Universal Background Check Laws in Every State

Background checks are designed to keep firearms out of the wrong hands by ensuring a prospective buyer does not have a history of criminal violence or irresponsible behavior. Typically completed in under two minutes, they pose virtually no burden on eligible gun buyers. And while there are strict federal background check regulations, each year, millions of firearms are sold without a background check. 

Under federal law, licensed firearm dealers are required to perform a background check on the buyer anytime they sell a gun. This law, however, does not apply to unlicensed sellers, including those who sell guns online, at gun shows, or elsewhere without a federal dealer’s license. While originally the idea was that those who buy and sell guns as a hobby would be exempt from conducting background checks, this loophole, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is exploited by unlicensed dealers to traffic firearms to prohibited buyers.

A 2022 Gallup survey found that 92% of American adults support background checks for all gun sales. But despite widespread public support, lawmakers in Washington have yet to enact universal background check laws. In the absence of federal legislation, many states have taken action. 

Using data from gun violence prevention group Giffords Law Center, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed background check laws in every state. 

Of the 50 states, 15 have universal background check laws on the books. Under these laws, all firearm sales are required to be conducted through a licensed dealer. In the case of private sellers, they are required to carry out a background check through licensed dealers or law enforcement. An additional six states have not enacted such laws, but rather, require (or will soon require) firearm owners to have a permit – and a background check is required to obtain the permit. (Here is a look at the states where the government will take your gun by force.)

Meanwhile, in 29 states, the loophole in the federal background check law remains. In these states, gun ownership rates tend to be far higher than they are in the 21 states with universal background checks. Gun violence also tends to be more common in states with the private seller loophole. Of the 15 states with the highest firearm death rate, only two have universal background check laws. (Here is a look at the states where anyone can get a gun today.)

Click here to see universal background check laws in every state.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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