Background checks are common sense, constitutional, and save lives—and they have overwhelming support from the American public, including among Republicans and gun owners. Current federal law requires that background checks be conducted whenever a person attempts to buy a gun from a licensed gun dealer. This is to ensure that the buyer is not legally prohibited from having the gun.
While federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers, it does not require background checks for guns sold by unlicensed sellers, including online, at gun shows, and to strangers. This loophole enables people with felony convictions, domestic abuse restraining orders, and other people with prohibiting histories to buy guns with no questions asked. Our background check laws should be updated and these loopholes should be closed.
Which states require background checks on all handgun sales?
21 states and D.C. require background checks on all handgun sales.
Last updated: 4.7.2021
How it works
Background checks keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Current federal law does not require background checks on sales between unlicensed parties. This means that people with dangerous histories can easily circumvent the background check system simply by purchasing their firearm online or at a gun show.
An Everytown investigation showed that as many as 1 in 9 people arranging to buy a firearm on Armslist.com, the nation’s largest online gun marketplace, are people who cannot legally have firearms. And the unlicensed sale marketplace is large: the same investigation found that each year, there are 1.2 million ads offering firearms for sale that would not legally require a background check to be completed.
Background checks are proven to reduce gun violence. State laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales—by point-of-sale check and/or permit—are associated with lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates, and lower firearm trafficking. When Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks—both for a handgun purchase permit and at the point of sale—its firearm homicide rate decreased by 40 percent and its firearm suicide rate decreased by 15 percent.
By the numbers
States with laws requiring background checks for all gun sales—by point-of-sale check and/or permit—were associated with 10 percent lower homicides rates.
93 percent of American voters support requiring background checks on all gun sales, including 89 percent of Republicans and 89 percent of gun owners.
Nearly 1 in 9 people looking to buy a firearm on Armslist.com are people who would fail a background check.
Each year, 1.2 million online ads offering firearms for sale are listed that would not legally require a background check to be completed.
99 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer.
Percent of Population within 10 Miles of a Gun Dealer by State
|District of Columbia||100.0%|
Myth & Fact
Closing these loopholes in our background check laws would be burdensome.
The most common federal background check legislation would simply require that unlicensed sellers meet their buyers at a gun dealer. The gun dealer will then run a background check in exactly the same way as for sales directly from the dealer’s store. 99 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of a gun dealer—so it’s easy and convenient to get the background check done. There are nearly 59,000 unique gun dealers across the country, four times as many as there are McDonald’s and nearly twice as many as U.S. post offices. Gun owners are already accustomed to this process, because they do it every time they buy a gun from a dealer.
Who supports background checks?
More than four in five voters in every state in the country agree that no gun sale should take place without a completed background check. (Hover map to see data by state.)
Last updated: 3.29.2021