Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsThe Second Amendment guarantees American citizens the right to bear arms, but both federal and state governments determine how citizens may legally exercise that right. And while both federal and state gun control laws regularly change, laws at the state level change more frequently and often without the media coverage that surrounds changes at the federal level.

This results in a constant challenge for gun owners to keep up with the latest state laws, especially for those who carry their weapons across state lines. Because while some states have more restrictions than others, state gun control policies across the country are diverse and can change quickly – too easily putting responsible gun owners on the wrong side of the law.

This guide is a timeline of major state gun control acts throughout the history of the United States – not only to help gun owners understand the state laws that have influenced our nation, but also to showcase how one state’s gun laws can set an example for others, creating a domino effect of gun control policy for the entire country.

Colonial America: Slavery Versus The Second Amendment

Pre-Constitution, the original Articles of Confederation established that “every State shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia.” The Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment holds that “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.” However, those rights were at that time granted specifically to white males.

Fear of slave and Native American uprisings prompted many colonial states to establish laws banning “free Mulattos, Negroes and Indians” from having firearms. By the antebellum period, southern states like South CarolinaLouisianaFloridaMarylandGeorgiaNorth CarolinaMississippi, and even Delaware all had various laws denying guns to people of color and allowing search and seizure of weapons as well as punishment without trial. Crucial to all of this was the Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sanford.

Previously a slave, Dred Scott sued for freedom based on the fact that he’d lived in the free state of Illinois and a free area within the Louisiana Territory for a decade. When his suit was unsuccessful in Missouri, he appealed to the federal courts. The contention was whether “a free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves,” was a citizen with protections under the Constitution. The Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott v. Sanford in 1857 denied “a free negro of the African race” citizenship – a milestone its issuer cited as “the most momentous event that has ever occurred on this continent,” excluding the Declaration of Independence. In that moment, those denied citizenship were also excluded from any of the rights associated with it.

After the Civil War: The Postbellum Era, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Black Codes

While President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves, President Andrew Johnson’s failing leadership brought with it all the struggles of the Reconstruction Era. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Dred Scott decision still denied people of African descent citizenship.

Former Confederate states enacted Black Codes to define and restrict freedmen’s positions within society. Along with mandating legal responsibilities, land ownership rights, contract labor wages, and harsh criminal laws, nearly all the Black Codes effectively and pointedly banned “persons of color” – anyone “with more than one-eighth Negro blood” – from possessing firearms. MississippiSouth CarolinaLouisianaFloridaMarylandAlabamaNorth CarolinaTexas, and Tennessee all enacted Black Codes, attempting to maintain the status quo and deny weapons to people of color.

The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments banned slavery, provided all citizens equal protection under the law and ensured voting rights for all citizens. The 14th Amendment was particularly important, as it defined citizenship as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” overturning the Dred Scott decision, establishing people of color as citizens and overriding state statutes denying them the right to possess firearms based on their heritage.

Jim Crow South: The Supreme Court Cedes Gun Control to the States

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsIn the following decades, a second civil war ensued as freed slaves sought to embrace their citizenship and formed freedmen militias to protect black communities and maintain political footing. The Jim Crow South, however, was equally intent on keeping firearms out of the hands of black Americans. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was founded in 1866 as a “social club,” and the Knights of the White Camelia and the White Brotherhood quickly followed. These white supremacist groups swept the South, their foremost demand that freedmen surrender their firearms.

Despite attempts to pass a federal law making the specific seizure of firearms “without due process of law, by violence, intimidation, or threats” a felony, the language of the resulting Enforcement Acts was instead diluted to encompass obstructing civil rights, and the terror continued.

Tensions came to a head in 1873 in Louisiana, when armed white Democrats overpowered Republican freedmen militia at the Grant County Courthouse in what came to be known as the Colfax Massacre. Three whites died, but estimates indicate as many as 150 freedmen were killed – possibly more – most in the hours after they’d surrendered. Initially, three white men were prosecuted under the Enforcement Acts. But in 1876, the Supreme Court decision on the case – United States v. Kruikshank – dropped all charges, ruling that the power to protect citizens from private actions like those of the KKK resided with the states, not the federal government.

Southern states were quick to pass Saturday night special laws limiting handgun ownership through financial requirements that retained a racial bias. Tennessee had already enacted “An Act To Preserve the Peace and Prevent Homicide” in 1870, but simply reworked it for 1879’s “An Act to Prevent the Sale of Pistols.” It set the precedent by banning all handgun sales except expensive Army and Navy model handguns.

