Are you thinking about purchasing a handgun? Do you know about all the hoops you may need to jump through in your state? Maybe you’re wondering under what circumstances you will need to submit to a background check. We’ve gathered that information for you. Below you can learn about how the laws in your state may impact a firearms purchase.

ATF Background Check and NICS

Although there are federal laws that are consistent across the country, state laws vary in requirements for the purchase of handguns from private parties. There are also exemptions for concealed carry permit holders in some states.

Since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act became effective in 1994, federally licensed firearms dealers (FFLs) have been required to conduct background checks on potential firearms purchasers. The FBI created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which maintains records of criminal, mental health and civil orders as a result of the Brady Act. Based on the results of an NICS check, an individual may find that he or she is prohibited from purchasing a firearm. In addition, the Brady Act has a provision that specifies that concealed carry permit holders may bypass the federally required background check in some states. In these 26 states, the permit must be valid, have been issued within the last five years and have included an NICS background check. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) maintains a list of the state permits that qualify.

On March 14, 2023, President Joe Biden (D) signed an executive order directing his cabinet to increase the number of background checks conducted before firearms purchases. He also ordered it to accelerate and intensify the implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), signed into law in June 2022. The BSCA requires background checks for anyone under the age of 21 purchasing a firearm. The NICS also has up to three business days to conduct the initial enhanced search, and if the search reveals a possible disqualifying record, it has up to 10 days to complete the investigation. Keep in mind that presidential executive orders only direct executive officers or clarify and further existing laws, since legislation must be approved by Congress before it can be signed into law.

States With Permits as Alternatives to Background Checks

For those wondering about state-specific requirements, the ATF has compiled a list of states where certain permits qualify as alternatives to background checks.

  • Alaska: Concealed weapons permits marked NICS-Exempt
  • Arizona: Concealed weapons permits
  • Arkansas: Concealed weapons permits issued on or after April 1, 1999
  • California: Entertainment Firearms Permit only
  • Georgia: Georgia firearms licenses
  • Hawaii: Permits to acquire and licenses to carry
  • Idaho: Concealed weapons permits
  • Iowa: Permits to acquire and permits to carry concealed weapons qualify
  • Kansas: Concealed handgun licenses issued on or after July 1, 2010 qualify as alternatives to the background check
  • Kentucky: Concealed Deadly Weapons License (CCDW) and Judicial Special Status CCDW issued on or after July 12, 2006
  • Louisiana: Concealed handgun permits issued on or after March 9, 2015, and lifetime concealed carry permits for the initial five-year period beginning on the original issuance date
  • Michigan: License to Purchase a Pistol (LTP) are the only permits that qualify as a NICS alternative
  • Mississippi: License to carry concealed pistol or revolver issued to individuals under Mississippi Code Section 45-9-101 (Security guard permits issued under Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7 do not qualify.)
  • Montana: Concealed weapons permits
  • Nebraska: Concealed handgun permit (Handgun purchase certificates.)
  • Nevada: Concealed carry permit issued on or after July 1, 2011
  • North Carolina: Concealed handgun permits 
  • North Dakota: Concealed weapons permits issued on or after Dec. 1, 1999
  • Ohio: Concealed weapons permits issued on or after March 23, 2015
  • Oklahoma: Self Defense Act Handgun Licenses issued after November 1, 2021 qualify (during the initial five-year period only) beginning on the original issuance date.
  • South Carolina: Concealed weapons permits
  • South Dakota: Gold Card Concealed Pistol Permit and Enhanced Permit to Carry a Concealed Pistol issued on or after Jan. 1, 2017, and regular concealed carry permits issued on or after July 1, 2018
  • Texas: Concealed weapons permits
  • Utah: Concealed weapons permits
  • West Virginia: Concealed handgun license issued on or after June 4, 2014
  • Wyoming: Concealed weapons permits

Ensure your concealed carry permit is valid and issued within the last five years to benefit from these exemptions.

While a number of states have developed state laws requiring all handgun purchases be processed through an FFL, resulting in background checks being performed on buyers, some states have no such requirement. In those states, unlicensed, private sellers can complete a sale with no background check on the purchaser. The landscape of private sellers varies across states. 

States With Purchase Permits 

While federal laws provide a baseline, states have their own regulations regarding background checks for gun purchases. In some states, all handgun purchases, whether through an FFL or private party, require background checks. A number of states also require buyers to obtain some type of permit or certificate to purchase handguns.

