Gun Laws In The USA – Frequently Asked Questions

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If you live here in America, you know that there is a wide variety of guns that are available for purchase and use.

Many guns are being used for the purpose of self-protection, and the protection of others against criminals.

Law enforcement officers are properly trained to be armed for such incidents of criminal activity.  Whether it’s the police or the army, everyone appreciates that these people have been trained to help us.

At the same time, the public generally has been given access to many of the same weapons as law enforcement staff.   Whatever your opinion is of guns themselves, education on laws around firearms is always needed.

gun laws in the usa

This fact of widespread gun use in America – like it or not – is granted to us by the Second Amendment, which states:

 “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.”

So, regardless on what any one person’s stance on gun laws happens to be, while the Second Amendment is in place, as it has been since 1791, Americans have the right to bear arms.

The Second Amendment is not going anywhere, just like the rest of the US Constitution! America fought for its Bill of Rights, and Americans, generally, do not take their individual liberties lightly.


People are still concerned over the sheer amount of guns, which have deadly potential as weapons, being sold throughout the USA, to those who either don’t care to learn proper usage of guns, or who have bad intentions.

That’s why gun education is of utmost importance.  Whomever plans on owning a gun, at any point in time, should certainly be familiar with the laws that exist currently around guns.  Safety around guns is obviously a primary concern as well.

kids learning how to use a gun safely

In this article, we’ll be investigating all of the laws that are relevant to gun owners and potential gun owners, to promote general education around guns here in America.

Refer to the following table to navigate this article:

Table of contents

Gun law overview

Types of guns

More Frequently asked questions

Now, let’s get down to business!


Are guns legal in the USA?

learn to use firearms

The answer to this question is simple – yes – but there are plenty of caveats.

Because of the Second Amendment, a variety of guns are legal to own, but then again, which exact guns are legal to own, and who can own one?

Let’s talk about exactly that. Which guns are legal to use, and who is able to obtain them legally?

But first, let’s discuss how certain laws came to be in America.


A Quick History of Gun Laws

Once the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, Americans were given legal right to bear arms.  There were no major federal amendments to gun laws until 1934, when the National Firearms Act was enacted and rolled out.

The National Firearms Act was, in part, a reaction to gang violence which was increasing, and which culminated in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929.

Reenactment of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

The National Firearms Act of 1934 basically laid down the first stringent rules and was the beginning of “gun control” in America.   This resulted in classes of guns under the NFA.

While those who produced the guns were given stricter limitations, your average lawful American citizen had full right to purchase semi-automatic firearms, such as handguns, shotguns, rifles, machine guns, firearm mufflers, and silencers. 

Here’s a great video by TheGunCollective about the NFA, and the effect it had on guns in America.

As this video states, the NFRTR came about at this time, the only federal level registry for guns to date.

The 1934 Act was then followed four years later by the FFA (Federal Firearms Act) of 1938, This was essentially an update to the 1934 Act.   The concept of prohibited persons was also introduced at this time.

These documents, while limited to manufacturers and sellers, still helped to define the variety of handguns, which constitute the majority of legally available guns, and facilitated their purchase by ordinary citizens in almost any State.

The GCA (Gun Control Act) of 1968 was the next big federal set of laws around guns that came along, itself a culmination of many of the ideas found in the 1938 FFA.

Here is yet another video by TheGunCollective that is well worth watching, and will help to contextualize some of the major events in gun control law over the past century, although focusing on the Gun Control Act of 1968.

As the video states, a number of fundamental gun laws came into effect at this time (1968), including further details on who prohibited persons were, including those who had been indicted, fugitives, illegal drug users, and mentally unwell people.

US law also introduced the OMNIBUS CRIME CONTROL AND SAFE STREETS ACT OF 1968, which raised the minimum age of a gun owner to 21, and prohibited inter-state transfers of handguns, as well as forcing serial numbers to have to appear on guns.

Now that the fundamental groundwork for modern gun laws had been created, the illegal purveying of guns began to find its footing in private sales.   Private sales are more difficult to regulate, since it’s between two individuals who are interacting privately. 

Essentially, unlawful gun sales is a type of black market, and considered a crime.  The internet makes such crimes easier between willing participants.