Arkansas followed in 1882 with an identical law, while in 1893, Alabama placed a heavy tax on handgun sales. In 1902, South Carolina limited handguns to law enforcement – often Klan members – while Mississippi followed a subtler path, requiring firearms dealers to maintain records available upon demand for handgun and handgun ammunition sales (with the intent to allow race-based confiscation). In 1907, Texas, like Alabama, decided to adopt a tax aimed at preventing both poor whites and blacks from being able to buy handguns.

Prohibition Era: Immigration, Organized Crime, and Concealed Carry Laws

Concealed weapons of any kind have long been a controversial issue. As early as 1813, Kentucky law controlled concealed weapon carry, to include Bowie knives, sword canes, and pocket pistols. Laws in LouisianaGeorgia, and Tennessee, for example, also retained language to control “how arms may be borne.” In 1897, the Supreme Court case Robertson v. Baldwin determined that laws controlling concealed carry did not violate the Second Amendment, stating “the right of the people to keep and bear arms (Art. II) is not infringed by laws prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.” Recently, the Ninth Circuit Court once again confirmed that ruling in Peruta v. County of San Diego.

The New York City of the early 1900s had no such laws but was marked by European immigration, Tammany Hall, extensive organized crime and gun violence of all kinds. A newspaper article from the time cited the example of a grief-stricken Italian father fatally shooting the truck driver who’d accidentally run over his son. However, January 23, 1911, proved the tipping point when Fitzhugh Coyle Goldsborough used a concealed .32-caliber automatic pistol to assassinate novelist David Graham Phillips midday in Gramercy Park for an imagined slandering of his sister.

Supported by the Tammany Hall apparatus and effective August 31, 1911, the resulting Sullivan Act of 1911 mandated discretionary police-issued licenses to possess a handgun and made carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon a felony. While gun violence in fact escalated right into Prohibition, these two criteria formed the basis for many other states’ “may issue” gun laws requiring discretionary police-issued licenses to restrict gun ownership.

By 1987, only one state had unrestricted concealed carry – while eight were “shall issue,” 25 “may issue” and 16 “no issue.” In 2016, 10 states have unrestricted concealed carry, while 32 are “shall issue” and eight “may issue.” New York remains one of the few “may issue” states, and the Sullivan Act remains on the books as New York Penal Code Section 400.00 after more than a century.

Civil Rights Movement: The Black Panthers and Loaded Carry Laws

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsIronically, the event that is ultimately credited as the cause of banned loaded carry took place in California without a single shot being fired. In 1960s America, civil rights issues were escalating. The assassinations of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965 left black communities fearful, and torn between peaceful resistance and self-defense “by whatever means necessary.” Abusive, racially motivated policing practices in Oakland, California, gave rise to the Black Panther Police Patrols and their mission to monitor and challenge that brutality. Since citizens were by law permitted open loaded carry of registered guns, the Black Panthers patrolled armed.

When a predominantly white jury ruled the police killing of Denzel Dowell a justifiable homicide, it was perhaps the last straw. The first issue of The Black Panther Black Community News Service on April 25, 1967, focused not only on the killing of Denzel Dowell but also other police atrocities. It questioned how a previously injured Denzel could have fled a police officer who knew him well enough to call him by name, why he was shot 10 times, and why the newspaper announced the verdict two hours before the jury did. It also listed three other police murders of black men and two police-administered beatings of a black woman and a 14-year-old black girl.

Meanwhile, dubbed the Black Panther Bill, the Mulford Act sought to ban loaded carry specifically to end Black Panther armed patrols. However, on May 2, 1967, 30 Black Panthers – 24 men and six women armed with a written manifesto and loaded weapons – gathered on the California State Capitol steps and entered the building, their destination the General Assembly to protest the impending legislation. They were admitted only to the legislature’s official viewing area and then were asked to leave, but they left with their guns still loaded.

While the event remained nonviolent, cities across the nation were experiencing intense race riots. The California legislature fast-tracked the Mulford Act, and then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed it into law on July 28, 1967, as California Penal Codes 25850 and 142-181. It prohibited individuals from publicly carrying a loaded firearm on their person or in a vehicle in an incorporated city or other prohibited areas. The act authorized peace officers to examine any firearm to determine whether it was loaded and deemed any refusal to comply as probable cause for arrest. It also prohibited anyone but law enforcement from possessing loaded firearms or deadly weapons within the Capitol.

