American Gun Laws Explained: A Brief History of Gun Control

    American Gun Laws

    The United States is a country with an estimated population of about 320 million people. It has the highest rate of firearm ownership globally, and it also has some of the strictest gun control laws in the developed world. The U.S. Constitution does not mention firearms or guns, but many states have passed legislation regulating these items. This page provides information on American gun laws, including federal, state, and local regulations.

    A Glimpse on American Gun Laws

    In the early 20th century, there were no federal restrictions on owning handguns for self-defense, but by 1968, the Federal Firearms Act was implemented to regulate all aspects of gun sales. In 1994, Congress enacted the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act, which established the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms . The ATF is responsible for enforcing federal firearms regulation and licensing requirements. It implements the National Firearms Act, the Gun Control Act, and other statutes relating to firearms, explosives, and ammunition.

    Federal Gun Laws: The NFA

    The National Firearm Act is the only law at the federal level regulating firearms. It requires anyone who wants to acquire a gun from a licensed dealer to undergo background checks, pay a $200 tax stamp fee, and pass a written test on the safe handling of firearms. Dealers must conduct a criminal history check, run a national instant criminal background check, and perform a mental health evaluation before selling you a weapon. You can’t buy a handgun without a license, and if you do get one, you’ll need to renew it every five years. You can purchase rifles and shotguns without a permit, as long as they are manufactured after 1898. In addition, the act prohibits “destructive devices” such as bombs and grenades, and it bans machine guns that shoot more than one bullet per second.

    Background checks

    All prospective buyers must pass through a background check before purchasing any firearm from licensed dealers. Firearms purchased at private sales must be transported directly to a Federal-Firearm Licensee for processing. FFLs are independent businesses that sell guns only to other licensed individuals. A person may apply for a license as either a dealer or collector. Dealers must complete a four-hour training course and maintain liability insurance. Collectors do not need to undergo this process. However, if they want to receive mail-order weapons, they must register online. All buyers must provide proof of identity and residence when purchasing a handgun. In addition, all purchasers must provide valid identification, such as a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, or Social Security card.

    Handgun purchases

    As long as there is no felony conviction, anyone eligible to possess a firearm under federal law can buy one without undergoing a background check. For example, convicted felons, fugitives, illegal aliens, drug addicts, mentally ill persons, and those with misdemeanor convictions involving domestic violence or child abuse cannot legally possess a firearm. Anyone who wants to purchase a rifle or shotgun must first obtain a permit. To get this permit, applicants must submit fingerprints to the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System. They may then take a short test to ensure they understand how to handle a weapon safely. If approved, they will receive a NICS “permit to purchase” stamp in their criminal history record.

    Gun shows

    Under federal law, a gun show licensee must conduct background checks on each individual who buys a firearm from them. Gun shows are where individuals can meet face-to-face with sellers and make money by selling their old guns to others. These events are legal because they are not considered retail establishments. Therefore, they are exempt from performing background checks. Because they are not permitted to conduct background checks, they are prohibited from taking cash payments. To avoid
    violating the law, gun shows often accept credit cards instead.

    Other restrictions

    In addition to the above rules, certain types of firearms are restricted based on age and mental health status. Specific handguns cannot be sold to minors, adults too young to serve in the military, and those deemed unfit due to severe mental illness. Guns are also banned for those who suffer from several disorders, including bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Persons suffering from depression are allowed to carry concealed weapons while receiving treatment.

    State law

    NRA-ILA: State Laws

    This table summarizes the requirements for gun owners in the 50 states. Some states require that buyers provide proof of residency during the background check process; others require additional documentation. Conditions differ on whether a purchaser needs to be 21 years old to buy a handgun.

    Many states allow residents to use a hunting license to prove eligibility.

    Note: The NRA-ILA does not advocate breaking state or local laws. Each jurisdiction sets its standards regarding what constitutes justifiable force in self-defense. Those interested in more information about specific jurisdictions should contact your attorney or consult public resources, such as the police department or district attorney’s office in your area.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states have the right to regulate the sale of guns within their borders, but it remains unclear if these regulations would violate Second Amendment rights.

