Universal firearm background checks

Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks of potential handgun purchasers’ criminal histories via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) which includes fugitive status, court restraining orders, and some information regarding severe mental illness. States can also require unlicensed dealers (i.e., private sellers) to perform background checks and keep records of firearm sales via universal background checks. Universal checks are often adopted with other efforts to strengthen background checks such as expansions to other types of firearms, additional qualification criteria, and regulations that require licenses to purchase or own firearms (LCPGV).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced homicide

  • Reduced suicide

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that universal firearm background check laws reduce firearm homicide and suicide (). On average, states with universal background check laws have lower firearm homicide () and suicide rates than states without such laws (, ). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of October 2015, thirteen states require universal background checks for all types of firearm sales and six states (Iowa, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania) require universal checks for handguns only (USA Firearm Training).

Most states prevent local governments from enacting gun laws via state preemption legislation (Grassroots Change); as of 2015, only seven states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) allow local governments to enact gun laws.

Implementation Resources

US DOJ-ATF - US Department of Justice (US DOJ). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Firearms research - Firearms Research. Prevalence, patterns, and prevention of firearm violence.

LCPGV - Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (LCPGV). Because smart gun laws save lives.

JHCGPR - Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research (JHCGPR). Reducing gun-related injuries and deaths.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Santaella-Tenorio 2016* - Santaella-Tenorio J, Cerda M, Villaveces A, Galea S. What do we know about the association between firearm legislation and firearm-related injuries? Epidemiologic Reviews. 2016;38(1):140-157.

Anestis 2015b* - Anestis MD, Anestic JC. Suicide rates and state laws regulating access and exposure to handguns. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(10):2049-2058.

Fleegler 2013* - Fleegler EW, Lee LK, Monuteaux MC, Hemenway D, Mannix R. Firearm legislation and firearm-related fatalities in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013;173(9):732-740.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Grassroots Change - Grassroots Change. Connecting for better health.

USA Firearm Training - USA Firearm Training. Everything you need to know about universal background checks.

Date Last Updated

Sep 22, 2016