January 24, 2020 Blog

Know Your Federal Gun Laws

At the Alliance, we spend a lot of time talking about updating our existing laws and passing new laws to keep our communities safe from gun violence. But we don’t talk as often about what gun laws are currently on the books.

That got us thinking, how well do you know our country’s gun laws? Take this short quiz to find out!



Well done! You know your stuff. Want to increase your score even more?




Don’t worry — the world of gun laws is (sometimes deliberately!) confusing, but we’re here to help.


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#1 Everyone is required to undergo a background check when purchasing a firearm.

FALSE: Federal law only requires federally licensed firearm dealers to conduct background checks. Thousands of guns every year are bought from private sellers–often online or at gun shows–that do not require a background check.


#2 Background checks on gun sales from federally licensed dealers were not required until what year:

1994: The Brady Bill mandated background checks for sales by federally licensed dealers.


#3 A federal database exists with records of all gun purchases in the United States.

FALSE: Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to maintain sales records, but the requirement does not extend to private sellers and dealer records are not kept in a centralized database. Additionally, federal law requires the FBI to destroy approved background check records after just 24 hours.


#4 Federal law prohibits which of the following individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms?

ALL OF THE ABOVE: Crucially, federal law does NOT prohibit abusive dating partners or convicted stalkers from possessing firearms. This is commonly referred to as the “boyfriend loophole.” 


#5 Federal law does not restrict the open carry of firearms in public.

TRUE: Federal law does not restrict the open carry of firearms in public. Only a handful of states prohibit open carry, though most open carry laws are subject to exceptions like school campuses, state-owned buildings, etc.


#6 Law enforcement are allowed to sell guns recovered from crime scenes.

TRUE: Many states allow and some states actually REQUIRE law enforcement to sell firearms recovered from crime scenes.


#7 When did the federal assault weapons ban expire?

2004: The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which included an assault weapons ban, was passed in 1994 and included a 10 year sunset provision. Research shows that the federal assault weapons ban was associated with a 25 percent drop in gun massacres and a 40 percent drop in fatalities.


#8 Under federal law, you must be 21 years old to purchase a firearm.

FALSE: Federal law prohibits federally licensed dealers from selling handguns to individuals under 21 years of age. But federally licensed dealers can sell long guns (rifles and shotguns) to individuals 18 and over.


#9 Under federal law, if the required FBI background check is not completed in three days, the federally licensed dealer is allowed to proceed with the sale anyway.

TRUE: This is known as the “Charleston loophole,” because it allowed the perpetrator of the 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC to purchase his weapon.


#10 Federal law requires training for purchasing military-style weapons.

FALSE: Federal law does not require any training for purchasing any type of firearm.