The Cold War and the Advent of “Assault Weapons”

The latter half of the 20th century brought with it global conflicts – Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq – and assault rifles. The easily recognizable AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis became the weapons of choice for military forces around the globe, their characteristics highly desirable to firearms enthusiasts.

While the guns take a lighter caliber bullet and typically fire with less range and power than a rifle, they offer valued traits like folding stocks, pistol and forward grips, large-capacity removable magazines and the capability of switching firing modes. With time, semi-automatic rifles have appeared as many different makes and models, often surprisingly affordable. Most notable is that with each ban and limitation, semi-automatic rifles become more popular.

The 1989 Stockton Massacre and California’s AWCA Response

Out of all the states, California is recognized as having the most restrictive gun laws. One of the primary catalysts was the Cleveland Elementary School shooting on January 17, 1989, during which Patrick Purdy used an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle to spray a playground full of children, killing five and wounding 32 before killing himself. Despite former weapons and robbery offenses, Purdy had easily bought the assault weapon in Sandy, Oregon, and brought it across state lines to the Stockton, California, schoolyard.

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA), effective January 1, 1990, was California’s response and the first assault weapons act. It ultimately defined assault weapons within three categories, banned any transfer of the listed prohibited assault weapons, and required registration of any already in possession by the end of 1992. Any weapons not registered by that date were to be surrendered to law enforcement.

The 1993 101 Massacre and California’s Firearms Safety Act

Despite the legislation, on July 1, 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri entered the law firm of Pettit & Martin on 101 California Street in San Francisco to avenge his alleged loss of $300,000 in a land deal. Armed with two 9mm semi-automatic machine pistols, a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, Ferri killed eight and injured six in a 16-minute rampage before killing himself.

While the event was the impetus for the 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 to 2004, in California, the effects have lasted much longer. Seeking to end gun manufacturer workarounds like changing model numbers, the state amended the Roberti-Roos Act’s assault weapons categories in 1999 by banning the manufacture, import or sale of semi-automatic rifles or pistols with certain characteristics as well as the transfer of magazines able to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, effective January 1, 2000.

That same year, California limited handgun purchases to one during any 30-day period; MarylandNew Jersey and the District of Columbia have similar laws. It also passed the Aroner-Scott-Hayden Firearms Safety Act of 1999 to require child-safety locks on all guns, set handgun safety standards that dealers must meet and repealed the immunity previously protecting gun manufacturers from victim lawsuits.

The 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre and New York’s SAFE Act

Reminiscent of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, appalled the nation as an armed gunman once again took out his rage on school children. Adam Lanza killed his mother at home and then fatally shot 20 children and six staff members at the school before killing himself. He was armed with his mother’s AR-15 Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle and two of her handguns – a Glock and a Sig Sauer.

On January 16, 2013, New York became the first U.S. state to act after the shooting when its legislature passed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act. It required universal background checks for all firearms purchases, expanded its definitions of assault weapons, created a state database for handguns, and banned the sale or purchase of magazines that could hold more than seven rounds of ammunition.

On April 4, 2013, Connecticut and Maryland both enacted new restrictions to their existing gun laws: An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety and the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, respectively. Connecticut, too, required universal background checks for firearms purchases and banned magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Maryland banned assault weapons and magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The 2012 Aurora Massacre and Colorado’s Response

On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes fired into an Aurora, Colorado movie theater showing of The Dark Knight Rises premiere, killing 12 and injuring 70 amid tear gas from grenades he’d launched. He was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P15-22 semi-automatic rifle fitted with a 100-round magazine and a .40-caliber Glock. Holmes had bought all three guns legally between May 22 and July 6, from three different firearms stores – two Gander Mountains and One Bass Pro Shop.

Following other states’ earlier actions, on March 20, 2013, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper also signed into law three bills to prevent another mass shooting event. HB 13-1224 banned large-capacity magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. HB 13-1229 required universal background checks for all firearms sales, and HB 13-1228 directed that applicants pay for the cost of the checks.

2013: 10 New California Gun Control Laws

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsAlso in 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed 10 more different firearms-related bills:

  • AB-500 Firearms: DOJ checks.
  • AB-48 Firearms: Large-capacity magazines.
  • SB-683 Firearms: Firearm safety certificate.
  • SB-140 Firearms: Prohibited persons.
  • AB-1131 Firearms: Mental conditions.
  • SB-127 Firearms: Mentally disordered persons.
  • AB-231 Firearms: Criminal storage.
  • SB-363 Firearms: Criminal storage: Unsafe handguns: Fees.
  • AB-170 Assault weapons and .50 BMG rifles.
  • AB-539 Firearm possession: Prohibitions: Transfer to a licensed dealer.

