In the U.S., the majority of legislation concerning firearms is enacted on the state level. While federal firearms laws exist, state gun laws are independent of these. Laws within individual states vary when it comes to things like carry and self-defense laws; sales; permits; and more. In states with less restrictive firearms laws, enforcement of federal firearms laws is left to the discretion of local law enforcement. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that local law enforcement is not required to enforce federal laws.
While 40 states have their own versions of the Second Amendment that protect the right to own and bear firearms, some don't. These include New York, Iowa, California, Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey.
Firearm Carry Laws
There are two ways to carry a firearm: concealed or openly. Since federal law has never concerned itself with the issuance of carry permits, the matter is left to each state to decide.
States fall into three categories when it comes to issuing concealed carry permits:
Shall Issue - States that fall into this category require permits to carry openly, but you only need to meet basic requirements to obtain one; no further processing is required.
May Issue - States that are classified as May Issue do issue permits for carrying concealed firearms, but they often have stricter conditions that must be met. For example, you may be required to justify your need for such a permit. Such states include Hawaii and California.
Unrestricted - Known as "constitutional carry," this classification means that there is no restriction on carrying a concealed firearm and no permit is required.
A fourth designation, No Issue, was ruled unconstitutional, so no states fall into that category anymore.
Again, laws regarding open carry are determined on the state level. In states without laws addressing the subject, ordinances are usually established and enforced by local law enforcement. Some states have no restrictions; some require a permit; others ban the practice entirely. In states where the practice is banned, exceptions are typically made for hunting, fishing and the like.
Gun Sales and Purchases
Yet again, laws regarding the sale and purchase of firearms vary by state. Some states require permits to buy firearms; sometimes, this applies only to handguns, but it can apply to long guns too. In lieu of permits, some states allow you to buy guns by providing your Firearm Owner's ID, or FOID, or your concealed carry permit.
By federal law, background checks are required for the sale of all firearms made through licensed dealers. These checks are performed using the NICS system, which is maintained by the FBI.
For many years, gun owners have gotten around the background check requirement through a private sales loophole. Federal law historically does not apply to firearms sales that are made between private individuals. However, more and more states are establishing laws that require background checks under such circumstances. In such states, sales must be facilitated by either local law enforcement or through licensed firearms dealers.
The 18 states that currently require background checks for the private firearms sales are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington State.
The registration of firearms is not officially required in most states. There is also no federal program for registering guns in this country. In fact, by federal law, a national gun registry is illegal and therefore cannot be established. On top of that, eight states officially ban the use of gun registries.
Currently, four states plus the District of Columbia have official gun registries: New York, Maryland, Hawaii and California. In those states, then, gun owners are require to register information about the firearms that they own.
Three states don't have official gun registries, but they do collect gun sales data. Laws concerning this vary between these three states, which are Michigan, Washington and New Jersey. In Michigan, for example, you are required to inform local law enforcement whenever you acquire a new firearm. It is unclear how well these requirements are enforced in these states.
Stand Your Ground Laws
More commonly and officially known as the Castle Doctrine, so-called Stand Your Ground laws are currently on the books in 27 states. These laws allow private individuals to defend themselves using deadly force and without the duty to retreat, which is required by law in some places. These laws vary, however, concerning things like whether non-lethal force must be attempted first and the types of places that are covered or not covered.
Conditions concerning whether Stand Your Ground applies vary by state. However, common examples of such conditions include:
an attempt is made to unlawfully and forcibly enter an occupied car, residence or business
you have a reasonable belief that you will incur serious bodily harm or even be killed
you cannot have provoked the party in question
in most cases, the intruder is also required to have been acting unlawfully in some way
Duty to Retreat
One condition that is imposed by some states--one that is pretty controversial to boot--is known as "duty to retreat." It means that you must first attempt to retreat when under attack if at all feasible and can only resort to deadly force immediately if there's no way to safely retreat or if doing so could put you in even more danger.
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