Firearm licensing laws

Firearm licensing laws require individuals to obtain a permit to purchase a firearm or a license to own the firearm before purchasing. States can issue a license or permit only after a potential purchaser completes background checks; some states also require safety training, or knowledge and performance testing before granting a permit or license (GLC).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced homicide

  • Reduced suicide

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced gun trafficking

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that firearm licensing laws decrease firearm homicides and suicides (Crifasi 2015*, Rudolph 2015*).

Overall, states with permit-to-purchase laws have lower firearm suicide rates than states without such laws, and lower suicide rates following implementation of these laws (Crifasi 2015*, Rudolph 2015*, Kalesan 2016*). Repealing such laws may increase firearm suicide and homicide rates (Santaella-Tenorio 2016*, Crifasi 2015*).

License to own and permit to purchase laws are both associated with reductions in firearm suicide rates (Anestis 2015*) and gun trafficking (GLC, JHCGPR).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Federal law does not regulate licensing of firearms and prohibits the establishment of a federal handgun registration system (VPC). As of 2015, only seven states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) allow local governments to enact gun laws; local governments in other states generally cannot enact gun laws due to state preemption legislation (Grassroots Change).

As of November 2015, New York requires a license to own handguns and Illinois and Massachusetts require a license to own any firearms. Ten states and Washington DC require a permit to purchase handguns or other firearms, and Nebraska requires a certificate for handgun purchase in some regions. Safety training or an exam is a prerequisite for a license or a permit in eight states (GLC, JHCGPR).

Implementation Resources

Everytown-Gun law navigator - Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund (Everytown). Gun law navigator.

RAND-Firearm law database - Cherney S, Morral AR, Schell TL. RAND state firearm law database. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation; 2018.

GLC - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Save lives from gun violence.

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

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

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

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Crifasi 2015* - Crifasi CK, Meyers JS, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Preventive Medicine. 2015;79:43-49.

Rudolph 2015* - Rudolph KE, Stuart EA, Vernick JS, Webster DW. Association between Connecticut's permit-to-purchase handgun law and homicides. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(8):e49-e54.

Kalesan 2016* - Kalesan B, Mobily ME, Keiser O, Fagan JA, Galea S. Firearm legislation and firearm mortality in the USA: A cross-sectional, state-level study. Lancet. 2016;387(10030):1847-1855.

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 2015* - Anestis MD, Khazem LR, Law KC, et al. The association between state laws regulating handgun ownership and statewide suicide rates. American Journal of Public Health. 2015;105(10):2059-2067.

GLC - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Save lives from gun violence.

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

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

VPC - Violence Policy Center (VPC). Research, investigation, analysis, and advocacy for a safer America.

Grassroots Change - Grassroots Change: Connecting for better health. Preemption Watch.

GLC - Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (GLC). Save lives from gun violence.

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

Date Last Updated