GUN LAWS: Understanding state and federal

by Erik  

Gun laws are some of the most commonly misunderstood laws in existence. I am always surprised how many gun owners are wrong about their understanding of gun laws. Non-gun owners are also mislead and have some pretty interesting views on what they think the laws are. So I will provide a little crash course for understanding the difference between state and federal gun laws. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I am simply a well-read and self-educated gun owner. [adsense:]

First, there are two main types of gun laws: state and federal. In rare cases there are also county and city laws, but we will stick to state and federal in this article. Federal law designates what is legal at the national level. This means federal law overpowers local (state) laws. There is a theoretical exception to this but I will cover that later. Examples of federal gun laws are the National Firearms Act, and Gun Control Act. I will highlight the main points of those later. For those who just want to understand this via video here you go:

State laws are obviously governed in each state but usually further restrict any sanctions put in place by federal law. While NFA allows civilians to own silencers, some state laws prevent it. State laws concerning guns usually apply to the carry of concealed weapons, open carry, and background check procedures. Some states allow purchasers to take their guns home the same day, others don't. Some states only allow you to purchase guns with a permit or require approval before being able to purchase a gun at all. These are all examples of state laws.

Back to the discussion on federal law, the NFA (National Firearms Act) and GCA (Gun Control Act) are two main results of legislature that restrict both firearm dealing and ownership. The NFA was created shortly after prohibition in 1934. It's main purpose was to address classifications of guns and items along with taxes for such restricted items. Here are the highlights of the NFA:

  • Restricted ownership of classified items known as NFA items: Machine guns (MG), Short Barrel Rifles (SBR), Short Barrel Shotguns (SBS), Destructive Devices (DD), Silencers, and Any Other Weapon (AOW)
  • Created a national registry of NFA items
  • Established a $200 tax requirement for restricted item ownership
  • Designated classifications of firearm dealers known as Title 1 and Title 2 dealers

If you are interested in purchasing NFA items, this article will provide more information on the process.

The Gun Control Act was passed in 1968. Here are the highlights:
  • Forbid the sale of firearms to convicted criminals or mentally ill
  • Banned the importation of military surplus rifles
  • Mandated the FFL (Federal Firearms License) rules and regulations
  • Required all newly manufactured firearms to have serial numbers

There are some other regulations and stipulations to the acts above, but I have outlined the major ones. Both the NFA and CGA are enforced by the BATFE. You may see or hear of NFA items incorrectly called Class 3 items. The term Class 3 comes from NFA items being designated (per the NFA) as Title II firearms. A dealer who sells Title II firearms can also sell Title I firearms. Therefore, Title I and Title II reach a grand total of III. Hence the name Class III.

Switching gears back to state gun laws, remember that some states have laws which further restrict laws governed by the NFA or GCA. I will use California as an example. Among all the other crazy laws in California, state law restricts the private sale of firearms by individuals. Any private firearm transaction in the state of California must go through a FFL dealer. So, two people who agree to a transaction must meet at a FFL dealer in California to complete the transfer per state law. Meanwhile, in Florida, two people who agree to a transaction can meet anywhere and exchange cash for guns as long as they do not cross state lines. By not crossing state lines, they are acting within state and federal law as defined by the GCA.

Earlier in this article I mentioned a theoretical exception regarding federal laws overpowering state laws. This relates to legislation proposed earlier in 2013 by President Obama regarding an assault weapons ban. Numerous local Sheriffs released official statements saying they would not enforce such a ban if it were passed into law.

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