It is imperative to note before discussing the history of gun possession laws in the United States that gun possession laws vary greatly from state to state. You should be aware of your specific state’s gun ownership protocol before attempting to purchase or own a firearm.

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a ruling regarding guns in the case of McDonald v. Chicago. They confirmed that U.S. citizens have a right to possess firearms, which clarified the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Prior to this decision, it was highly contested as to whether the right to bear arms applied only to “well-regulated militias” or to individual American citizens. After the McDonald decision, an individual’s right to own a gun is now well established. This is why most current gun laws focus on aspects other than ownership, such as:

  • When an individual may legally carry a concealed weapon;
  • The type of weapons that may be owned;
  • The carrying capacity of firearms;
  • Open-carrying handguns; and
  • Gun owner liability.

The McDonald case also resolved another important gun control case, Columbia v. Heller, which upheld the right to bear arms for “federal enclaves” such as the District of Columbia. Meaning, the McDonald decision essentially extended an individual’s right to bear arms to all states, and not just federal territory.

However, many states’ permit requirements are constantly under attack. An example of this would be how in early 2014, a Californian filed suit challenging many of the permit requirements in effect in San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco.

When Can I Legally Possess A Gun Without A Permit?

The Supreme Court specifically stated that both the McDonald and Heller decisions are not to interfere with any existing statutes and regulations. What this means is that the Second Amendment right to bear arms is not an absolute right, but that a person can carry or use a gun in any manner or for any purpose that they choose. Additionally, individual citizens must still abide by state statutes that require permits for the carrying of guns or risk violating those permit laws. An example of this would be how statutes that prohibit convicted felons from using guns are still in effect.

To reiterate, it is vital to be aware that each state has different laws governing gun possession. In most states, you do not need a permit simply to own a gun, while in other states and for certain people, an ID card or license may be required in order to possess a gun.

Laws forbidding the possession and carrying of handguns will generally include limited exceptions; meaning, there are certain places in which it is legal to carry a handgun without a valid permit or license to do so. These exceptions are generally limited to when someone is in their home, or in their place of business. Again, these laws vary widely by state, and even by local jurisdiction. It is imperative that you understand your specific state’s gun laws.

Even in jurisdictions in which it is illegal to carry a gun without a valid permit, you may be allowed to do so in your own home. The law allows for protecting your home with a firearm, and frequently makes this exception where the carrying of a gun without a permit is otherwise illegal.

However, there are exceptions to this exception:

  • What constitutes “home” may or may not include a residential dwelling that a person rents;
  • Ownership alone may not satisfy the exception. An example of this would be how courts are hesitant to extend this exception to property that a person owns, but does not actually live in; and
  • This exception does not include possession of a gun when a person is in another person’s home. However, if the person who is carrying the gun is frequently staying overnight in the other person’s home, a court may apply the exception.

In terms of possession of a gun in a place of business, laws that make the concealed carrying of a gun without a valid permit illegal frequently include an exception for when a person is in their place of business. This exception is intended to allow gun possession for the purpose of protecting a business, as well as the person’s ownership interest in the business. What constitutes a “place of business” is determined by the court, and is an area of debate when a gun possessor claims to fall within the scope of this exception.

When Else Should I Know About Restrictions On Gun Possession?

Gun possession may be restricted based on various factors, including but not limited to:

  • Age Vs. Type of Gun: Federal law prohibits the sale of a handgun to anyone who is under age 18. The same restriction does not apply for long guns, such as rifles and shotguns. However, each state has the ability to implement sensible age requirements. While the law differs by state, the minimum age to purchase a handgun in many states is 21 years old; and
  • Background: A person’s criminal background can also make it illegal for them to possess a gun, when gun laws would otherwise allow them to do so. Federal law prevents the sale of a gun to anyone who:
    • Has been convicted of or charged with a crime in federal court that carries a possible sentence of over a year in jail which is generally a felony charge;
    • Has been convicted of or charged with a crime in state court, that is either a felony or is a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years incarceration;
    • Is a fugitive;
    • Is known to be addicted to controlled substances, which requires that they have “lost the power of self-control with reference to the use of controlled substance,” and is sometimes inferred from multiple recent drug convictions;
    • Has been found by a court or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or has been involuntarily committed for drug/alcohol abuse or mental health issues;
    • Has been convicted of specific crimes, or is subject to a court order associated with domestic violence or a serious mental condition;
    • Is in the U.S. illegally; and/or
    • Was dishonorably discharged from U.S. Military Service.

Similar to the age requirement, each state has the ability to be more strict than federal law in terms of who can possess a gun based on their background.

There are some locations in which gun possession is prohibited, even by someone who can legally possess a gun elsewhere. Federal law prohibits gun possession at:

  • Federal facilities;
  • Post offices;
  • Airports and on airplanes, except when the weapon is unloaded, is in a checked bag, and the airline was made aware of the weapon; and
  • School zones K-12, except for someone having a state-issued concealed carry permit.

While most states prohibit guns in courthouses and other government owned buildings, laws frequently differ in those that have an open carry permit. Some other areas in which guns are commonly prohibited by states include:

  • Bars or restaurants that serve alcohol;
  • Churches;
  • Polling Places; and
  • A daycare facility.

Do I Need An Attorney For Gun Possession Without A Permit?

If you are accused of illegal gun possession or another gun offense, you should speak with a criminal defense lawyer immediately.

An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific gun laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.