About Buying a Gun & Background Searches

By Contributing Writer

  • Overview

    Due to stricter gun control laws, you must abide by strict regulations when you buy a handgun. These standards are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of the United States Justice Department. There are laws regarding who can sell firearms as well as who can buy them. When you apply for a gun, you will be subject to a background check, just as those who sell the firearms are.
  • Licensing

    Anyone who sells guns and ammunition is required to possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL). The ATF regulates the distribution of these licenses. Requirements for an FFL include being over the age of 21, complying with the Gun Control Act (GCA) and not being prohibited from the shipment, sale or possession of firearms within the United States. Anyone with an FFL is also held accountable to local and state business laws, as well as the local chief law enforcement agent. This type of regulation of gun dealers allows the government to better regulate who is permitted to buy these weapons.
  • Background Checks

    Following the enactment of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act), the United States Attorney established the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system allows any FFL holder to call or go online at any time and check the background of a potential firearm buyer. This system does away with the traditional waiting period that was required before the purchase of a firearm. An FFL holder can instantly determine if the customer is prohibited by any background information from legally purchasing a weapon.


  • Considerations

    To legally purchase a gun in the United States, you must pass a background check. The guidelines for passing are set forth by the federal government in compliance with the Brady Act. The Brady Act prohibits the sale of firearms to anyone with these criteria: anyone who is under indictment or been convicted of any crime punishable by more than 1 year in prison; anyone who is a fugitive; anyone who is an unlawful user or addict of a controlled substance; anyone who has been committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as a mental defective; any illegal alien; anyone dishonorably discharged from the military; anyone who has renounced citizenship to the United States; anyone who is the subject of a protective order citing stalking, harassment or threats to an intimate partner or child; and any person convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Other guidelines include age limits of 18 to purchase a long gun and 21 to purchase a handgun.
  • Geography

    Although every handgun purchase is accompanied by a background check, there are varying laws on the purchase of guns from state to state. Assault weapons are prohibited in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Other variations of assault weapons are also banned in Ohio, Hawaii, California, Maryland, parts of Illinois and Massachusetts. There are also certain states that have NICS exemptions. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wyoming all have exemptions when a "right to carry" permit is involved. In the following states, purchasers are exempt from NICS checks if they hold a state license to possess or purchase or firearms ID cards: Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and the District of Columbia. California, Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island all have a state-mandated waiting period for all sales. The laws vary on nearly every point of gun purchase and ownership between the states. The only regulations that are set nationwide are those set for by the ATF, the Gun Control Act and the Brady Act.
  • Function

    There is, and will always be, a long-standing debate on the right to bear arms. The purpose of agencies like the ATF is to ensure that guns are distributed, owned and tracked as safely as possible. The Brady Act is a major factor in the way guns are bought and sold today. Programs like the NICS, which stemmed from the Brady Act, gave the government a tighter grip on monitoring the weapons trade in the United States. All of these regulations, laws, waiting periods and background checks make the purchase, sale and carrying of firearms safer for law-abiding citizens.
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