How Hard It Is to Buy a Handgun in Every State

In recent years, the debate over gun control in the United States has centered largely on assault-style rifles, like the AR-15. Surging in popularity in recent years, AR-15 style firearms are now the best selling rifle in the U.S. — and they have also been used in 10 of the country’s 17 deadliest mass shootings since 2012. But while AR-15s have dominated the political debate, both in Washington and statehouses across the country, every year in the United States, handguns take a far greater toll on public health. 

According to the FBI, 13,620 homicides were carried out with a firearm in 2020, and at least 59% of them were determined to have been carried out with a handgun. Meanwhile, only 3% of homicides were committed with a rifle. Additionally, a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that risk of suicide-by-firearm is eight times higher for male handgun owners than non-owners, and 35 times higher for female handgun owners. (Here is a look at the states where gun-related crimes are surging.)

In light of the specific risks posed by handguns, several states have implemented policies to better ensure safe and responsible ownership. These include background check expansions, mandatory safety courses, waiting periods for prospective buyers, and licensing and permitting procedures. Most states, however, have done none of the above — and in these places, virtually anyone without a record of criminal violence can legally obtain a handgun in a matter of minutes. 

To determine how hard it is to buy a handgun in each state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state-level handgun laws, compiled by the Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group. In each of the 50 states, we reviewed laws on licensing, permitting, and safety training requirements for handgun purchases and ownership. We also reviewed laws around universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and minimum age for handgun purchases, as well as age requirements for handgun possession. For states that have not designated minimum age requirements, federal age restrictions are listed. 

In keeping with the correlation between handguns and gun violence in general, states that have not implemented meaningful handgun regulations tend to have higher rates of firearm fatalities. Based on 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 of the 25 states with the highest gun mortality rates do not have mandatory waiting periods, licensing, or training requirements for handgun purchases or ownership. Meanwhile, nine of the 10 states with the lowest gun-death rates have enacted some or all of these policies. (These are the states with the strictest gun control laws.)

Click here to see how hard it is to buy a handgun in every state.

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