How to Get a Gun License: State by State
In the course of states establishing their own guidelines and regulations regarding guns, some states have decided to take the extra step of requiring permits for gun ownership or for purchasing a firearm. Depending on the state, some of these permits are specific to the type of gun while others are a general-purpose permit. These permits are ways for the individual states to place additional regulatory requirements on the ownership of guns.
Discover whether you need a license to own a gun in your state below.
What Is a Gun License?
It's essential to make the distinction that these licenses or permits are not the same thing as a concealed carry permit. A concealed permit lets you conceal your firearm and carry it around with you without letting everyone know that you're armed. Concealed permits deal specifically with one aspect of firearm ownership, whereas general licenses and permits are requirements to even purchase a firearm to begin with.
The Requirements for Gun Ownership Vary by State
While there are different requirements for each state, typically these licenses require that you complete safety training and/or undergo a background check. Each state also has differing lengths of time that permits are valid, and that can range from days to years.
There is some degree of variation in the purpose of these permits as well. In some states, they're simply a license to purchase. In others, they're a license to own. These are important distinctions, because requiring a permit for ownership impacts people who move into these states after purchasing (or inheriting) firearms elsewhere. Additionally, some states require permits for specific types of guns, such as handguns or tactical rifles.
Which States Require Gun Licenses or Permits?
Currently, the states that require some form of license or permit for firearms ownership are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Washington, and Washington, D.C. The details and specifics of these permits are as follows.
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.
In order to complete this course, the applicant must pass a written safety test. Anyone purchasing a firearm in California is also required to perform a standardized safe handling demonstration with the firearm they're buying in the presence of a certified instructor. The law also specifies the handling tasks the buyer is required perform based on the type of firearm being bought.
Connecticut requires a permit to purchase all firearms types. These permits are valid for five years and require the completion of an approved safety course. These permits are revocable.
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. These permits are revocable.
Illinois requires a Firearms Owner Identification (FOID) card. To obtain this card, you must provide proof to the Department of State Police that you're not prohibited from firearms ownership. The FOID is valid for 10 years and may be revoked.
Iowa requires a permit to purchase handguns only. This permit requires a background check, is valid for five years, and is revocable.
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.
To obtain the permit, a person must pass an approved safety course. These approved courses provide instruction on state firearms law, home firearm safety, handgun mechanisms, gun operation, and an orientation component that demonstrates the person is safe in their operation and handling of a firearm.
Massachusetts requires a license to own firearms as well as a permit to purchase a firearm. The license to own is valid for six years, and the permit to purchase is valid for 10 days. Both of these are revocable and require an approved safety course and background check to obtain. The permit to purchase cannot be obtained without the license to own.
Michigan requires a permit to purchase handguns when buying from individuals. This permit is good for 30 days, is revocable, and is not required when purchasing from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL).
Nebraska requires a certificate to purchase handguns. This certificate is valid for three years and applies only to private sales by individuals.
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 requires a license for handgun purchases and possession. This license is valid for five years and must specify the caliber, make, and model of the firearm as well as the manufacturer's name and serial number. The license requires a background check. The potential licensee may only obtain the license if they are of "good moral character" and there is "no good cause" for denial of the license.
There are additional specifics for permits in New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. A New York City permit is only valid for three years.
North Carolina requires a permit to purchase a handgun, but this requirement doesn't apply if the person has a concealed handgun permit. Both permits are valid for five years. The purchase permit is only valid for the purchase of a single handgun and is revocable.
Rhode Island requires a safety certificate for handgun purchases. This certificate is issued by the Department of Environmental Management and is valid indefinitely. To obtain the certificate, a person must complete a two-hour safety course or have a concealed handgun license.
Washington requires a firearms safety certificate for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles. This certificate must have been obtained by completing a firearms safety course within the last five years. To meet approval standards, the course must include instruction on basic gun safety, how to store guns safely, how to talk to children about gun safety, information on suicide prevention, and the safe handling of firearms. It must also provide instruction in state and federal firearms laws and prohibited firearms transfers.
The Washington, D.C. requires that all firearms be registered at the time of purchase. This registration is in the form of a certificate. To obtain the registration certificate, a person must pass a background screening, have their fingerprints taken, and be photographed.
The application for the certificate also requires detailed information about the person applying and the gun being purchased. This certificate application may also be declined by the Chief of Police at their discretion. The certificate is valid as long as the person remains eligible for firearm ownership.
Other Considerations for Legal Gun Ownership
If your state is not listed here, that doesn't mean it won't require some form of license or permit in the future. The addition of Washington, for example, is as a direct result of law changes that took place in 2019.
If one thing is certain about firearms laws, it's that they're constantly changing, so it's a good idea to stay as up-to-date as possible on the situation where you live. Keeping an eye on organizations that promote gun ownership as well as those that promote restrictions on gun ownership is good practice to ensure you're in the know on potential legislation that could impact your rights as a gun owner.
As was pointed out above, New York City and other localities have laws and additional restrictions on firearms. It's wise to keep in mind that various localities within your state may have ordinances requiring specific permits and licenses as well. In general, the bigger the city, the more likely it has additional regulation. However, that doesn't mean small rural areas can't have regulations, so it's always important to be as informed as possible.
The reality of gun ownership is that keeping up with law changes — from the federal all the way down to the local level — is an ongoing commitment. No legal gun owner sets out to break the law, so it would be a shame to do so inadvertently and risk your ability to continue owning the guns you love and enjoy. With this guide and a little ongoing effort, you can stay informed, stay legal, and keep on shooting.