To this day, and despite numerous gun law revisions and attempts to co-opt the Second Amendment, you can still buy fully automatic weapons, as long as they are made before a certain date.

That’s enough history for now.  Here’s a quick description of each of the main types of legal-to-buy firearms, and how they are typically used.


What kinds of guns are legal in the USA?

Handguns

smith-wesson-mp9c

Handguns are a type of firearm which have a short barrel and are made to be used with only one hand.

The most popular handguns on the market right now are semi-automatic pistols and revolvers.

Even though some of them may seem rather small, a bullet from one of these guns, aimed correctly, can still easily kill someone.  

Every day, cops are trained in the use of handguns and deadly force.

In other words, don’t underestimate a handgun, no matter what size it is.  These are not bb guns, or a toy to be played with.

Quick point of interest …

The first handgun appeared in 13 century China.  It was called the Heilongjiang hand cannon, and dates to 1288.

Heilongjiang hand cannon, dated to 1288

This article isn’t meant to be a history lesson as such, but we’d be remiss to not mention such innovations.  Americans began using dueling pistols as their weapon of choice, in the mid 1700’s.

Gun enthusiasts certainly must have an admiration for the quality of these old guns, as well as the aesthetics.

Boutet Parisian Flintlock Dueling Pistols

These weapons were always ornately designed and have much to do with the perception of the lawful American citizen of days gone by.

The prototypical American settler, especially the perception of the noble cowboy, back in those olden days, represented honesty and valour.  This ideal still stands in America today.

Allow me to offer an interpretation of that philosophy …

Effectively, we all have our own business to mind, and if we can do so in peace, then all is well.  But if you infringe upon my business, be it my family, friends, or possessions, there will be a problem.

Settlers Fighting Native Americans

Handguns have obviously come a long way since dueling pistols were used in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and with them, many laws have been written around handguns, in order to limit their use.

That said, the ease of which certain guns can be bought is the primary concern of some citizens.  This is primarily where the debate over gun ownership and usage begins with the premise that guns are “too easy” to get.

This article is not here to offer extensive opinions, but it cannot be ignored that gun ownership itself really is a heated debate, going on currently in America.

The 2nd Amendment, it seems, is always under attack.  At the same time, with the number of mass shootings in America in recent times, some would certainly argue that the scrutiny on the stringency of gun law enforcement is more than warranted.

gun debate

This debate over guns in general, is the primary reason, we are offering some education on guns and gun laws, in order for people to gain another perspective on these matters.

In fact, I am trying to write this article in an unbiased fashion, but since other peoples’ biases are so flagrantly apparent, they too must be addressed here.

Here is a video found on Youtube where the premise is, “It’s Easy to Buy a Gun in America”.

Be ready, it’s fairly patronizing.

Now that gun owners and enthusiasts have been thoroughly patronized by this piece called Viceland, let’s talk about what’s really behind it.

Yes, there are gun shows all the time, throughout the USA.   Some States do make it easy to obtain a gun.  However, there are still laws that govern guns.  This video doesn’t point out anything new or illegal, and carries a heavy bias, which can be quite dangerous.

The Viceland video does lead back to one thing, however, which is that America is a democracy.   Being a democracy, videos like this can be made, despite how hypocritical the video itself actually is.

Now, back to handguns …

Modern handguns come in 5 different types, including:  single shot pistols, multi-barrelled pistols, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, and automatic pistols, according to gun.laws.com.

Silencers can be attached to many handguns as an accessory that can be very useful as well.

The bottom line is, as with any gun, you will need to put some thought into why exactly you are getting a gun, and then, which gun serves your purpose best.

Here’s a video by thebudgetarmory that digs into the topic of buying your first handgun.  Worth a watch for sure.

Let’s move on to the next type of gun that can be purchased in America.


Shotguns

best upland shotguns

Shotguns are made to be fired with both hands on the weapon, often using the shoulder for support.

Being larger than a handgun, shotguns have the potential to be more powerful, based on size alone.

Like handguns, or any gun really, the user will have recoil to contend with, but handguns actually do have a more dangerous recoil, oddly enough.  You can read more about recoil over here at learnaboutguns.com.

Shotguns come in different sizes and types, as you’d expect. They can be either semi-automatic or fully automatic.