These bills extended weapon transfer waiting periods, added storage safety conditions and strengthened storage negligence laws, banned conversion kits for large-capacity magazines, required safety certificates for long guns, extended mental health-related prohibitions for firearms from six months to five years, made assault weapon permits individual-issue only, and prohibited individuals denied firearms from storing them with dealers.

SB-140 also appropriated $24 million to the Department of Justice to address the backlog in the Prohibited Armed Persons File database tracking more than 20,000 individuals prohibited from owning firearms.

2016: California’s “Gunpocalypse”

As 2015 drew to a close and the holidays approached, the tragic San Bernardino shooting stunned California residents and the nation. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 more at a Christmas party thrown by Farook’s employer at the Inland Regional Center on December 2.

Farook and Malik were armed with two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles – a DPMS A-15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P15 – two 9mm semi-automatic pistols, at least four high-capacity magazines, well over a thousand rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb. The incident ended with the homegrown terrorists’ sworn loyalty to ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a police vehicle chase, and a final shootout that left both perpetrators dead.

While Farook had legally purchased his handguns, another individual, Enrique Marquez, had purchased the rifles legally in 2011 and 2012, as Farook had reportedly feared he wouldn’t pass the background check needed for them.

The two rifles, however, were altered after the purchase in flat violation of California law: the Smith & Wesson for automatic fire and the DPMS to accept large-capacity magazines. Investigation of the couple’s home yielded a stockpile of another 4,500 rounds of ammunition, a dozen pipe bombs, and tools for making them.

Almost immediately, California assemblymen and senators introduced a packet of legislation. On July 1, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed six new gun control bills into state law, each seeking to close a firearms loophole: Assembly Bills 1695, 1511 and 1135 as well as Senate Bills 880, 1446 and 1235.

AB 1695

AB 1695, also known as “The Stop Illegal Gun Sales Act,” was an effort to stop the practices of “straw purchasers” – individuals able to pass background checks who procure guns for ineligible individuals, then report the firearms as lost or stolen to avoid accountability.

California’s penal code already listed falsely reporting to a member of law enforcement as a misdemeanor or felony. However, the bill specifically makes falsely reporting a firearm as lost or stolen a misdemeanor and imposes a 10-year ban on firearm ownership for those convicted of the offense. Violation of the 10-year period carries up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.

AB 1511

While the vast majority of firearms loaned from one person to another must go through a licensed dealer under AB 1511, prior to this bill Californians could lend a firearm to individuals they knew personally for infrequent periods of less than 30 days. The new bill has the same loan period limitations, but it restricts the lending of firearms to “a spouse or registered domestic partner, or to a parent, child, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild” related by “consanguinity, adoption, or step relation.”

SB 880 & AB 1135

California passed two bills, SB 880 and AB 1135, that are substantively the same with minor wording differences like “specified attributes” as opposed to “several specified attributes.” Essentially, the new law closes the bullet button loophole. First, it redefines a “fixed magazine” as “an ammunition feeding device” that “cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.” Then, it extends the definition of assault weapons banned to any “semiautomatic centerfire rifle or a semiautomatic pistol that does not have a fixed magazine,” and has at least one of the previously established assault weapon attributes – such as a thumbhole stock for rifles or a second handgrip for handguns.

Much like previous legislation, the law prohibits the sale or transfer of assault weapons lacking a fixed magazine and mandates that all weapons already in possession up to and including December 31, 2016, must be registered with DOJ by January 1, 2018, for up to a $20 fee. Violation of the law is a felony punishable by up to one year in jail.

SB 1446

While the previous law prohibited the sale, gift or loan of large-capacity magazines, SB 1446 bans them altogether. Any manufacture, sale, transfer, gift or loan of a magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds is punishable by up to a year in jail. Possession of a large-capacity magazine entails a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 for the second and $500 for the third.

In addition, regardless of when the magazine was purchased, the owner cannot keep it in California. The magazine must be moved out of state, sold to a licensed dealer, destroyed or surrendered to law enforcement.

SB 1235

An interim and supersession measure prior to voter adoption of the Safety for All Act of 2016, SB 1235 is legislation to control all ammunition through an Automated Firearms System. Starting July 1, 2019, all sales and transfers of ammunition will be subject to checks of the purchaser’s presented identification against the Prohibited Armed Persons File as well as the Automated Firearms System and must be reported to the Attorney General.