  • California: All purchases must be made through an FFL, although holders of a California Entertainment Firearms Permit (EFP) are exempt from the requirement of a background check. California requires a Firearms Safety Certificate (FSC) be obtained prior to any firearm purchase. This certificate is valid for five years and requires the completion of a firearms safety course.
  • Connecticut: Whether through an FFL or private party. Connecticut requires a permit to purchase all firearms. These permits are valid for five years and require the completion of an approved safety course. 
  • District of Columbia: All purchases must be made through an FFL
  • Hawaii: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction. Hawaii requires a permit to purchase all firearms. This permit requires a safety course if purchasing a handgun and a 14-day waiting period for all guns. In order to obtain this permit, a background check must be completed and you must sign a waiver allowing the state access to your mental health records. Handgun permits are valid for 10 days, which means you must make your purchase within that window. Long gun permits are valid for one year. 
  • Illinois: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction. Illinois requires a Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card.
  • Iowa: As of July 1, 2021, purchase permits are not required in order to acquire a pistol or revolver from a federally licensed firearms dealer. There are now several options, including obtaining a purchase permit, having a valid permit to carry weapons or completing a satisfactory national instant criminal background check.
  • Maryland: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction. Maryland requires a permit for handgun purchases, as well as for handgun rentals or even receiving one, such as with an inheritance. This permit is valid for 10 years.
  • Massachusetts: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction. Massachusetts requires a license to own firearms as well as a permit to purchase a firearm.
  • Michigan: Although Concealed Pistol License (CPL) holders and those purchasing a pistol from an FFL dealer do not need a Purchase Permit to purchase a pistol. Michigan requires a permit to purchase handguns when buying from individuals. This permit is good for 30 days
  • Nebraska: Nebraska requires a certificate to purchase handguns. This certificate is valid for three years and applies only to private sales by individuals
  • Minnesota: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction, a Minnesota Permit to Carry a Pistol or a Permit to Purchase/Transfer a Firearm is required
  • Nebraska: Whether through an FFL or a private transaction
  • New Jersey: Whether through an FFL or a private transaction. New Jersey requires a permit to purchase all firearms. The permit for long guns is called a Firearms Purchaser Identification Card (FPIC) and is valid as long as the purchaser is eligible to own a firearm.The handgun permit is purchase-specific (you need one for each purchase) and is valid for 90 days. Both permits require a background check as well as waiving confidentiality regarding any mental or psychiatric institutional confinement.
  • New York/NYC: Whether through an FFL or a private transaction. New York requires a license for all handgun purchases and possession.
  • North Carolina: North Carolina requires a permit to purchase a handgun, but this requirement doesn’t apply if the person has a concealed handgun permit
  • Rhode Island: Whether through an FFL dealer or a private transaction, a Purchase of a Pistol or Revolver Application is required.

Extended Waiting Periods

Federal law limits background check processing to three business days. If an FFL is not notified that the sale is prohibited to an individual, the sale can be completed. There are a number of states that extend the time allowed for completion of a background check, some through the use of mandatory waiting periods.

  • California: 10 days
  • District of Colombia: 10 days
  • Florida: Three days or the time it takes to complete the required criminal background check, whichever occurs later (The waiting period does not apply to holders of concealed weapons licenses.)
  • Hawaii: 14 days (except for sales to state or federally licensed dealers, law enforcement officers, persons with a license to carry a handgun or where a firearm is registered pursuant to state law)
  • Illinois: 72 hours (The purchaser must also have a FOID card issued by the State Police to purchase any firearm or ammunition.)
  • Maryland: Seven days
  • Maine: 72 hours. (The law goes into effect 90 days after the legislative session ends, which is around August 1, 2024.)
  • Minnesota: No waiting period with a with a permit or a Permit to Purchase/Transfer (If the individual does not have one of these permits, upon the purchase of a handgun from a FFL, there is a five- to seven-day waiting period, unless the chief of police or sheriff waives all or a portion of the waiting period.)
  • New Jersey: Valid permit to purchase a handgun is required and at least seven days must elapse since the date of application for the permit. (The waiting period to obtain the permit itself can be as long as 30 days or 45 days for non-residents while the permit application is processed.)
  • New Mexico: Seven days (The bill will take effect on May 15, 2024.)
  • Rhode Island: Seven days
  • Washington: No mandatory waiting period for handguns, however, the state allows 10 days to complete a background check on a prospective handgun purchaser prior to delivery of the handgun (If the purchaser does not have a valid permanent Washington driver’s license or state identification card or has not been a resident of the state for the previous consecutive 90 days, then the time period in this subsection shall be extended from ten business days to 60 days.)

A map of the U.S. showing which states require NICS background checks to purchase firearms.

Universal Background Checks

The debate surrounding background checks, including the idea of universal background checks, reflects a variety of opinions. Advocates for background checks argue these laws are a critical tool in enhancing public safety. Scrutinizing an individual’s criminal, mental health and civil records aims to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands, ultimately reducing the risk of tragic incidents.

Proponents emphasize that background checks act as a frontline defense. They believe that this precautionary measure can contribute significantly to reducing gun-related crime and enhancing overall public safety.

However, there are valid concerns about the implications on Second Amendment rights. Stringent background checks can infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens, creating unnecessary hurdles for those seeking to exercise the constitutional right to bear arms. Overly restrictive measures would disproportionately affect responsible gun owners without significantly impacting criminal access to firearms.

The introduction of universal background checks adds to the discussion. Advocates of universal background checks propose a comprehensive approach, arguing that closing so-called “loopholes” in private sales and transfers will further fortify the system. Theoretically, these ensure all individuals, regardless of where they purchase a firearm, undergo the same scrutiny.

However, the increased government oversight will not necessarily address the root causes of gun violence. A one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the nuances of individual cases and unfairly burdens law-abiding citizens.

States With NICS Checks for Firearms Transactions

The ATF lists the following states in which the FBI conducts NICS checks for all firearms transactions:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona 
  • Arkansas
  • Deleware
  • District of Columbia
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Lousiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts 
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Navigating Responsible Firearm Ownership

Navigating the complex terrain of firearm ownership involves understanding federal laws regarding background checks, state-specific requirements and potential exemptions. With the ATF background check, NICS background check and state laws playing crucial roles, it’s essential to stay informed.

Whether you’re exploring how to buy a gun or obtaining your a concealed carry permit being aware of your state’s regulations is key. Responsible firearm ownership is a shared commitment to safety and adherence to the evolving gun laws.

The information contained on this website is provided as a service to USCCA, Inc. members and the concealed carry community and does not constitute legal advice. Although we attempt to address all areas of concealed carry laws in all states, we make no claims, representations, warranties, promises or guarantees as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information disclosed. Legal advice must always be tailored to the individual facts and circumstances of each individual case. Laws are constantly changing, and, as such, nothing contained on this website should be used as a substitute for the advice of a lawyer.