Shotguns are a favorite weapon among bird hunters, as they are particularly designed to be easy to aim, and get a bead on your target.

A rifle is considered to be a long-barrelled gun.  The long barrel is the primary reason the user would not operate a shotgun with one hand, especially if precision and safety are important.

Most people believe that handguns are too easy to purchase.  Here is a CNN news piece about this and it shows how easy it is for a young person to get a handgun.

CNN makes the point in the video that a young man, age 13, can buy a rifle, but he can’t buy cigarettes or lottery tickets, because he’s not old enough.

What will the young man do with the gun now that he has it?

This article is very informative and should help to educate those who purchase handguns.


Machine Guns

civilian sub machine gun

The last weapon that is available to legal US citizens is the machine gun.   The machine gun is the most potentially effective gun, when it comes to combat warfare.   Machine guns have other uses as well.

Machine guns, or combat shotguns, are often used by the United States Army.

us-army-logo-over-american-flag

A machine gun is a type of automatic shotgun that can be either semi or fully automatic, and can be either portable or mounted. 

Machine guns are viewed as dangerous by many, and rightly so.  These guns have the potential to fire as much ammo as the gun can carry in quick succession, allowing the shooter to pretend that he or she is Rambo!

The gun used above is the US Army’s standard issue M60.  It was used in many past global conflicts, such as in the Vietnam War.

The M60 is still a prized weapon by gun enthusiasts, like Youtuber hickok45, below:

The sad thing that most anti-gun proponents will often mention is how automatic weaponry is most often used in mass shootings.

This is true.  There is indeed a link between these automatic weapons and mass shootings.

Footage like this really divides our Nation.  Either we blame the gun, or we blame the person who used it.

The fact is, every US citizen is expected to be responsible, and use common sense.  Reality is that some don’t seem to have any common sense.  This is partly an issue relating to education, but, beyond that, some people legitimately have mental issues that play the deciding factor in the occurrence of events like these.

At this point, I must walk away from this particular debate over who or what is to blame for the misuse of guns.  This gun debate seems to require a discussion on peoples’ mental states, and other reasons for these tragedies that go beyond simply the laws surrounding guns.

Sticking to the facts about machine guns in particular, machine guns are less obtainable to your average American, particularly if they are fully automatic.

Here’s a video by Brandon Herrera talking about machine guns can be legally obtained in the USA.

As this video states, there are things like the Hughes Amendment to the Firearms Protection Act, which have become law and which allows people to obtain older model automatic weapons (pre-May, 1986).  Then these guns can be used under certain conditions.

Interestingly, as Brandon also mentions in the video, perhaps the best way to obtain a machine gun legally in the USA is to become an FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee) holder, which essentially makes you a manufacturer, and then from there get a Special Occupational Tax (SOT).

(click here to view SOT form).  This allows you to make your own machine guns, legally.

This process is by no means easy, and tends to weed out all of the people who would want to own a machine gun for nefarious purposes.

Another thing to mention about machine guns is that not all machine guns are fully automatic.  They can also qualify as semi-automatic, depending on the make, and so can be used as such in certain locations in the US, permit pending.

Check out this video, by Blingmaster Inc., featuring some fascinating information on machine guns, and some of their less-talked-about admirable qualities, such as helping us win wars.

Now, we know the types of guns you can get, but…


Who Can Own A Gun In The USA?

gun owner

Now that we’ve talked about the guns that are available, let’s talk about who can actually get one.

In order to possess and own a gun in the USA, you need to be either:

  • a citizen of the US
  • a national, but not a citizen of the US
  • a lawful permanent resident of the US
  • an alien who is considered a non-immigrant with a VISA if that alien falls under one of the following exceptions:
  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)
  7. Non-resident of any US State unless the receipt of firearms are for lawful sporting purposes”

These are all of the people that can own a gun in USA.

If you can’t identify yourself in one of those categories, it means you can’t own a firearm.

The purpose of this article is to talk about who legally has a right to carry a firearm, not those who go conduct themselves without any ethics or morals.


Can you carry a gun in the USA? (open vs concealed carry)

Every State allows you to carry a firearm in public, with most States being “open carry” States. 

open carry map of usa

Every law-abiding citizen has a right to carry a gun in the USA, but how the gun may be carried can be complicated.

