Our founders’ experiment in self-government gave us the gift of Federalism, where states unite under a centralized governing authority while honoring a state’s rights. Though the power of the federal government has increased, the United States still maintains great contrast on the subject of gun ownership from states to states. Here’s a quick assessment of each state’s gun laws in a format that ranks them from worst to first for gun owners.
51. Washington, D.C.
While D.C. is hardly a home for America’s gun owners, things have improved slightly in the last few years. The District is in the process of imposing a “may issue” permit system that is unlikely to issue many, if any, permits to law-abiding citizens within the city. D.C. residents must still register all firearms with the Metro Police Department, and legal shooting opportunities within the District are nonexistent. If you’re a gun owner looking to move to the D.C. area, take a hard look at Northern Virginia instead.
50. New York
All we can say that’s positive about gun laws within the Empire State is that they haven’t gotten any worse. New York remains a very difficult state for gun owners, with mandatory handgun licensing, magazine capacity limits and a total ban on NFA items. Carry permits are granted on a “may issue” basis and obtaining one is no easy task. You’ll still find some shooting sports activity in upstate areas, but the overall climate for gun owners is bad.
49. New Jersey
Ownership of tactical rifles is tightly regulated in New Jersey, and state law bans suppressors. Carry permits are “may issue” and are not readily available.
Licenses are required for the ownership of all firearms, and tactical-looking rifles are all but banned unless grandfathered and registered. The state’s magazine capacity limit is 10 rounds. Carry permits are “may issue,” but they are actually obtainable. The state police can issue temporary nonresident permits.
Hawaii’s gun laws are very restrictive. Permits to acquire are required for all firearms. A 10-round magazine restriction is on the books along with a complete ban on NFA items. Self-defense laws are mediocre. If you’re a hunter, there are some surprisingly good outdoor opportunities, which may be the only silver lining in paradise.
While many states have backed away from efforts to restrict the rights of their gun owners, California is moving full steam ahead. Although much of California’s geography is true rural America, the big cities dominate the political landscape and enact strict gun laws accordingly. California uses a restrictive “approved” handgun list that makes some models (many already discontinued by the manufacturer) available in the state, and the mere act of shipping a firearm to a dealer in California can be complicated. A 10-day waiting period is imposed on all firearms acquisitions, and registration is required. Tactical-looking rifles are restricted as are standard-capacity magazines not grandfathered in. Mere possession of certain magazines is banned in some municipalities, and most NFA items, including suppressors, are not allowed.
Licensing requirements are in place for all firearms, and handgun owners are required to have a permit to possess a handgun anywhere outside the home. Mere possession of an unregistered magazine holding more than 10 rounds is a felony, and tactical rifles must be registered and grandfathered in. Carry permits are “may issue” but are generally given if an applicant meets certain criteria. Permits from other states are not recognized. Both suppressors and machine guns are legal if registered with both ATF and in-state authorities.
Carry permits in Maryland are “may issue” and rare. Handguns must be registered and require a permit to own, though rifles and shotguns do not. Tactical rifles are prohibited, with some exceptions (including LWRC rifles, which are made in the state).
Illinois has gone from one of the worst states for gun owners to “not so bad as long as you don’t live in Chicago” these last few years. The state’s “shall issue” concealed carry permit system is up and running for both residents and nonresidents. Illinois’ Firearm Owner’s Identification, or “FOID,” requirement remains in effect for all residents wishing to touch a firearm or ammunition except for those possessed by nonresidents in accordance with state law. Suppressors are not permitted in Illinois. Short-barreled rifles are not allowed. At the point of sale, there is a three-day waiting period before picking up a handgun, and a 24-hour waiting period is applied to all long guns. The state has strong use-of-force laws, and all tactical rifles are legal outside of municipalities such as Chicago and Highland Park.
42. Rhode Island
Despite numerous efforts to pass more-restrictive gun control laws in the Ocean State, none have passed. Rhode Island requires a seven-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, and a safety course is required in order to purchase a handgun. The state has a decent right-to-carry law in place and does not restrict tactical rifles. The state has relatively weak self-defense statutes with no Castle Doctrine-type law on the books, and all NFA items are prohibited.
A rather cumbersome “may issue” CCW law prevents Delaware from clawing its way into a better ranking. The state has strong use-of-force laws including the Castle Doctrine, and it does not restrict tactical rifles or magazine capacity. NFA laws are a mixed bag, with SBRs and AOWs allowed in compliance with federal law. However, other items, including machine guns and suppressors, are banned.
Washington State is a classic case of a mostly rural state with a few cities that carry the bulk of the political influence. Washington issues CCW permits on a “shall issue” basis. The state has a strong use-of-force law and doesn’t require permits to purchase any category of firearm. Tactical rifles are unrestricted, but machine guns are no-go, even in-compliance with federal law.
Minnesota is the quintessential Midwest state in which often visceral resistance to political change makes passing pro-gun legislation more difficult. For now, Minnesota remains a middle-of-the-road state with a “shall issue” CCW system with few prohibited places enumerated by statute. Minnesota’s use-of-force laws are strong, but CCW reciprocity is minimal. NFA laws are a bit of a mixed bag, with Curio and Relic (C&R) machine guns allowed along with SBRs.
