If you use guns, and especially if you own guns, you need to know the applicable gun laws and obey them. Ignorance is not an acceptable defense. It's your responsibility to know the law, so do your homework. Research online, buy a book, talk to a lawyer, or whatever you need to do to make sure you're getting the correct information. Then keep yourself informed regarding changes to the laws.
Gun laws differ from state to state, and sometimes from county to county and even from city to city. On top of that, the laws keep changing. Not only do you need to know the gun laws where you live, but also any place you plan to visit, if you plan to travel with your gun, or plan to use or carry a gun there.
This article does not provide legal advice and should not be used as a legal guide. It will not discuss specific laws, but will instead provide general information on terms, topics and concepts in regards to gun laws, to help you know what to look for when researching. But it will be up to you to do the actual research regarding the specific laws that apply to you, your location, your activity, and your circumstances.
In all of the topics below, keep in mind that there are laws that exist at the federal level, and also at the state and local (county, city, etc.) levels.
Purchasing a Gun
There are laws restricting certain individuals from purchasing or possessing guns and ammunition. Some criminal convictions, or combinations of convictions, result in a 10-year ban, and others, a lifetime ban. Some other things that can get you a temporary or permanent ban are: mental disorders, a restraining order against you, a dishonorable discharge from the military, and renouncing your U.S. citizenship. There are minimum age restrictions for purchasing a gun. The minimum age may differ for pistols and long guns (rifles and shotguns). Aside from bans and age restrictions, some states impose no additional restrictions to purchasing a gun, while others may require certifications, permits, licenses, registration, training, etc. for purchases and/or transfers. Some transfers between two private parties or family members must go through a licensed firearms dealer, while others might not.
Illegal Guns and Accessories
There are laws prohibiting or regulating the sale and/or possession of certain types of guns, guns with certain features, gun accessories (such as suppressors and standard capacity magazines), and types of ammunition.
Some states have no laws regarding gun storage, while others do, and may differ depending on whether or not you have young children in the house. Some laws require guns to be "Locked Up" (accessible, but with a lock disabling its use) or "Locked Away" (inaccessible due to being locked in a safe or other secure storage device). Laws may require you to store your guns unloaded, or even unloaded with ammunition in a different location.
When transporting guns and ammunition in automobiles, you may be bound by laws stating where in the vehicle you may or may not keep the gun, whether or not it must be locked, unloaded or stored separately from the ammunition.
There are laws specifying how you may travel with guns and ammunition via airplane. In addition, every airline has different policies, restrictions and limitations regarding traveling with guns and ammunition. Check with your airline's policies and procedures, in addition to verifying current laws regarding airline travel with guns and ammunition.
When traveling via cruise ship or bus, you may be restricted from traveling with guns or ammunition, or may be required to surrender possession of these items to the captain for the duration of the trip.
Gun Carry Permits
A few states allow open carry and/or concealed carry of loaded firearms without a permit or license, while others require a permit or license to do so. Open carry and concealed carry may require different permits, and in some places only one or the other is allowed. Open carry may apply to only pistols, or may include long guns. Your state, county or city may not allow open or concealed carry at all.
Gun Carry Permit Reciprocity
Some states recognize and honor gun carry permits issued by other states, while others don't. Gun permit reciprocity changes from time to time, so check the current law before you travel.
Where You Can Carry a Gun
Even with a permit, there are some places where you're not allowed to carry a loaded firearm. Some may include: courthouses, buildings where federal employees work, federally-owned property, state parks, schools, bars, etc.
Defensive Gun Use
Laws differ from state to state and place to place regarding the circumstances under which you may legally use your firearm for defense. Some states impose a "Duty to Retreat", that requires you to retreat to the full extent you're able to, before you may legally use lethal force to defend yourself against a threat of death or severe bodily injury. Other states have "Stand Your Ground" laws that are the opposite of "Duty to Retreat", and allow you to defend yourself against such threats without first being required to retreat. In some states, "Stand Your Ground" only applies to your home. In other states this right is extended to certain public areas. In either case, your right to use lethal force may only apply to defending life, and not property. "Castle Doctrine" laws however give you legal right to use lethal force not only to defend against threats of death and severe bodily injury, but also against breaking and entering of your home. Some Castle Doctrine laws may also apply to vehicles, hotels and other temporary residences. In all cases, the legal right to use lethal force usually only exists when there is an immediate threat, and ceases when there is no longer an immediate threat. The specifics of "Duty to Retreat", "Stand Your Ground" and "Castle Doctrine" laws differ from place to place. Be sure to research what specific defensive gun use laws apply to you and your situation. Consider getting a copy of the book, "Law Of Self-Defense", by Andrew F. Branca, Attorney At Law, which thoroughly covers self-defense laws in all 50 states.
Legal hunting requires a Hunter Education Certification, and a Hunting License. In some cases, a Hunting Tag is also required. There are many laws and regulations regarding legal hunting. In different areas, there are different regulations regarding where you may hunt, what specific game you may hunt during what specific range of dates, what hunting techniques and tools you may use, the quantity of game you may harvest or be in possession of, what types of firearms you may use, what types of ammunition you may use, how many rounds of ammunition your firearm can accommodate, etc. Open carry of legal hunting firearms is allowed while in the act of legal hunting in accordance with all applicable hunting laws and regulations.
Part of the price of owning and using guns is the responsibility to know and obey gun laws, and as you can see, there's a lot to know. This article only barely scratches the surface, and while it's not feasible for any single article to provide up-to-date laws for all areas, I hope it at least points you in the right direction and helps you know what you need to research and educate yourself about regarding current laws that apply to you.
God bless and be safe,
Founder and Chief Instructor
Shield Personal Safety Training
Photos by Instructor Armand.
Copyright © 2016 Shield Personal Safety Training. All Rights Reserved.
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"Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight" -- Psalm 144:1
"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace" -- Luke 11:21
"he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one." -- Luke 22:36
About the Author:
Instructor Armand is the founder and chief instructor of Shield Personal Safety Training. He's a USCCA Certified Firearms Instructor, Utah Certified Concealed Firearms Instructor, NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, NRA Certified Range Safety Officer, Refuse To Be A Victim® Certified Instructor, CA DOJ FSC Certified Instructor, CA DOJ Certified Fingerprint Roller, hunter, and CCW permit holder.