The legislation also requires, with some sporting club exceptions, a vendor license for all ammunition sales. Prior to this, controls – including mandatory face-to-face transactions – had been limited to handgun ammunition. However, handgun ammunition was changed to ammunition, and ammunition was redefined to be all-inclusive with “one or more loaded cartridges consisting of a primer case, propellant, and with one or more projectiles.” Any person or business who transfers ammunition to someone ineligible to receive it is subject to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.

Vetoed Bills

Governor Brown did, however, veto four submitted bills:

  • AB 2607 would have expanded the pool of individuals able to petition for a gun violence restraining order.
  • AB 1674 would have applied the 30-day handgun delivery limit to all firearms.
  • AB 1673 would have redefined firearm as any “frame or receiver blank, casting, or machined body” clearly part of a functional weapon.
  • SB 894 would have tightened reporting regulations for lost or stolen firearms.

Red Flag Laws: The Implementation of Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs)

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsAfter a wave of mass shootings in 2017 and 2018, one of the most fashionable pushes for gun control was the rise of so-called “red flag” laws, or Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).

These red flag laws are not as novel as people think. States like Connecticut got the ball rolling in 1999 when legislators passed the nation’s very first red flag law after a shooting took place at a State Lottery headquarters. States like Indiana (2005), California (2014), Washington (2016), and Oregon (2017) have followed suit in their implementation of red flags laws.

But the political environment completely changed in late 2017 and early 2018. A string of mass shootings like the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the Sutherland Springs church shooting, and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting rocked the political environment like never before. This commotion played perfectly into the hands of the gun control crowd in the legacy media and political establishment.

Crises – real or perceived – are the lifeblood of government expansion. Following the words of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, gun control advocates did not let these crises go to waste.

Red flag laws received an added bump from these shootings. Like clockwork, states such as Florida, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Illinois adopted their own red flag laws.

Red flag laws enable law enforcement to confiscate firearms from an individual who is considered a threat to themselves or others. However, these confiscatory actions can be taken based on simple allegations. An accusation from a family member, friend, or associate is enough of a justification for law enforcement officers to seize an individual’s firearms.

Potential for due process violations has emerged since red flag laws started gaining traction. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, who views the Second Amendment as a collective right as opposed to an individual right, has expressed concern about how red flags will essentially create Minority Report-like scenarios in America. Individuals could see their rights stripped just based on speculation on the part of petitioners and a judge.

Subsequently, the accused are compelled to take their accusers to court, even though the accused has never been charged with or convicted of a crime. To make matters worse, the defendant could have their weapons seized without even a hearing before a judge. Months could go by before a gun owner wins back his gun rights in court.

Even in their early stages of implementation, red flag laws generated controversy. Around 5 a.m. on November 5, 2018, two police officers approached 61-year-old Gary Willis’s house. Once at Willis’s door, they knocked and waited for Willis to respond. In a state of shock, Willis answered, and the two officers happened to be serving Willis a court order to turn his guns over to authorities in accordance with Maryland’s recently signed red flag law.

In a tragic turn of events, this encounter with law enforcement quickly got out of hand. A struggle ensued between Willis and the two officers, which resulted in Willis’s death. After this controversial shooting, Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare jumped to the police officers’ defense stating they “did the best they could with the situation they had.”

Maryland’s red flag law, which received Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s signature, was implemented in October 2018. In its first month, there were 114 firearms seizure requests.

2018: Bump Stock Bans

After the smoke cleared from the Las Vegas massacre, the deadliest shooting in U.S. history that left 58 people dead, gun control politicians were scrambling to find a scapegoat. And they were able to find one real quick – the bump stock.

Proponents of bump stock bans contended that this accessory allows for semi-automatic rifles to mimic automatic fire settings. However, some firearms experts such as Andrew Wickerham didn’t buy the uproar over bump stocks. Wickerham detailed his views on bump stocks in an interview for The Christian Science Monitor:

“I’ve always thought these bump stocks were just a novelty,” he says. “They’re not that good, and they’re hard as hell to control.”

Alas, modern-day politics are ruled by emotions, not facts. As a result, a number of states have embraced the latest wave of the gun control crusade.

Bump stocks had already been illegal in states like California since 1990. That being said, the push for bump stock bans remained dormant for a few decades until the fateful year of 2017 arrived. When it was discovered that the Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock used bump stocks to commit these atrocities, bump stock bans gained a second wind.

The following states have jumped in on the bump stock ban frenzy:

California Expands Its Gun Control Regime

In 2018, California went on its own gun control spree after the dust settled from a series of national mass shootings.

