In America, the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution. However, with this right come responsibilities, which manifest themselves in the form of gun laws designed to ensure public safety. The scope and intricacies of these laws differ across states, leading to confusion among potential gun owners and sometimes resulting in unintentional unlawful activities.

This article dives into the variations of gun possession laws across states, the eligibility criteria for firearm ownership, and the common misconceptions that plague the world of gun laws.

Gun Ownership Laws in the U.S.

The U.S., rooted deeply in the right to possession of a firearm, has complex gun policies that intertwine federal, state, and local laws. These guidelines are aimed at ensuring gun safety and preventing violent crime. Let’s dive into how the laws of each state differ.

Basic Framework

  • Gun Control Act of 1968: A landmark in federal firearms laws, this act mandates firearm owners to comply with specific requirements before owning a gun. The act, codified under 18 United states code § 922, emphasizes strict laws for gun possession.
  • State Laws: While the federal government lays down the basic groundwork, state laws further define possession of firearms, concealed carry, open carry, and other facets of gun laws.
  • Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) in the U.S. differ from those for civilians in several ways. Both federal and state laws provide exemptions and allowances for LEOs that aren’t available to the general public.

Eligibility for Carrying of Firearms:

  • Age Requirement: Generally, one must be at least 18 years of age to purchase rifles or shotguns. For other types of firearms, the individual must be 21 years of age or older.
  • Background Checks: A criminal background check is crucial for ensuring that potential gun owners have no criminal history, which would make it unlawful for them to possess firearms or ammunition.
  • Mental Health: Some states require a declaration of mental fitness.


  • Convictions: Under federal firearms laws, it’s unlawful for any person convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment (beyond a year) to own firearms and ammunition. This includes those convicted of a felony.
  • Substance Abuse: An unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance is prohibited from possessing firearms.
  • Restraining Orders: Individuals subjected to certain restraining orders may be barred.
  • Violence Prevention: Those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence are barred as a part of violence prevention efforts.
  • Firearm License and Permits:

  • Firearm License: Before you can possess a firearm, many states require gun owners to obtain a firearm license, which can involve taking a firearms safety course.
  • Concealed Carry: To carry a concealed weapon, a permit to carry is often required, which is different from an open carry permit.
  • Open Carry: Some states allow gun owners to openly carry a firearm without a license, while others have restrictions.
  • Hunting License: Those interested in hunting may need a separate hunting license, which may require proof of a gun safety course.
  • Purchasing and Selling:

  • Gun Shows: These events allow gun enthusiasts to see guns, purchase firearms, and understand the current gun laws better.
  • Ammunition: Selling ammunition to any person not allowed to own a gun is illegal. Some states also mandate a separate ammunition purchase permit.
  • Storage and Transportation:

  • Firearms at Home: It’s the responsibility of gun owners to ensure safe storage, keeping them away from children.
  • Transportation of Firearms: Gun owners must adhere to strict rules when they transport their firearms, especially across state lines.
  • Regulating Bodies:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF): A division of the Department of Justice, ATF ensures the compliance of federal gun laws.
  • Exceptions & Miscellaneous:
  • Place of Business: Some states allow individuals to carry a weapon at their place of business without a license.
  • New Laws: Gun policies are ever-evolving. New laws may be introduced, requiring gun owners to stay updated.
  • 22 Caliber and Other Types: Depending on the type, certain firearms may have specific rules. For instance, a 22 caliber rifle might be subject to different regulations than other types of firearms.
  • Federal vs. State: Always note that while the federal government sets the baseline, state or local laws can add additional restrictions or provide more freedom.

Gun Law Variations Across States.

Since we cannot cover all 50 states, let’s do a comparison between New York vs. Alaska to show how gun laws differ in each states.

Possession of Firearms:

  • New York: Legal gun ownership requires a firearm license for handguns. Strict laws govern the possession of firearms.
  • Alaska: Gun owners don’t need a special license to possess most types of firearms, including a rifle or shotgun.

