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Updating federal and state laws to require background checks on all gun sales is a common-sense way to keep guns out of the wrong hands and keep our communities safe. That is why:

93%

93 percent of American voters support requiring background checks on all gun sales, including 89 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of gun owners.

Everytown & Giffords Gun Safety Memo

Last updated: 3.25.2021

How do background checks work?

Background checks are the foundation of any effective effort to reduce gun violence and keep guns out of the wrong hands. Since federal law began requiring these background checks in 1994, over 4 million sales to prohibited purchasers have been blocked.1Connor Brooks, “Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2016-2017,” (US Bureau of Justice Statistics, February 2021), https://bit.ly/3fkRmbW. Data for 2018 through 2020 were obtained by Everytown from the FBI directly. Though the majority of the transactions and denials reported by FBI and BJS are associated with a firearm sale or transfer, a small number may be for concealed carry permits and other reasons not related to a sale or transfer.

What is the background check loophole?

Under federal law, background checks are only required for sales conducted by licensed dealers. It does not address gun sales by unlicensed sellers (e.g., non-dealers who sell guns online or at gun shows). This loophole makes it easy for people with felony convictions, domestic abuse restraining orders, and/or prohibiting histories of mental illness to buy guns with no questions asked. While federal law expanded in 2024 to require more background checks nationwide, the loophole in the law remains.

Thankfully, many states and Washington, DC, have enacted laws that require background checks for all handgun sales at the point of sale and/or as part of a purchase permit. However, the loophole still exists in most states.

Which states require background checks and/or permits to purchase handguns?

22 states have adopted this policy

AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Alabama has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Alaska has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Arizona has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Arkansas has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

California has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Colorado has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Connecticut has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase and point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Delaware has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase (for handguns) and point-of-sale (for all guns)

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Florida has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Georgia has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Hawaii has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Idaho has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Illinois has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase and point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Indiana has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Iowa has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Kansas has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Kentucky has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Louisiana has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Maine has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns) sold at a gun show or as a result of an advertisement
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Maryland has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase (for handguns) and point-of-sale (for all guns)

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Massachusetts has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Michigan has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Minnesota has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
Handguns and semiautomatic military-style assault weapons
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase or point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Mississippi has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Missouri has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Montana has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Nebraska has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
Handguns only
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Nevada has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

New Hampshire has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

New Jersey has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase and point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

New Mexico has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

New York has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase (for handguns and semiautomatic rifles) and point-of-sale (for all guns)

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

North Carolina has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

North Dakota has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Ohio has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Oklahoma has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Oregon has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Permit to purchase and point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Pennsylvania has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
Handguns only
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Rhode Island has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

South Carolina has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

South Dakota has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Tennessee has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Texas has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Utah has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Vermont has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Virginia has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Washington has adopted this policy

Does the law cover only handgun purchases, or also rifle and shotgun purchases?
All firearms (handguns, rifles, and shotguns)
When is the background check performed?
Point-of-sale

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

West Virginia has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Wisconsin has not adopted this policy

Background Check and/or Purchase Permit

Wyoming has not adopted this policy

Why does closing this loophole matter?

22%

22 percent of Americans report acquiring their most recent gun without a background check.

Miller M., Hepburn L., and Azrael D., “Firearm Acquisition Without Background Checks: Results of a National Survey”. Annals of Internal Medicine. (2017).

Everytown’s research into Armslist.com—the largest online gun marketplace, which did not exist when the federal background check law was enacted more than 30 years ago—found that prospective online buyers are seven times more likely to fail a background check than other firearm purchasers or permit applicants, suggesting that prohibited buyers seek out opportunities to skip a background check.2Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Unchecked: An Investigation of the Online Firearm Marketplace,” February 1, 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/report/unchecked-an-investigation-of-the-online-firearm-marketplace/. 

A 2024 ATF analysis of five years of closed firearm trafficking investigations found that unlicensed sellers who do not conduct background checks are the most common suppliers of illegally trafficked firearms. Unlicensed sellers supplied over half of the trafficked guns in these investigations, amounting to more than 68,000 trafficked guns from 2017 to 2021.3ATF, “National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment (NFTCA), Volume III: Firearms Trafficking Investigations,” April 2024, https://www.atf.gov/firearms/national-firearms-commerce-and-trafficking-assessment-nfcta-firearms-trafficking.

How do we close this loophole?

Under a point-of-sale background check law, unlicensed sellers must meet their buyers at the location of a licensed gun dealer, who runs a background check using the same process already used for the sale of their own inventory. This is convenient because:

>90%

More than 90 percent of FBI background checks are completed immediately.

FBI, “National Instant Criminal Background Check System 2022 Operations Report,” 2023, https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/nics-2022-operations-report.pdf/view.

Last updated: 5.10.2024

78k

There are nearly 78,000 licensed gun dealers in the US, more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Wendy’s locations combined.

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, “Inside the Gun Shop: Firearms Dealers and their Impact,” July 6, 2023.