  • SB 1100 raised the age for buying a shotgun or rifle in California from 18 to 21.
  • AB 2103 tightened training requirements, with at least eight hours of gun safety training for people applying for concealed handgun licenses.
  • AB 2526 added to the current red flag system, allowing law enforcement to request a gun violence restraining order verbally when there’s not enough time to carry out a written request.

A Nationwide Response to the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsPressured by the outrage from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Governor Rick Scott signed SB 7026, which contains red flag provisions, raises the age to buy a firearm to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period for all firearms purchases.

Like Nevada, the occurrence of a mass shooting on their own soil was too much for even supposedly “pro-gun” Republicans in Florida. 67 NRA A-rated Republicans ended up voting for this bill. But it wasn’t just Florida that saw a sweep of gun control after the Stoneman Douglas shooting – much of the country saw a ripple effect of gun laws that were unusually aggressive. These are a few of the states that saw some extreme change in gun regulation.


Extended Waiting Period for All Firearms Purchases: Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 3256 into law on July 16, 2018 – extending the waiting period for all firearms purchased to a minimum of 72 hours.

Under the previous Illinois law, only handguns were subject to a 72-hour waiting period, but so-called “assault weapons” like AR-15s and other long guns could be received in 24 hours.

New Jersey

Seizure of Firearms: A1181 requires licensed healthcare professionals to inform law enforcement about patients who they suspect could commit an imminent act of physical violence. Law enforcement officials then have the authority to determine whether the person should be barred from holding them.

Private Gun Sale Background Check: A2757 mandates background checks for all private sales and transfers of firearms. The only exceptions are those involving “immediate family.”

Justifiable Need to Carry Handgun: A2758 establishes a strict definition for the “justifiable need to carry a handgun” that private citizens must demonstrate should they desire to obtain a permit. For a private citizen to carry a handgun, they must obtain a handgun carry permit.

Permit applicants need to have the approval of the police chief in the municipality in which they live, as well as the approval of a Superior Court judge in their county of residence. For their application to be approved, the applicant must also submit a written certification highlighting a justifiable need to carry a handgun.

Ammunition Magazine Maximum Capacity: A2761 bans firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Gun owners who own magazines with more than 10 rounds can keep their firearms. However, they must register them and pay a $50 fee.

3D-Printable Gun Ban: On November 8, 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed S-2465 into law – banning the purchase of firearm parts with the end goal of making a “ghost gun,” or a gun that does not have a serial number.

These ghost gun can be assembled with parts bought individually or as part of a kit, which can often be done through the internet. Any of these actions would be deemed illegal according to this new law.

The act of making a 3D-printable gun or distributing its blueprints would also be criminalized. Additionally, manufacturing, selling, or the mere possession of an “undetectable” firearm made from a material that cannot be recognized by a metal detector is subject to criminal penalties.


Firearms: S.55 expands background checks by requiring them for most private firearms sales, raises the age to buy a gun to 21, bans bump stocks, and limits the size of magazines for handguns to 15 rounds and 10 rounds for long guns.

2018: Oregon Gets “Sanctuary Counties”

Oregon was about to witness a potential ban on so-called “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines in 2018. Thankfully for Oregon gun owners, Initiative Petition 43 failed to gather enough signatures by the deadline in order to be on the ballot.

Despite this bill’s failure, Oregon gun owners went the extra mile when they approved Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances in eight of ten counties. The counties that approved the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances have in essence become “sanctuary counties” where citizens have the right to own semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, regardless of state and federal laws on the books.

2018: Washington State Approves Stringent Gun Control

On November 6, 2018, Washington State moved the gun control needle even further when voters approved I-1639, one of the most powerful gun control initiatives in the country, with 59 percent of the vote. I-1639 expands the reach of background checks, raises the minimum age to buy semi-automatic rifles, establishes a waiting period for the purchase of these same rifles, and mandates the safe storage of all firearms.

Similar to Oregon, I-1639 has witnessed some pushback from counties outside its urban centers. Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza announced that The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office will not actively seek out individuals who violate the recently approved I-1639.

Universal Background Checks

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsAll firearms purchases from licensed dealers in the United States must go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system came about as a result of the Brady Act, one of the most comprehensive forms of gun control passed at the federal level in the past three decades.

However, gun control advocates believe this is not enough. Since then, they worked to pass universal background checks (UBCs) at the state level. UBCs mandate all firearms sales and transfers be conducted through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). Depending on the state, gifts and loans could also require that FFLs process these activities.

