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