Iowa’s state law preempts municipalities from passing their own gun control regulations other than discharge ordinances. NFA items are essentially banned but for some narrow statutory exemptions. Current law prohibits adults from teaching children under 14 to shoot a handgun, which doesn’t exactly promote youth shooting sports such as the Scholastic Pistol Program.
Colorado’s CCW remains a good one (with fees) with strong reciprocity and few prohibited locations, but the state’s use-of-force laws could use some strengthening. All NFA items are allowed under state law. If you are a hunter, Colorado has lots going for it, and there is a strong network of competitive shooters in the state.
36. New Mexico
New Mexico is a “shall issue” CCW state, but it includes some odd provisions such as the maximum caliber a CCW holder can carry. Use-of-force laws are pretty weak in New Mexico, with no Castle Doctrine statute in effect. The wide-open spaces of the state provide more shooting opportunities than most. The state places no restrictions on black rifles or magazines, and permits to purchase are not required for any flavor of firearm.
Things have gotten remarkably better for Ohio’s gun owners. Suppressors are now legal for hunting, and CLEOs must sign NFA transfer forms, which makes the already good Class 3 category even stronger. Ohio’s CCW law has been changed to what is effectively a “full recognition” system, but the state does have a somewhat restrictive list of prohibited locations. An awkward definition of “automatic weapon” that created problems for certain firearms and magazines has been fixed.
Change comes slowly in the Cornhusker State. Nebraska gets near-max points in the NFA category. The use-of-force laws are relatively mediocre, and an antiquated permit to purchase a handgun system remains in effect decades after implementation of the NICS system.
The state enjoys strong CCW reciprocity. It has strong self-defense laws, and Michigan’s proud culture as a hunting state gives it a boost in ranking.
Idaho is a strong state for gun owners, both culturally and legally. CCW permits are issued to both residents and nonresidents, and the state recognizes permits for every state that issues them. The Gem State places no restrictions upon tactical rifles or NFA items and has a ton of places to shoot. The only area where Idaho loses points is with its relatively weak use-of-force laws. The State of Idaho actually issues a Friends of the NRA license plate, destined to get a road-tripper pulled over in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a longtime friend of gun owners, signed an unprecedented eight pro-gun bills into law in 2015, making it a landmark year for gun owners in the Natural State. One of the bills removed the prohibition on carrying on private school property and shifts that decision to the schools themselves. Another provision allows active and former members of the military including those in the National Guard and Reserve to obtain a CCW at age 18. Immunity from civil damages for citizens who used deadly force appropriately improves the state’s previously weak use-of-force law.
The state has a “shall issue” permit system and recognizes permits from all other states. Oklahoma gets max points in the NFA category, as CLEOs must sign for transfers within 15 days, preventing de facto bans in certain municipalities. Oklahoma places no restrictions on tactical-looking firearms or magazines.
Maine is one of a few states in the Northeast that broke from the pack in regard to gun laws. Maine has a “shall issue” CCW permit system. The state’s self-defense statutes leave something to be desired, but NFA items and black rifles are fair game. Most of Maine is very rural and boasts a strong gun and hunting culture.
The state has relatively strong use-of-force laws and preempts cities and towns from passing their own restrictions on gun owners. NFA items are legal as long as federal law is followed, and the state places no restrictions on tactical-looking firearms or magazines.
27. South Dakota
To say that the state is welcoming to gun owners would be an understatement. The state does not restrict black rifles or NFA items, and self-defense laws are strong.
26. North Dakota
North Dakota has strong use-of-force laws and places no unusual restrictions or purchase requirements on gun owners.
Life improved markedly for gun-owning Wisconsin residents. The state has a Castle Doctrine statute on the books and doesn’t restrict NFA items or tactical-looking firearms.
When it comes to gun laws, crossing the Memorial Bridge from D.C. to Virginia is about like passing westward through the Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War. Virginia has a well-ranked CCW law, and open carry is legal throughout the state, thanks to a strong preemption statute. NFA items are legal with the exception of the Striker 12 shotgun (which is classified as a “destructive device,” according to the BATF). Tactical-looking rifles may not be possessed by persons under age 18 in the Commonwealth.
Tennessee’s generally strong gun laws got a little stronger. The Volunteer State has a strong Castle Doctrine statute, and black rifles and magazines are unrestricted.
Once a year, Nevada becomes the home of America’s gun industry when the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s SHOT Show rolls into town. Handgun registration is officially a thing of the past in Las Vegas. The state’s Castle Doctrine statute was also extended to include citizens’ vehicles. Nevada does issue permits to nonresidents. As the world’s most popular “machine gun tourism” spot, Nevada does not restrict NFA items. The state has good self-defense laws and does not restrict black rifles or magazine capacity.
21. West Virginia
West Virginia ranks high in just about every category, with no restrictions on NFA items or tactical-looking firearms. The state’s self-defense laws are good, and CCW reciprocity is broad.
Pennsylvania’s biggest gun issue has always been the battle between gun owners and municipalities. Pennsylvania has a strong Castle Doctrine law, it doesn’t restrict tactical firearms, and all NFA items are available.
