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What states have universal background checks

The Universal Background Check States

A gun regulation that has a certain amount of traction is that of universal background checks, which require anyone purchasing a firearm to undergo a background check. That applies equally to private purchases, so any sale of a firearm - at all - must involve a background check.

There are only a few background check states at the moment, so it isn't the most widespread regulation.

general background check

However, we will go over what dealing with a universal background check is like and which states are universal background check states.

What Is A Universal Background Check?

Universal background checks in and of themselves are a relatively recent phenomenon, as most universal background check laws have been passed in the past 20 years or so. However they are also one of the most widely advocated-for gun control measures for the purported benefits.

Generally speaking, "universal background checks" are a legal requirement that any gun sale - any at all - require the buyer to undergo a background check. Now, federal law mandates that anyone who sells guns for a living (such a person would have a Federal Firearms License) has to perform a background check to sell anyone a gun. Therefore, the intent of the law is to require background checks to be done on private sales and/or the "gunshow loophole."

Thus, any transfer of title (as it were) of a firearm from one person to another must involve a background check.

Firearms background checks

It doesn't matter if it's a sale or if you're giving the gun as a gift; the person taking possession has to undergo one at the point of transfer.

Universal Background Check States

Currently, there are nine universal background check states, and the District of Columbia mandates them as well. The universal background check states are:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington state
states with universal background checks implemented

However, there are exceptions with some of these states.

Maryland universal background checks apply to handguns and "assault weapons" instead of all firearms. If you're buying a bolt gun or a shotgun, you're fine, but a handgun or an AR...a background check is required.

Pennsylvania background checks only apply to handguns. Private sales of long guns are not thusly regulated.

However, all other states and the District of Columbia require a background check to be run.

How Do Those Background Checks Work For Private Gun Sales?

For private gun sales, there are a few different ways that a universal background check would work.

Purchasing from a private dealer

In some states, the transfer has to be done in the presence of a licensed dealer, such as at a gun store. California, Colorado, Delaware, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington state require sales to be done in this manner. In other words, a licensed dealer has to conduct or process the background check in order for the buyer to take possession.

Rhode Island, however, routes checks through state law enforcement. The buyer has to complete an application to purchase, which the seller submits to law enforcement so they can run the background check. Connecticut gives sellers the option of submitting the check to law enforcement or to go through a licensed dealer. Maryland and Pennsylvania likewise give buyers the option.

De Facto Universal Background Checks Via Permits To Purchase

Besides the de jure universal background check states, an additional eight states require the purchaser to have a permit to purchase a firearm, including from private parties. Often called a Firearms Owner Identification card or FOID, it's a permit to own, distinct from a permit to carry.

Acquiring a permit to own/purchase requires a background check. Therefore, these states have de facto universal background checks instead of de jure (meaning explicitly required by law) universal background checks. Those states are:

States with de facto universal background checks via permit to purchase
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina

That said, the states of Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina only require the permit to purchase handguns; the permit is not needed to purchase long guns. Otherwise, these states require any purchaser to have the requisite license from purchasing a gun from any party - licensed or private.

An example FOID

How Does A Universal Background Check Work?

Flow chart of a gun purchase

If making a purchase from a private party in a universal background check state, the most common procedure is to go to a gun store, pawn shop or sporting goods store to complete the sale. There, an FFL holder will take the information of the person making the purchase and run it through the appropriate background check system.

Typically, there will be a transfer fee involved, though the amount depends on the dealer you use.

Once the background check is complete, any requisite waiting periods must be completed prior to making the transfer. Then, the buyer can take possession.

If the check is conducted through state police or local law enforcement, the buyer completes any needed forms that must be submitted, which are then given to the appropriate authorities. They complete the check, and if the buyer is cleared...the same applies.

That's how universal background checks work.

Sam Hoober

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.