You have a right to own a firearm for lawful purposes (like self defense), and the government may not unnecessarily restrict this right. However, like most rights, the right to own a firearm is NOT absolute, and the government may place SOME restrictions on it.1U.S. Constitution, 2nd amendmentDISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (2008)
478 F. 3d 370


1. Who may not own a firearm?

Throughout the country, you may not own any kind of gun if you2U.S. Code Title 18, Section 922(g):

  • have been convicted of a felony3crime that involves possible punishment of more than 1 year or any crime involving domestic violence
  • are a fugitive from justice
  • illegally use any drug or are addicted to any drug
  • have been determined by a court to be mentally ill or have been committed to a mental institution
  • are not a citizen or legal permanent resident (in other words, you must either be a citizen or have a green card to own a firearm; but see exceptions)
  • have been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • renounced your American citizenship
  • are subject to a restraining order related to an intimate partner and/or partner’s child

2. Where can someone “openly carry” their firearm?

“Open carry” means carrying a gun in public, in plain view. In the states that allow open carry, there are often restrictions, such as required license or permit, or certain areas such as big cities may ban open carry within the city.

  • Handgun Open Carry: All but 5 states & DC allow open carry of handguns. The states that currently ban it are: California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and South Carolina. But even those states that allow open carry usually still prohibit it in certain locations including schools, government facilities, public transportation, etc.4See more at SmartGunLaws.org and Wikipedia
  • Long gun Open Carry: All but 6 states (slightly differs from above) & DC allow open carry of long guns. The states that currently ban open carry of long guns are: California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey.5See more at SmartGunLaws.org

3. Background checks

Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to perform background checks on anyone who wants to buy a gun.6Brady Act The dealer must place an inquiry through the national background check system to do this. However, if the dealer is not notified one way or another within 3 business days as to whether the prospective gun purchaser is eligible to buy a gun, the dealer may sell the gun to the buyer.718 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1)

Private seller/Gun show loophole: A person who sells guns only “occasionally” (called a private seller) is NOT required to do a background check. Private sellers commonly sell at gun shows. This loophole accounts for about 40% of all gun sales in the country.

State laws: many state laws are more restrictive than the federal laws.


4. Other Weapons

Switchblades: it is illegal to make, sell, distribute, or possess a switchblade throughout the country, with some exceptions.8exceptions relate to the Armed Forces or individuals with only one arm; see 15 USC Sections 1242-44

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