19. North Carolina
Under current law, NFA items are allowed in North Carolina, but machine guns require a permit from the county sheriff, and there’s nothing to guarantee that one will be granted. North Carolina recognizes CCW permits from all states, which is good news for visitors. The state has good use-of-force laws and does not place restrictions on tactical firearms.
Mississippi places no restrictions on tactical firearms, magazine capacity or NFA items.
Louisiana has a very strong “Stand Your Ground” statute and wide CCW reciprocity, which is good news, since your chances of being a crime victim in New Orleans are pretty decent. Louisiana does not restrict NFA items, and as of 2014, it allows suppressors to be used when hunting.
Indiana’s CCW is among the strongest in the nation, with permits issued without training to residents and nonresidents for only $10 per year. If you’re an open-carry kind of person, that’s fine with the Hoosier State. The state recognizes permits from all other states. Short-barreled shotguns (SBSs) are now allowed under state law, and no restrictions are imposed upon tactical firearms or magazine capacity.
CCW permits are issued to both residents and nonresidents, and the state has very good reciprocity. Carrying a long gun openly is already legal, as evidenced by the recent media attention on the subject. Texas has strong use-of-force laws, and all tactical-looking firearms and NFA items are welcome.
14. South Carolina
South Carolina gets nearly top marks in every category, with no restrictions on what types of firearms can be owned or possessed in the state.
Georgia’s strong gun laws got even stronger. Georgia’s use-of-force law is among the strongest in the nation, and cities such as Atlanta cannot regulate any aspect of gun ownership except for where a gun can be discharged. All NFA items are allowed in the state as long as federal law is complied with, and black rifles are unrestricted.
For many years, Florida’s gun laws have been the envy of gun owners nationwide. The Sunshine State places no restrictions upon modern firearms, magazines or NFA items, and the state has a healthy competitive shooting network. Finding a place to shoot in the larger metropolitan areas was a challenge for many years, but the private sector has responded to the demand, and ranges can now be found in nearly every corner of the state.
Montana has legalized the use of suppressors when hunting. Montana has a model Castle Doctrine law and places no restrictions on semiautomatic firearms or NFA items. The gun culture in this state is as strong as it gets with one of the fastest-growing gun industry presences in the nation.
10. New Hampshire
Permits to carry in New Hampshire are inexpensive, quick to obtain and enjoy good reciprocity. The state does not restrict tactical firearms, magazine capacity or NFA items. There’s virtually no gun-related crime in New Hampshire, so it must be doing something right.
Missouri is one of those states that has done an about-face on its gun laws in the past several years. The state’s CCW regs could be better, with lots of prohibited locations and high permit fees, but reciprocity is strong. Unfortunately, permits are only issued to residents. Missouri is on top of the list in the tactical gun category, and all NFA items are available as long as the ATF approves.
8. KansaKansas went from one of four states without a CCW statute in 2005 to one of few states approving permitless carry in 2015. Taxpayer-funded firearm “buyback” programs have also been banned by the state legislature. Kansas has become one of the strongest states for gun owners in the nation.
Sweet Home Alabama is the home to one of the largest firearm industry operations in the nation. Obtaining a CCW permit is quick and easy and does not require training. Alabama’s Castle Doctrine law is very strong, and no restrictions are placed on tactical firearms or NFA items. Competitive shooting is popular in most of the state, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s range in Anniston is fantastic.
Wyoming probably has more guns than people. As one of the states that allows for both permitted and permitless carry, the Cowboy State is on top of the list CCW category. Wyoming has very few prohibited locations for carry and doesn’t restrict any type of firearm or magazine. Its gun and hunting culture is about as good as it gets, as it is thus far unspoiled by massive numbers of transplants looking to love it to death (compare with Californians moving to and changing Colorado).
Kentucky has always done well in the gun rights rankings with statutes and a culture consistently friendly toward gun owners.
Utah’s gun laws are very strong by national standards. Utah recognizes permits from anywhere, its fees are low at $10 annually, and it issues permits to nonresidents. Utah requires CLEOs to sign for NFA items, and it places no restrictions on tactical-type firearms. Its self-defense statutes are a model for the nation, and the gun culture in the state is widespread.
What can you say about a state that basically has it all? Alaska allows you to carry with or without a permit, openly or concealed. You can own anything that the feds don’t ban, and you have millions of acres of public land on which to shoot. Hunting in Alaska is world class, and it’s the one state where carrying a gun is probably more likely to protect you from four-legged predators than from the more common two-legged variety.
If there were a category for most overrated state for gun owners, it would go to Vermont. Vermont remains the sole state with only a permitless carry system, with no method of obtaining a permit for the purpose of reciprocity.
Still threigning champion, Arizona combines strong laws with an unmatched shooting culture and strong industry presence. Arizona gets full points in every category with both permitless and permitted carry, strong self-defense laws, a “shall sign” NFA statue and a thriving competitive shooting scene. Whether you’re into ISPC-style shooting, 3-Gun, long-range rifles, Cowboy matches, shotgunning or just shooting machine guns in the desert, Arizona has everyone covered.