Special Report

Universal Background Check Laws in Every State

ROB KERR / AFP via Getty Images

Background checks are designed to keep firearms out of the wrong hands by ensuring a prospective buyer does not have a history of criminal violence or irresponsible behavior. Typically completed in under two minutes, they pose virtually no burden on eligible gun buyers. And while there are strict federal background check regulations, each year, millions of firearms are sold without a background check. 

Under federal law, licensed firearm dealers are required to perform a background check on the buyer anytime they sell a gun. This law, however, does not apply to unlicensed sellers, including those who sell guns online, at gun shows, or elsewhere without a federal dealer’s license. While originally the idea was that those who buy and sell guns as a hobby would be exempt from conducting background checks, this loophole, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is exploited by unlicensed dealers to traffic firearms to prohibited buyers.

A 2022 Gallup survey found that 92% of American adults support background checks for all gun sales. But despite widespread public support, lawmakers in Washington have yet to enact universal background check laws. In the absence of federal legislation, many states have taken action. 

Using data from gun violence prevention group Giffords Law Center, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed background check laws in every state. 

Of the 50 states, 15 have universal background check laws on the books. Under these laws, all firearm sales are required to be conducted through a licensed dealer. In the case of private sellers, they are required to carry out a background check through licensed dealers or law enforcement. An additional six states have not enacted such laws, but rather, require (or will soon require) firearm owners to have a permit – and a background check is required to obtain the permit. (Here is a look at the states where the government will take your gun by force.)

Meanwhile, in 29 states, the loophole in the federal background check law remains. In these states, gun ownership rates tend to be far higher than they are in the 21 states with universal background checks. Gun violence also tends to be more common in states with the private seller loophole. Of the 15 states with the highest firearm death rate, only two have universal background check laws. (Here is a look at the states where anyone can get a gun today.)

Click here to see universal background check laws in every state.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

Alabama
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 52.8% of households (10th highest – tied)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 26.4 per 100,000 people – 4th highest (1,315 total)

Source: SteveChristensen / iStock via Getty Images

Alaska
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 57.2% of households (5th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 25.2 per 100,000 people – 6th highest (182 total)

Source: lucky-photographer / iStock via Getty Images

Arizona
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 36.0% of households (16th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 18.3 per 100,000 people – 17th highest (1,365 total)

Arkansas
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 51.8% of households (14th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 23.3 per 100,000 people – 8th highest (698 total)

Source: bbourdages / iStock via Getty Images

California
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 16.3% of households (6th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 9.0 per 100,000 people – 8th lowest (3,576 total)

Source: Creative-Family / iStock via Getty Images

Colorado
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 37.9% of households (19th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 17.8 per 100,000 people – 18th highest (1,064 total)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

Connecticut
> Universal background check laws? Yes, private sellers must submit a background check form to law enforcement, or sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer. Gun buyers must also have a permit.
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 18.8% of households (8th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 6.7 per 100,000 people – 6th lowest (248 total)

Source: hyderabadi / iStock via Getty Images

Delaware
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 38.7% of households (21st lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 16.6 per 100,000 people – 23rd highest (158 total)

Source: Aneese / iStock via Getty Images

Florida
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 28.8% of households (10th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 14.1 per 100,000 people – 17th lowest (3,142 total)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Georgia
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 37.7% of households (18th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 20.3 per 100,000 people – 14th highest (2,200 total)

Source: aimintang / E+ via Getty Images

Hawaii
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 9.1% of households (3rd lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 4.8 per 100,000 people – 2nd lowest (71 total)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Idaho
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 57.8% of households (4th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 16.3 per 100,000 people – 25th highest (309 total)

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

Illinois
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 22.6% of households (9th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 16.1 per 100,000 people – 25th lowest (1,995 total)

Source: SerrNovik / iStock via Getty Images

Indiana
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 42.4% of households (21st highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 18.4 per 100,000 people – 16th highest (1,251 total)

Source: dangarneau / iStock via Getty Images

Iowa
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 38.5% of households (20th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 11.2 per 100,000 people – 12th lowest (364 total)

Source: ginosphotos / iStock via Getty Images

Kansas
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 42.3% of households (22nd highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 17.3 per 100,000 people – 20th highest (503 total)

Source: BOB WESTON / iStock via Getty Images

Kentucky
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 52.5% of households (12th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 21.1 per 100,000 people – 13th highest (947 total)

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

Louisiana
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 52.3% of households (13th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 29.1 per 100,000 people – 2nd highest (1,314 total)

Source: Ultima_Gaina / iStock via Getty Images

Maine
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 47.7% of households (16th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 12.6 per 100,000 people – 14th lowest (178 total)

Source: nashvilledino2 / iStock via Getty Images

Maryland
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns, permit also required for handgun buyers
> Gun-ownership rate: 16.7% of households (7th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 15.2 per 100,000 people – 22nd lowest (915 total)

Source: zrfphoto / iStock via Getty Images

Massachusetts
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 9.0% of households (2nd lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 3.4 per 100,000 people – the lowest (247 total)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Michigan
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system, effective in 2024
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 38.9% of households (22nd lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 15.4 per 100,000 people – 23rd lowest (1,544 total)

Source: rruntsch / iStock via Getty Images

Minnesota
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system, effective Aug. 1, 2023
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: Handguns and assault-style weapons only
> Gun-ownership rate: 39.1% of households (23rd lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 10.0 per 100,000 people – 9th lowest (573 total)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

