hurt others. If someone is hurt, or property is damaged in an incident involving your gun, you could be held liable in a civil lawsuit, and/or face charges in a criminal court.
- Never let children play with guns.
- Keep your firearm safely secured and unloaded when not in use.
- Never use guns while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.