For the first time in decades, gun control advocates scored a victory when their flagship, universal background check bill H.R. 8 successfully passed the U.S. House on February 28, 2019, on a 240-190 vote. Although this bill will likely not make it past a Republican-controlled Senate, universal background checks are now part of the federal gun control conversation. If enough momentum gathers at the state level, and the right political winds blow at the federal level, UBCs could become a reality in D.C. within the next decade.


In 1991, California became one of the first states to pass universal background checks. In other words, all gun sales must be conducted by a licensed dealer, including private sales and transfers. California’s universal background checks also banned individuals with certain misdemeanor convictions from purchasing and possessing guns. Plus, prospective gun owners must go through a 10-day waiting period to acquire handguns, rifles, and shotguns.

California authorizes the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to act as a point of contact. Firearms dealers are obligated to initiate the federally mandated background check by contacting the California DOJ. By law, any prospective buyer (or transferee or person being loaned) of a firearm is required to fill out an application to purchase the firearm (known as “Dealer Record of Sale” or “DROS” form) through a licensed dealer and send it to the DOJ. With very few exceptions, all firearms transfers conducted in California have to go through a licensed dealer.


In the wake of the Aurora movie theatre massacre, the Colorado legislature took drastic action by passing gun control. The most notable signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper was Colorado’s universal background check law HB 1229.

In Colorado, all firearms transfers conducted by licensed dealers are processed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Under Colorado law, private sellers (who are not federally licensed dealers) must initiate a background check when transferring a firearm. In turn, prospective firearms purchasers in private sales must pass a background check before acquiring their weapon. The same process applies to regular firearms sales.


After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, Connecticut took hardline measures on guns. Governor Dannel Malloy signed Bill No. 1160 into law – requiring that prospective gun buyers pass a background check for the sale of all firearms, which includes the private sale or transfer of long guns.

Handgun transfers cannot be carried out until the person, corporation, or firm conducting the transfer acquires an authorization number from the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP).

Before any firearm is transferred at a gun show, the transferee must also go through a background check.


On May 8, 2013, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed HB 35 into law, which closes a “loophole” in state law by requiring background checks in connection with the sale or transfer of firearms between private parties. However, HB 35 mandates that background checks be conducted by licensed firearms dealers. Then, dealers must keep records of such background checks that comply with state and federal law.

In the case an unlicensed seller requests that the dealer conduct a background check on a potential buyer, licensed gun dealers are required to carry out the transfer of a firearm. The unlicensed seller and prospective purchaser are both required to appear together at the licensed dealer’s place of business to facilitate the background check and transaction.

District of Columbia:

Since passing the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, Washington, D.C. has had the strictest gun control in the nation. In D.C., the private sale and transfer of firearms are heavily regulated.

Private sellers must have a registration certificate to legally transfer a firearm. Additionally, they can only transfer legal firearms to licensed dealers. The chief of police is in charge of initiating background checks for the issuance of registration certificates, which an individual must have to own a firearm in D.C.

Maryland (UBCs for Handguns Only)

For private sales in Maryland, buyers must pass a background check for all handguns and “assault weapons” before taking possession of said firearms. The same process applies for individuals buying from a licensed gun dealer in. Long guns like shotguns and rifles are exempt from these requirements.


In 2016, Nevada voters approved Question 1, which established universal background checks in the state.

However, then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt proved to be an obstacle for the enactment of Question 1, because he claimed that the ballot initiative required the FBI to run the background check, thus making it impossible to enforce.

The Las Vegas and Parkland shootings changed the entire picture, with many states becoming re-energized in their push for enacting more gun control. At the time, the Nevada legislature lagged behind because it was not in session.

Fast forward to the 2018 elections, the political winds blew in the direction of gun control when Democrats achieved a trifecta in the legislature and Governor’s office. Additionally, Nevada saw Aaron Ford, who was financially backed by anti-gun oligarch Michael Bloomberg, assume the Attorney General position.

With firm anti-gun control of the Nevada State government, Governor Steve Sisolak signed SB 143, which requires that most firearms transfers in Nevada take place after a background check is realized. There are a few exceptions that exist for sales or transfers between immediate family members, some types of temporary loans, and for law enforcement.

New Jersey

For all handgun transfers within New Jersey, the transferee must have a permit to purchase a handgun, which is only valid for the acquisition of one handgun.

The transferee must possess a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card (FPIC) for long gun (rifle and shotgun) transfers. One FPIC is all that’s needed for unlimited rifle and shotgun purchases, so long as the holder is eligible to possess the FPIC.

