President Obama has indicated a move towards strengthening federal gun control measures, but the reality is that the majority of gun legislation in the US is enacted at the state level. That has brought broad variations across the country, with states taking different approaches to issues ranging from sales, permits, licensing, self-defence and carry laws.
Carrying firearms: open and concealed
Open-carry and concealed-carry laws determine how public citizens can carry firearms in public. Concealed carry generally refers to handguns, and is allowed in most states through various permits, requirements and local discretion. States that permit open carry vary in the types of firearms permitted, and often have exceptions that prohibit firearms in some locations.
Purchasing, possession, and registration
Licensing laws require an individual to obtain a permit to purchase, or a license to possess, some types of guns. Licensing laws are most effective when combined with gun registration, allowing law enforcement officials to trace crime guns and illegal firearms. These laws aim to limit the purchase and possession of illegal guns.
"Shoot First" laws
Twenty-seven states have enacted "shoot first" laws that allow a person to defend themselves in public using deadly force with no duty to retreat. Some of those states have slightly restrictive laws that only apply when a shooter is in a vehicle and others have weak laws that are defined through a combination of case law, jury decisions and statutes, and only provide shoot-first protections during criminal trials, among other circumstances.
Gun show and private seller "loopholes"
Federal law requires background checks for those purchasing guns from licensed dealers, but this leaves a loophole that allows private sellers to conduct a transaction without a background check. Some states have additional laws focused on gun shows and private sellers that extends the background-check requirement or imposes some other regulation.
In 2005, a federal law was passed making it illegal for any licensed gun dealer to sell or transfer a handgun unless a secure gun storage or safety device is provided. Some states have passed similar regulations, though many do not extend to private sales. When guns are lost or stolen, some states suggest, and others require, notifying the authorities, but most states do not have strong regulations or a formal process. Where guns are restricted State laws where guns are prohibited range from being highly intricate to vague at best. In some cases, states have allowed local regulators and venue administrators decide whether to prohibit firearms on the premises. Concealed and open carry laws may also apply.