When it comes to the question of legality of certain guns, ammo, magazines and other firearms-related devices in the United States, straightforward answers don't always exist.
There can be an extreme degree of variance from state to state.
That said, we're going to try to uncomplicate the facts and explain the legalities as best we can.
Just bear in mind that laws are constantly changing and we aren't lawyers — as such, this post doesn't constitute legal advice.
Why Do States Have So Much Control?
Despite the fact that firearms are the domain of the federal government, the republic nature of the constitutional arrangement means that states — and even individual localities — are free to enact their own laws regarding firearms.
That's provided those regulations don't conflict with the Constitution or interfere with federal efforts.
In the event that happens, the federal government typically takes the issue to court to force changes on the part of the states’ legislation under the Supremacy Clause.
The Supremacy Clause is found in the second clause of Article VI of the Constitution.
In short, it states that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and everything else falls under that authority.
The republic nature of the United States, which allows for states to have some level of control, is a good thing.
But it can definitely lead to confusion when it comes to gun laws — especially when states may have strict gun laws.
Some states are more restrictive in this regard (California in particular). But even those that are less stringent have some regulations in place.
So, in keeping with that, let’s start with things that are absolutely not in the clear for all 50 states.
What Firearms Are Not Legal in All States?
While the classification of modern rifles like the AR-15 as “assault rifles” is a subject of much debate, we’re not getting into the semantics here.
Suffice it to say that some states have determined that these guns meet the qualifications for assault rifles and have taken steps to ban or restrict them.
With that in mind, you should know that California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia prohibit assault weapons in some way.
If you live in one of these states, you will likely not be able to buy a standard AR, if you can buy an AR at all.
In the event ARs are allowed in these states, they usually must be heavily modified in design.
It isn’t just ARs that find themselves in this category, either; it can be other rifles too, so make sure you do your research before getting your heart set on something.
In addition to restricting assault rifles, most of those same states restrict or prohibit the sale of guns that fire .50 BMG.
The problem seems to be the fact that the rounds these guns fire are large in length and diameter. The state administrations view the bigger bullets as more dangerous.
So, if you have your heart set on that sweet Barrett you saw, research your state’s gun laws before you start saving up for it.
Another big issue for restrictions is that of magazine capacity.
Those leading the charge for firearms restrictions tend to refer to magazines that hold more than 10 rounds as “high capacity” magazines.
In actuality, the 30-round magazine is the standard capacity. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about these magazines at all.
The “high capacity” designation and restrictions on such guns would also disqualify a number of handgun magazines.
The standard capacity Glock 17 will have to be traded in for a Glock 43 in certain states. Or, you can keep it, but you’ll need to buy a modified magazine that only accepts the requisite substandard amount.
What Guns Are Legal in All 50 States?
What can we buy that’s legal in all 50 states? Thankfully, there are still plenty of firearms available that meet this requirement.
If an AR is out of the question, don’t worry.
There are actually plenty of rifle styles available that are very usable and modern without falling into the assault rifle category in any state.
The most obvious ones are lever action and bolt action rifles.
While lever action rifles are often thought of as relics of the Old West, they’ve recently made a comeback. Many people find them reliable and fun to shoot.
The cowboy-style mechanism for ejecting and loading rounds does evoke feelings of the Wild West, which adds to the enjoyment of the gun overall.
Bolt action rifles are also quite common as they’re the type of rifle preferred by many hunters.
The deliberate chambering and ejecting action of the gun makes them great for precision and long-distance shooting.
Plus, you can find tons of accessories and modifications to help you personalize these guns. If you want something that is the most likely rifle to be legal in all 50 states, this is your best bet.
Those aren’t your only options, though. There are plenty of semiautomatic rifles available that don’t frighten people like the AR does, so they are still legal in most jurisdictions.
There might be a little more restriction on these when it comes to finding something legal across all 50 states, but you aren’t relegated to only bolt or cowboy-action guns.
When it comes to finding a gun that is compliant throughout the entire United States, pistols are a much easier sell than rifles in most cases.
They’re smaller and therefore less threatening.
Again, we’re not in the business of legal advice, so check your local laws, but a revolver is a good bet for cross-country legal compliance.
You’re not limited to revolvers, though. You can find plenty of modern polymer-framed striker-fired pistols like Glocks, HKs, Sig Sauers and others that won’t violate state laws — not to mention the steel framed guns like the immortal 1911.
Pistols definitely offer a way to have a modern, effective firearm for sport or self-defense while remaining legal in even restrictive states.
In most cases, the issue you’ll run into would be magazine size, so simply make sure your magazines are all under the limit and you’re often good to go.
The most likely gun to be complaint in all areas of this great nation is a shotgun.
Even anti-gun politicians tend to give shotguns a pass. Joe Biden, who is in favor of increased gun control, famously recommended people “buy a shotgun” during a debate in 2012.
While these guns can be powerful, they just aren’t usually seen as threatening by the gun control lobby, so you can find plenty of options for shotguns that will work across all state lines.
There are several varieties of shotguns too.
You can get semiautomatic, pump action and even single-shot break-action shotguns.
Laws can be complex, and in a country as large as the United States, there is a large degree of variance from one jurisdiction to the next.
It can be overwhelming trying to keep up, and it's frustrating when laws change and make things we want — or even already own — illegal where we live.
While there are potential remedies for these things, this is not the forum for that, so we try to keep you up to date with options.