Source: Everytown Research analysis of ATF, Monthly Federal Firearms Listings, 2022, and US Postal Service, “Postal Facts: Postal Service-managed Retail Offices,” 2023.

In 2022, there were nearly 78,000 active gun dealers.4Everytown Research analysis of ATF, Monthly Federal Firearms Listings, 2022. Total listings were deduplicated based on unique addresses. This total does not include Type 3 license holders, who are not permitted to sell firearms and thus are not engaged in the business of firearm sales. This is over twice as many gun dealers as US Postal Service post offices, and more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Wendy’s locations combined.5Everytown Research analysis of ATF, Monthly Federal Firearms Listings, 2022, and restaurant data: totals were 13,232 McDonald’s, 7,257 Burger King, 21,781 Subway, and 5,987 Wendy’s locations. There are 31,132 Postal Service-managed retail offices in the US.

Gun Dealer Concentration by State

StateGun dealers per 100,000 residents, 2022
United States24.5
Wyoming132.8
Montana115.7
Alaska89.4
South Dakota71.7
Idaho71.3
North Dakota70.9
Vermont60.9
West Virginia57.6
Arkansas51.0
Iowa47.6
Oklahoma45.6
Kansas45.5
Maine45.4
New Hampshire44.5
Utah42.6
Nebraska42.4
Missouri41.8
Colorado39.7
Mississippi37.9
Arizona37.4
Oregon37.0
Kentucky36.6
New Mexico36.5
Wisconsin30.8
Louisiana30.3
Texas29.9
Alabama29.8
Minnesota29.6
North Carolina29.0
South Carolina28.4
Tennessee27.7
Nevada27.0
Indiana25.8
Ohio25.6
Pennsylvania25.4
Michigan25.4
Virginia25.3
Georgia23.8
Florida20.3
Washington19.8
Connecticut18.6
Delaware15.4
Illinois13.2
Maryland12.6
New York11.0
Rhode Island9.9
Massachusetts9.1
Hawaii7.6
California6.8
New Jersey4.0
District of Columbia0.9
Source: Everytown Research analysis of ATF, Monthly Federal Firearms Listings, 2022 and US Census American Community Survey 1-Year Population Estimates, 2022.

In January 2018, a woman in Appleton, Wisconsin, was shot and killed by her husband, who purchased a firearm from a seller he met online, despite his prohibiting felony conviction.6Alison Dirr, “Five Years Apart, Armslist Was Source of Guns in High-Profile Domestic Violence Deaths,” Post Crescent, September 19, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Pu4YI9. A background check requirement for unlicensed sales could have saved her.

Does closing this loophole make us safer?

States that go beyond federal law and require background checks for unlicensed sales are associated with a 10 percent lower homicide rate,7Michael Siegel and Claire Boine, What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides? Albany, NY: Rockefeller Institute of Government, March 2019. https://bit.ly/2YPAz7P. as well as lower rates of firearm suicide8Eric W. Fleegler, Lois K. Lee, Michael C. Monuteaux, David Hemenway, and Rebekah Mannix, “Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States,” JAMA Internal Medicine 173,no. 9 (2013): 732-740. and gun trafficking.9Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, and Maria T. Bulzacchelli, “Effects of State-Level Firearm Seller Accountability Policies on Firearm Trafficking,” Journal of Urban Health 86, no. 4 (July 2009): 525–537. Federal law bars felons from having firearms but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Daniel W. Webster, Jon S. Vernick, Emma Beth McGinty, and Ted Alcorn, “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals Through Effective Firearm Sales Laws,” in Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, 109-121. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

States that go beyond federal law and require background checks for unlicensed gun sales are associated with:

↓ 10%

States that go beyond federal law and require background checks for unlicensed gun sales are associated with 10 percent lower homicide rates.

Siegel M., and Boine C. “What Are the Most Effective Policies in Reducing Gun Homicides?”. Rockefeller Institute of Government, (2019). https://bit.ly/2YPAz7P.

States that go beyond federal law and require background checks for unlicensed gun sales are associated with markedly lower rates of firearm suicide.

Fleegler EW., Lee LK., Monuteaux MC., Hemenway D., Mannix R. “Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States”. JAMA Intern Med. ;173(9):732–740. (2013). https://bit.ly/3fLMtqH

States that go beyond federal law and require background checks for unlicensed gun sales are associated with markedly lower rates of gun trafficking.

Webster D. W., Vernick J. S., & Bulzacchelli M. T. “Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking”. Journal of urban health : bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86(4), 525–537. (2009). https://bit.ly/2XP20jx Webster D., Vernick J., McGinty E., Alcorn T., “Preventing the Diversion of Guns to Criminals Through Effective Firearm Sales Laws”. Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, 109-121. (2013).

Background Check Stories

These stories provide a few illustrations of tragedies that could have been prevented if a background check was required when the shooter bought their gun. While they do not cover every case, these stories provide important examples of why legislation to require a background check on all gun sales is crucial.

Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.

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