New Jersey is a full point-of-contact state for NICS. The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) act as the point of contact for the implementation of background checks.

Applications to obtain handgun permits or an FPIC must first go through NJSP or a local law enforcement body. These law enforcement agencies use NICS as well as other state and local records to check if prospective gun buyers are prohibited from possessing a firearm prior to them receiving a handgun permit or FPIC.

New York

New York has some of the strictest gun control in the nation. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the SAFE Actin January 2013, which established New York’s current universal background check system.

With the exception of transfers between immediate family members, state law requires that licensed firearms dealers conduct a NICS check before any transfer, sale, exchange, or firearms disposal. The firearms dealer must then provide a report of the NICS background check to the state. The dealer must also keep a record of the NICS check in the case that law enforcement drops by for an inspection.

Under state law, any individual who intends to transfer a legal handgun, short-barreled rifle or shotgun must first inform the state police or, depending on the situation, licensing officers in New York City or Nassau or Suffolk Counties.

New York law has an explicit prohibition on certain forms of firearms disposal with the following language:

“No person shall except as otherwise authorized pursuant to law dispose of any firearm unless he [or she] is licensed as gunsmith or dealer in firearms.”


On May 11, 2015, Governor Kate Brown signed SB 941 into law, establishing universal background checks in Oregon. Starting in 2000, Oregon passed legislation that mandated background checks at gun shows. SB 941 expanded upon this by including all private firearms sales, including online sales. Additionally, Oregon’s universal background law requires background checks for all firearms transfers. Some exemptions exist for family members and people who lend guns for hunting purposes.

Pennsylvania (UBCs for Handguns Only)

Pennsylvania only requires universal background checks for handguns. Private sellers are only allowed to sell handguns to an unlicensed purchaser via a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or county sheriff’s office, who are the ones responsible for initiating a background check.

The Pennsylvania State Police carries out all background checks in the state.

Rhode Island

The state of Rhode Island requires that licensed dealers and unlicensed sellers carry out background checks under the auspices of the state police or local chief of police. Every prospective firearms buyer must fill out an application form for the background check, which the seller then must hand over to the state police or local police chief. The law enforcement body has seven days to review the applicant’s background to see if it complies with state requirements.


Vermont is an interesting outlier in gun policy. Although it is a state with de facto Constitutional Carry, thanks to language in its state constitution and subsequent court decisions that have upheld that language, Vermont saw numerous gun control bills signed into law by Republican Governor Phil Scott in 2018. One of the bills signed into law was Act 94, which established a universal background check.

In Vermont, all gun transfers, even those between private parties, must go through a background check. Vermont does not have a “point of contact” access to NICS, making the state dependent on the FBI for all background checks in the state. Like Nevada before its 2019 legislative session, Vermont’s UBC law has become unenforceable so far in its existence.


In 2014, Washington broke the mold by becoming the first state to pass universal background checks via voter referendum. In a resounding 60 to 40% vote, Washington State voters passed Initiative 594, which requires that all private firearms sales be carried out by a federally licensed firearms dealer. Local law enforcement departments function as state points of contact for the implementation of UBCs.

Before 2018, only handguns were covered under UBCs. But during the 2018 election cycle, Washington voters approved I-1639, which extends Washington’s UBC law to cover semi-automatic rifles.

The Second Amendment Stands Strong

Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major State ActsSince 2013, successful federal gun legislation has been limited to the renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act, and states have taken note. While more restrictive states have continued to identify and attempt to close every loophole, many others have instead passed laws to strengthen the Second Amendment.

In 2015, the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence tracked “1,323 bills related to firearms in the states.” Many of these laws related to hotbed social issues of today: domestic violence, background checks, guns in schools and on campuses, and concealed carry.

Domestic terrorism is another serious concern driving the debate about gun control. If history is any guide, attacks by “homegrown” terrorists will lead to stricter gun control measures as legislators try to calm the nation’s outrage and sense of vulnerability with more laws – despite terrorists already breaking existing laws.

The challenge for lawmakers at all levels is to ensure that rational wisdom prevails over emotion. We can close every loophole. We can regulate and litigate. But ultimately, unbalanced malcontents or violent terrorists may still win simply because they don’t play by any rules. And even the most well-intentioned laws may have unintended consequences.

Meanwhile, the Second Amendment, crafted by America’s Founding Fathers, stands quiet and powerful, with 27 simple words worthy of defining billions of others in our nation’s Supreme Court:

“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.”