For instance, open carry looks like this:

gun laws in the usa

Concealed carry, on the other hand, looks like this:

The difference is fairly obvious.  With open carry, the gun is visible, and with concealed carry, it is not.

There is a difference between some States with regards to these laws.

Some States require a permit for carrying, and these are called “shall issue” States.

These permits are required by law, and require some patience to obtain.

This resource discusses the rules and provisions of each State when it comes to gun permits.

 https://www.hg.org/legal-articles/which-states-are-likely-to-issue-gun-permits-and-which-are-not-31130

It’s always a good idea to be aware of the particular laws in your State or jurisdiction.

Even though your State may not require a permit, you still need to read and follow the specific gun laws just to make sure you don’t get yourself in some kind of trouble by unintentionally breaking the law.

Here’s a video showing just how quickly and unexpectedly gun laws can change, and the reasons they can change.

Another interesting question …


How many gun laws are there in the USA?

Not long ago, in the early 1970s to be exact, there was a rumor that there were about 20 thousand gun laws in America. The exact number of gun laws is hard to guess, but there are certainly many, many of them.

Consider the fact that there are so many counties, boroughs, and parishes in the USA (3007, to be exact), with each of them having their own gun laws.  That said, 20,000 gun laws seems to be quite accurate.

This should help answer the question: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_the_United_States_by_state


Which States do not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon?

The states that don’t require a permit to carry a concealed weapon are:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Idaho (only if you are 21 years or older)
  • Illinois (only if the weapon is unloaded and locked in a some type of container)
  • Kansas
  • Maine (you must inform the authorities if you are going to conceal carry a weapon without a permit)
  • Mississippi (you must carry it in a some type of bag like a purse or an enclosed case)
  • Montana (only if you carry it outside of the city limits)
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico (only if it is unloaded)
  • North Dakota (if you are a North Dakota resident and you inform the authorities)
  • Oklahoma (if you are a resident of a state that doesn’t require you to have a permit, and you must have a valid ID)
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming (only if you are a resident)

Up next…


Which States have open carry laws?

Let’s start with open carrying of handguns. There are only 8 States that forbid open carrying these type of weapons. Those are:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • New York
  • South Carolina
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S Virgin Islands

However, the following States allow open carrying:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Northern Mariana Islands
  • Ohio
  • South Dakota
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Just like concealed carrying, some States from USA require a permit in order to open carry. Those are:

  • American Samoa
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • Iowa
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Guam
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah

As for long guns, the States that are prohibiting open carrying are:

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

There are also States that don’t prohibit, but restrict those kind of weapons. Those States are:

  • Iowa
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Virginia

Up next…


Which States are guns illegal?

As I’ve told you before, thanks to the Second Amendment, there are no States that prohibit firearms.

However, depending on the State, some gun laws might be more strict.  

You must be 21 or older to buy a firearm.

If you are a legal resident and you are minimum 18 years old, you can buy shotguns, rifles, and ammunition.

The concealed and open carry laws are very important.


How many guns can you own?

gun collector

In America, you can own as many weapons as you want.

Although buying 100 weapons isn’t typical, unless you collect them, people do buy different weapons for different situations.

You might purchase a shotgun for hunting and a handgun for self-defense.  Some buy antique guns just to display and appreciate.  It’s all up to you.

All in all, it’s clear that gun laws are numerous, and different States have very particular laws that you need to follow. 

Although the gun debate rages on, for now, the 2nd Amendment defends the right to possess guns.  At the same time, laws are laws and they shouldn’t be ignored.

Comment below

We’d love to hear your opinions!  If you love this post, share it with someone you feel needs to be better educated about guns!

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Lansing Michael

Lansing Michael

Michael Lansing has been living for the past 25 years on the Bruce Peninsula, which is located in Southwestern Ontario, where he owns a 50 acre art and garden park, where people come up to explore "the bush". Featuring workshops of many kinds, Michael has an affinity for home security and spends his free time examining locks and security testing various products that add security to the home. He also has a large scale security system guarding his property, as well as his two dogs Shanna and Axe. He also sculpts in iron works, and if you're traveling north to Tobermory, you may notice some of his works along the side of the highway there.

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