Federal Gun Control Laws

Federal law, in addition to state law, governs the types of weapons that can be owned and who can own them.

If you want to acquire or carry a firearm anywhere in the United States, you will need to qualify under the federal gun control laws. In addition to federal laws, you must also comply with the firearm laws of your state. To learn more about the gun laws in your state, see our topic page on  Gun Laws,  and click the link to your state under the section entitled “Gun Laws by State."

Do I need a federal permit to possess or carry a firearm?

The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and a later revision of that law, Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968, govern the possession and use of certain weapons.   Weapons regulated by these laws are usually called NFA or Title II firearms. NFA weapons include machine guns, silencers, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns (including sawed-off shotguns), grenades, and others.

NFA weapons must have a serial number and be registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly called the ATF or BATF. (If such a weapon isn’t already registered, you cannot register it; it is illegal to own.) They can be possessed and used only by the registered owner.   To transfer a registered firearm, the owner must get ATF approval (which requires first being photographed and fingerprinted and getting approval from local law enforcement). There is a $200 transfer tax ($5 for some items).

For weapons that are not NFA or Title II weapons, you do not need a federal permit to possess or carry them, but you will need to obtain a permit according to the laws of your state.

Must I undergo a federal background check to buy a gun or get a firearm carry permit?

Yes. Under a federal law called the Brady Handgun Prevention Act of 1993 (the Brady Act), a federally licensed firearms dealer must run a background check before selling you a weapon. This search examines your criminal history, including whether there is a record of your having ever been adjudicated as “mentally defective," which prohibits you from obtaining a firearm. (See  Supreme Court: Straw Purchases of Guns are Illegal.)

Are certain categories of people prohibited from possessing a gun under federal law?

Yes. Federal law prohibits convicted felons and people who have been adjudicated as “mentally defective” from possessing a firearm.

Does federal law prohibit me from carrying a firearm in certain places or circumstances?

Yes. Federal law prohibits you from possessing a firearm on school grounds, on some federal lands, and federal buildings. As of 2010, however, visitors to national parks may carry loaded guns into the parks, with a few areas declared out of bounds.

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