Mississippi
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 54.1% of households (8th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 33.9 per 100,000 people – the highest (962 total)

Source: benkrut / iStock via Getty Images

Missouri
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 52.8% of households (10th highest – tied)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 23.2 per 100,000 people – 9th highest (1,414 total)

Source: Ultima_Gaina / iStock via Getty Images

Montana
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 65.0% of households (the highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 25.1 per 100,000 people – 7th highest (280 total)

Source: ChrisBoswell / iStock via Getty Images

Nebraska
> Universal background check laws? Yes, through a gun-owner permit system
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: Handguns only
> Gun-ownership rate: 39.2% of households (24th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 10.3 per 100,000 people – 10th lowest (200 total)

Source: DenisTangneyJr / iStock via Getty Images

Nevada
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 32.9% of households (12th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 19.8 per 100,000 people – 15th highest (633 total)

Source: pmstephens / iStock via Getty Images

New Hampshire
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 46.3% of households (19th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 8.3 per 100,000 people – 7th lowest (123 total)

Source: DenisTangneyJr / E+ via Getty Images

New Jersey
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer. Gun buyers must also have a permit.
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 8.9% of households (the lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 5.2 per 100,000 people – 3rd lowest (475 total)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

New Mexico
> Universal background check laws? Yes, background check must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 35.9% of households (15th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 27.8 per 100,000 people – 3rd highest (578 total)

Source: Elisank79 / iStock via Getty Images

New York
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns, permit also required for handgun buyers
> Gun-ownership rate: 14.5% of households (5th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 5.4 per 100,000 people – 4th lowest (1,078 total)

Source: rustyl3599 / iStock via Getty Images

North Carolina
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 37.1% of households (17th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 17.3 per 100,000 people – 21st highest (1,839 total)

Source: powerofforever / E+ via Getty Images

North Dakota
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 53.3% of households (9th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 16.8 per 100,000 people – 22nd highest (128 total)

Source: Davel5957 / iStock via Getty Images

Ohio
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 41.9% of households (23rd highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 16.5 per 100,000 people – 24th highest (1,911 total)

Source: pabradyphoto / iStock via Getty Images

Oklahoma
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 54.9% of households (7th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 21.2 per 100,000 people – 12th highest (836 total)

Source: KingWu / E+ via Getty Images

Oregon
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer. Gun buyers must also have a permit.
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 41.4% of households (24th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 14.9 per 100,000 people – 21st lowest (670 total)

Source: Ultima_Gaina / iStock via Getty Images

Pennsylvania
> Universal background check laws? Yes, background check must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer or law enforcement
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: Handguns only
> Gun-ownership rate: 40.2% of households (25th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 14.8 per 100,000 people – 20th lowest (1,905 total)

Source: sgoodwin4813 / iStock via Getty Images

Rhode Island
> Universal background check laws? Yes, private sellers are required to submit an application from buyer to law enforcement
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns, permit also required for handgun buyers
> Gun-ownership rate: 13.9% of households (4th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 5.6 per 100,000 people – 5th lowest (64 total)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

South Carolina
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 45.0% of households (20th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 22.4 per 100,000 people – 11th highest (1,136 total)

Source: powerofforever / E+ via Getty Images

South Dakota
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 55.0% of households (6th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 14.3 per 100,000 people – 19th lowest (128 total)

Source: Art Wager / iStock via Getty Images

Tennessee
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 46.9% of households (18th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 22.8 per 100,000 people – 10th highest (1,569 total)

Source: dszc / E+ via Getty Images

Texas
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 35.5% of households (14th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 15.6 per 100,000 people – 24th lowest (4,613 total)

Source: mj0007 / iStock via Getty Images

Utah
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 39.7% of households (25th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 13.9 per 100,000 people – 16th lowest (450 total)

Source: Sean Pavone / iStock via Getty Images

Vermont
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 50.3% of households (15th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 11.9 per 100,000 people – 13th lowest (83 total)

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

Virginia
> Universal background check laws? Yes, background check must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 35.3% of households (13th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 14.3 per 100,000 people – 18th lowest (1,248 total)

Source: halbergman / E+ via Getty Images

Washington
> Universal background check laws? Yes, generally, all sales must be conducted through a federally licensed dealer
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: All handguns and long guns
> Gun-ownership rate: 32.1% of households (11th lowest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 11.2 per 100,000 people – 11th lowest (896 total)

Source: benkrut / iStock via Getty Images

West Virginia
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 60.0% of households (3rd highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 17.3 per 100,000 people – 19th highest (319 total)

Source: CharlieTong / iStock via Getty Images

Wisconsin
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 47.1% of households (17th highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 13.5 per 100,000 people – 15th lowest (793 total)

Source: JTSorrell / E+ via Getty Images

Wyoming
> Universal background check laws? No
> Firearm types subject to universal background check laws: None
> Gun-ownership rate: 60.7% of households (2nd highest)
> Firearm deaths in 2021: 26.1 per 100,000 people – 5th highest (155 total)

Methodology

To identify the background check laws in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data compiled by the gun violence prevention group Giffords Law Center

Supplementary data on the share of households that own a gun came from a 2020 study published by the RAND Corporation, a research and public policy advocacy group. States are ranked by the estimated share of households that owned at least one firearm in 2016, the most recent year of available data. 

We also reviewed 2021 firearm mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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