How to Safely and Legally Own a Gun in America

firearms
Licensing laws in the United States vary from state to state.
Last modified: December 11, 2022

In the United States, firearms safety regulations vary from state to state. 

This article will review some of the basic legal requirements for owning a handgun in the United States.

We’ll cover the following:

  • The age limit for purchasing a gun.
  • The difference between private sellers and licensed dealers.
  • The process for obtaining a concealed carry permit.

Background Checks for Gun Ownership

According to federal law, anyone seeking to purchase a gun must undergo a background check. This process is quick and easy and simply involves checking the potential buyer’s name against a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) database. 

Glock handgun.
Glock handgun.

This check aims to ensure that the individual in question does not have a criminal record or any history of mental illness that would make them ineligible to own a gun.

While some may see this as an infringement on their Second Amendment rights, background checks are essential for public safety.

They prevent people not suitable for gun ownership from purchasing firearms and, as a result, should reduce the incidence of gun violence.

Background checks are also crucial for those seeking to obtain a federal firearms license that is required to sell and work with firearms.

How do background checks work?

Potential buyers must provide their name, date of birth, and Social Security Number to the licensed gun dealer. 

criminal holding gun
It’s argued that background checks reduce crime rates.

The dealer will then run these details through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which the FBI maintains.

If the prospective buyer’s name does not appear on any lists that would make them ineligible for gun ownership then the sale may proceed.

Things that may stop the sale are:

In most cases, the entire process takes less than five minutes.

However, if the NICS check flags the buyer as ineligible, the sale cannot go through. The buyer has the right to appeal this decision to the proper channels.

Why are background checks necessary?

Background checks help prevent guns from falling into the hands of people who should not have them. This hopefully reduces gun violence. 

Handgun
Gun violence remains high across the United States.

In addition, background checks are essential for ensuring that those selling and working with firearms are doing so legally and safely.

Handguns, Concealment, and the Law: What You Need to Know

If you’re considering purchasing a handgun, it’s essential to understand the laws in your state regarding the concealment and transport of firearms.

In many states, there are restrictions placed on the purchase and sale of handguns, specifically because they are concealable.

Sometimes, these restrictions place an emphasis on carrying a handgun, and other times, they are focused on purchasing a gun.

Researching the rules surrounding handguns and handgun carry permits in your state is crucial if you intend to purchase a handgun.

State laws on handgun purchase and possession

Most states require you to be at least 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer. There may also be additional requirements, such as completing a firearms training course or passing a background check.

firearms and ammunition
Most states stipulate that you must be at least 21 to purchase firearms.

It’s important to note that private sellers are not subject to the same rules as licensed dealers, so it’s possible to purchase a handgun from a private seller without meeting these requirements. 

However, it’s still illegal to carry a concealed handgun in most states without a permit.

Concealed carry permits

The steps involved in obtaining a concealed carry permit vary from state to state, but there are some general similarities.

In most cases, you’ll need to complete a firearms training course, submit an application fee, and pass a criminal background check.

Some states also require that you demonstrate a “good cause” for wanting to carry a concealed weapon.

For example, you might need to show that you regularly take large amounts of cash or that you have received threats against your safety.

The Importance of Firearms Safety Courses

In the United States, firearms safety regulations vary from state to state. Some states require individuals to take a firearms safety course before they can obtain their license, while other states do not have this requirement. 

Shooting range
Firearms safety courses are required in certain states.

This is particularly true concerning concealed carry permits, as they pose a greater danger.

Even when not required, such training courses are still advisable for the would-be gun owner as they provide information on liability issues, safety, care, and maintenance.

States that require firearms safety training

Many states have enacted legislation requiring firearms safety training before an individual can obtain a concealed weapon license.

The applicant must complete a certified firearms safety course to obtain a concealed carry permit in these states.

Advantages of taking a firearms safety course

While taking a firearms safety course may seem unnecessary for some people who want to obtain a concealed carry permit, there are many advantages to taking such a course.

man shooting at target
It’s important to be trained in gun safety and storage.

It provides the individual with important information on safely handling and storing firearms. It also covers federal and state laws related to carrying a concealed weapon so that the individual knows their rights and responsibilities.

In addition, the course will cover the use of deadly force so that the individual knows when it is appropriate to use their firearm in self-defense.

Guidelines for Obtaining a Firearms License

Before purchasing a firearm, you must be aware of the guidelines and requirements in your state for obtaining a gun license. Depending on the state, getting a license may include paying a fee or being fingerprinted.

Eligibility requirements

Those who wish to obtain a gun license must first meet specific eligibility requirements set forth by their state’s laws. 

Additional documentation

Depending on the state, applicants may be required to submit additional documentation with their application. 

United States passport
Proof of citizenship is required in some states.

For example, some states require proof of United States citizenship or lawful permanent resident status. 

In contrast, others mandate that applicants provide character references or proof of completion of a firearms safety course.

The process of application

The process for applying also varies by state. In some instances, applications must be submitted in person to a local law enforcement agency, while in others, applications may be submitted online or by mail.

Once an application has been submitted, processing times vary depending on the state. Some states issue licenses within a few days, while others may take several weeks or longer to process an application.

Varying State Requirements

In summary, those interested in purchasing firearms should familiarize themselves with how to get a gun license in their state.

While general requirements such as age and background check eligibility are typically consistent across states, other conditions, such as documentation to be submitted and agencies through which applications must be filed, can vary significantly.

Therefore, it is essential to research your state’s specific requirements before beginning the application process. Doing so can ensure you have all the necessary documentation and avoid delays in receiving your license.

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