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Background Checks on All Gun Sales


Background Checks on All Gun Sales

What does it solve?

Background checks are the foundation of any comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy. 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, like non-dealers who sell guns online or at gun shows. This loophole enables people with felony convictions, domestic abuse restraining orders, and other people with prohibiting histories to buy guns with no questions asked. The loophole should be closed to require background checks on all gun sales—not just on the sale of firearms from licensed gun dealers.

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

Myth & Fact


Requiring background checks on all gun sales 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.

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, 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 in 2018 there were 1.2 million ads for the sale of a firearm that would not be subject to a background check. A 2015 survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans—22 percent—who acquired a firearm in the two years prior did so without a background check. 

Requiring background checks on all gun sales is 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

Survivor Story

Survivor Stories

Society failed our daughter. Elected officials must act to stop others from feeling our pain.

Alexandria Imani Burgos On October 19, 2014, our lives were shattered forever. Our daughter, Alexandria Imani Burgos, who was 18 years old at the time, went to pick up her younger brother, Christian, from a small birthday gathering at a friend’s house. While waiting inside, a stray bullet entered the… Continue


You might be wondering…

  1. 1 What is H.R. 8 and how will it close background check loopholes?
  2. 2 Would requiring background checks on all gun sales create a nationwide gun owner registry?
  3. 3 What is the Background Check Loophole?