    American Gun Laws

    Local regulations on owning a gun

    City and county governments have varying degrees of control over the ownership and possession of guns. Some cities prohibit the carrying of knives, clubs, or other dangerous objects outside of the home. Others only limit the size of ammunition magazines. Still, others ban the possession of loaded firearms in public parks. County ordinances vary widely. Most counties require residents to obtain permits before purchasing a gun. Others restrict sales to people 18 years or older. Some require
    purchasers to undergo background checks.

    What is the legal procedure that must be followed before buying a gun in America?

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives regulates the sale of all types of firearms, including pistols, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns. The agency issues license to dealers and conduct criminal background checks on buyers. To qualify for a license, a dealer must meet specific requirements set forth by the ATF. These include having premises where the business operates, keeping records, and reporting changes in ownership. The dealer must also pass inspections conducted by local police departments.

    In addition, many states require dealers to register each weapon sold.

    What happens if you fail my background check?

    If a prospective buyer fails a federal background check, the dealer calls the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

    Who is not allowed to own a gun in the U.S.?

    Federal law prohibits convicted felons from owning a gun. However, under current law, felons may own guns if they have served their sentence and completed all terms of supervision. Felons must wait seven years after completing parole or release from prison, whichever comes first, before applying for a federal firearms license. A prisoner cannot legally possess a gun even after this waiting period unless he receives permission from his parole officer. This rule applies to both misdemeanants and non-violent offenders. Non-violent offenders may still be barred from possessing a gun if they have
    been designated mentally defective.

    What makes someone a prohibited person?

    Federal law defines a “prohibited person” as anyone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution. Federal law also bars individuals with court orders restraining them from harassing, stalking, threatening, assaulting, molesting, child-abusing, kidnapping, or otherwise harming an intimate partner or family members. Individuals subject to domestic violence protective orders can petition the court to remove the charge, thereby allowing them to purchase a firearm.

    How do you know if someone from your home owns a gun?

    It is illegal to sell, transfer, or give away a gun without obtaining the seller’s written consent.

    Can you buy a gun with a passport?

    It is legal to buy a gun with a valid passport. But your ticket needs to be good at least six months beyond your intended date of travel, and no expired passports will be accepted. You need to fill out ATF Form 4473, which asks questions like whether you’ve ever been charged with a felony and check off a box indicating whether you’re buying a handgun or a long gun. Forms filled out incorrectly are returned to the buyer. If you’re purchasing multiple firearms, documents must be signed by two different people
    — usually a parent and guardian if the buyer is younger than 21. If you’re buying a shotgun or rifle, you’ll need to sign the form yourself.

    Where is it illegal to own guns USA?

    State and local governments regulate gun control. States determine what type of weapons can be owned and how much ammunition can be bought. Some areas ban specific weapons entirely. For example, California forbids people from carrying concealed weapons, except for retired law enforcement officers. Other places only allow citizens to carry unloaded firearms while hunting.

    Is there a way to limit access to guns?

    In 1996, Congress passed the Assault Weapons Ban, which banned some semiautomatic weapons based on cosmetic features such as flash suppressors, bayonet mounts, folding stocks, pistol grips, and detachable magazines hold more than ten rounds. It was later amended to restrict high-capacity magazines holding over 15 games.

    Can an American carry a gun in the U.K.?

    You can carry a weapon openly in public places in England and Wales. However, you must declare any firearm when entering Britain, and you must keep it locked up during transport. The possession of unlicensed firearms is illegal in Scotland.

    Who supports gun control in America?

    The National Rifle Association is the largest pro-gun lobby organization in the United States. Founded in 1871, its mission statement reads: “We believe that the NRA should serve our members, not the politicians.” In addition to supporting gun ownership rights, the NRA lobbies against stricter gun regulation.

    Who opposes gun control in America?

    NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “When seconds count, police are just minutes away. That’s why I’m here today; that’s why we sent this message tonight – because defending our freedom isn’t free.” Many other groups oppose tighter gun controls. Gun owners say they don’t want their guns taken away, but they argue that current regulations aren’t strict enough. They support expanding background checks, banning certain types of weapons, and closing loopholes that make it easy to buy guns online or at gun shows.


    The United States has some of the most stringent gun laws in the world. While the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the government had the authority to regulate guns under the Commerce Clause.


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