Federal law for firearm background checks are authorized by the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act of 1993. The FBI did not enact the Act until 1998. A prospective gun buyer must complete a form called the Federal Firearms License. It can be completed over a phone or computer. Generally, the process only takes a few minutes to approve a potential gun owner, although the FBI can take up to three days to approve an applicant.

Individuals can transfer guns between themselves without background checks as long as they are the primary owners of the guns and the guns do not need to cross state lines in order for the transfer to take place. While many people call for more federal oversight over gun sales and increased background checks to be required at a federal level, no such laws have yet been passed by Congress.

However, there are different laws for dealers. Federal laws require that licensed dealers perform background checks, keep records of gun sales, release records if required for inspection, report instances of multiple sales, and document when a gun is stolen or lost. If a seller is unlicensed, these requirements do not apply.

What are State Laws for Background Checks?

Some states have passed laws that require more oversight in order for a person to purchase a gun. In addition to requiring the Federal Firearms License form, some states require individuals to also be licensed by the state before they can legally purchase a gun.

There are eight states that require background checks before guns can be purchased: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State, and D.C. Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have laws regulating firearms purchases from unlicensed sellers. In these states, unlicensed sellers must do background checks before issuing permits. The laws are similar for handguns in Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, and North Carolina.

Can I Buy Firearms in a Different State?

Firearms are sold according to state law in the state in which they are sold. It is legal to ship some kinds of firearms to yourself or to another person in a different state provided the person receiving the shipment is legally permitted to own a gun.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

A criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and responsibilities regarding gun ownership and interstate gun transfers to ensure that you are complying with your local laws.