Firearms Act & Gun Control Act:

  • Both states adhere to the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (18 United States Code § 922), which sets the foundation for who can own a gun. This act states it’s unlawful for any person who’s an unlawful user of or addicted to controlled substances, among other restrictions, to possess firearms or ammunition.

Age Restrictions:

  • In both states, one must be 18 years of age for rifles or shotguns. But for handguns, one must be at least 18 years old or more in Alaska and 21 in New York.

Gun Safety & Hunting License:

  • New York: Some counties require taking a firearms safety course for concealed carry. Hunting license requires separate criteria.
  • Alaska: Gun safety courses are often recommended, especially for new gun owners. Hunting license procedures are separate and based on types of firearms and game.

Firearms and Ammunition:

  • New York: State and local laws place restrictions on the possession, sale, and transport of firearms and ammunition.
  • Alaska: Gun owners can freely purchase and transport their firearms and ammunition without many restrictions.

Background Checks:

  • New York: Anyone wishing to own a gun undergoes a criminal background check, ensuring they haven’t been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for over a year.
  • Alaska: While criminal history checks are required for those obtaining a permit, they aren’t mandatory for all gun sales, especially private ones.

Federal Oversight:

  • Both states are subject to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) guidelines and federal firearms laws, including regulations on the sale of firearms at gun shows.


  • According to the U.S. Code, including the Gun Control Act, it’s unlawful for any person who’s been convicted of a felony, subjected to certain restraining orders, or convicted of domestic violence, among others, to possess firearms or ammunition. This applies to both New York and Alaska.

State-Specific Provisions:

  • New York: Current gun laws are among the strictest in the U.S. It’s unlawful for any person without the proper licensing to carry a concealed weapon. The discharge of a firearm near a place of business or school is typically prohibited.
  • Alaska: With fewer restrictions, those adhering to legal gun ownership may carry weapons openly or concealed, provided they are not in restricted zones. The state highly values the right to bear arms for various purposes, including hunting.

Common Misconceptions

  • Misdemeanor crime of domestic violence: Many believe that a misdemeanor wouldn’t prohibit them from gun ownership. However, under Title 18, U.S. Code § 922, individuals convicted of such misdemeanors are barred from possessing firearms.
    “There’s a National Gun Registry”: The U.S. does not have a comprehensive national gun registry. Federal law prohibits the creation of a national database of gun ownershi
  • “All Convicted Felons are Prohibited from Owning Guns Forever”: While federal law does prohibit felons from owning guns, some states have processes that allow certain felons to have their gun rights restored after a certain period or after meeting specific criteria.
  • “Strict Gun Laws Always Result in Less Crime”: The relationship between gun laws and crime rates is complex and influenced by various factors. Some areas with strict gun laws see reduced gun violence, while others do not.


Can Non-U.S. Citizens Legally Own Firearms While Living in the U.S.?

Yes, non-U.S. citizens, such as lawful permanent residents (green card holders), can legally own firearms in the U.S. under certain conditions. However, there are restrictions, and some non-immigrant visa holders are prohibited unless they meet specific exceptions.

How do 3D-printed Firearms Fit into Current Gun Laws?

3D-printed firearms present legal challenges as they can be manufactured at home and often lack serial numbers, making them untraceable. Under U.S. federal law, it’s generally legal for an individual to make a firearm for personal use, but distributing or selling such weapons can be illegal. Laws continue to evolve in response to the rise of 3D-printed guns, and state regulations may vary

 If I Assemble a Gun from Parts Purchased Separately, How Does that Affect its Legal Status?

If you assemble a gun from parts purchased separately, it’s generally legal for personal use under U.S. federal law. However, the gun must still comply with all federal regulations, and you can’t manufacture with the intent to sell without the appropriate licenses. State laws may vary, and some parts, like “80% receivers,” are under scrutiny and may face additional regulations.