Waiting periods for the possession of firearms are a commonsense way to prevent impulsive, volatile acts of gun violence.
A waiting period law requires a certain number of days to elapse between the purchase of a firearm and when the buyer can actually take possession of that gun. By delaying immediate access to firearms, waiting periods create an important “cooling off” period that can help prevent impulsive acts of gun violence, including gun homicides and suicides.
The immediate purchase and acquisition of a gun allows people to act on temporary emotions and impulses, which can increase the risk of both gun suicide and gun homicide.
- Suicide attempts are often impulsive, singular episodes that involve little planning. Many studies suggest that most suicide survivors contemplated their actions for only a brief period of time—often less than 24 hours—before making a suicide attempt.1
- Similarly, studies suggest that some of the factors that incite violence against others, such as anger and rage, can be short-lived.2
Waiting period laws, which create a buffer between the time of gun purchase and gun acquisition, can help to prevent impulsive acts of gun violence. In particular, studies suggest that waiting period laws prevent firearm suicides and firearm homicides.
- Studies suggest that waiting period laws are associated with reduced rates of firearm suicide.3 By one estimation, waiting period laws may reduce firearm suicide rates by 7–11%.4
- Waiting period laws also appear to reduce gun homicide rates. One study found that waiting period laws that delay the purchase of firearms by a few days can reduce gun homicides by roughly 17%.5
Waiting periods can also give law enforcement agencies additional time to complete background checks that sometimes cannot be completed within the three-day window provided by the federal law.
- Each year, approximately 3,800 ineligible people acquire firearms through so-called “default proceed” sales,6 in which a dealer completes a sale without a completed background check after three business days, as is allowed under federal law. (For more information on this issue, see our page on Background Check Procedures.)
- As a result, FBI experts have recommended extending the time to complete background checks to reduce the number of prohibited people—like people subject to domestic violence restraining orders—able to purchase firearms by default proceeds.7
Summary of Federal Law
There is no federal waiting period. Under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a dealer may transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser as soon as he or she passes a background check.8 If the FBI is unable to complete a background check within three business days, the dealer may complete the transfer by default.9
Federal law doesn’t require private sellers to perform background checks on gun purchasers. Accordingly, persons purchasing firearms from private sellers may take immediate possession of their weapons, unless state or local law provides otherwise.10
Summary of State Law
Nine states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to the purchase of some or all firearms.11 See our summary on Background Check Procedures for state laws that prohibit gun sales or transfers until a background check is completed.
Other states require gun purchasers to obtain a license or permit prior to the purchase. Licensing laws of this kind play a similar role to waiting period laws. See our policy page on Licensing for information about licensing laws.
States Imposing Waiting Periods for Purchases of All Firearms
- California – 10 days12
- District of Columbia – 10 days13
- Florida – 3 days or the time it takes to complete required background checks, whichever occurs later14
- Hawaii – 14 days15
- Illinois – 72 hours 16
- Rhode Island – 7 days17
California, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia impose a statutory waiting period on all firearm purchases. Subject to limited exceptions, California and the District of Columbia require a ten-day waiting period for all firearm purchases.18 Rhode Island imposes a seven-day waiting period for all purchases of firearms unless the purchaser is a law enforcement officer.19 However, the seller must deliver the firearm to the purchaser if, within seven days, he or she does not receive background check information disqualifying the potential buyer from purchasing the firearm.20
In Hawaii, all firearm purchases require issuance of a permit, and no permit may be issued earlier than 14 calendar days after the date of the application.21 This does not include sales to state or federally licensed dealers, law enforcement officers, persons with a license to carry a handgun, or where a firearm is brought into the state and registered in accordance with the state’s registration statute.22 All permits must be issued or the application denied before the twentieth day from the date of application.23
In Illinois, it is unlawful for anyone to deliver a firearm prior to the expiration of the statutory waiting periods, which are currently set at 72 hours for handguns and long guns.24
Florida has a mandatory waiting period between the purchase and delivery of any firearm sold by a licensed firearm dealer. The mandatory waiting period is either 3 days, excluding weekends and holidays, or the time it takes to complete the required criminal background check—whichever occurs later.25 Some sales are exempt from the waiting period law, including purchases by people with hunting licenses, law enforcement officers, and servicemembers.26 Because Florida’s waiting period extends beyond three days if it takes longer to conduct a background check, and covers the entire duration it takes to complete the background check, Florida’s waiting period law has the effect of closing the default proceed loophole for many firearm transactions conducted by licensed gun dealers.
States Imposing Waiting Periods for Certain Classes of Weapons
Minnesota imposes either a five-day or a seven-day waiting period (the law is unclear) on transfers of handguns and assault weapons from the day the dealer delivers a transfer report to the police chief or sheriff.29 The police chief or sheriff may waive part of the waiting period in writing if he or she finds that the transferee requires access to a handgun or assault weapon because of a threat to the life of the transferee or a member of the transferee’s household.30 The waiting period does not apply to transfers by private sellers.31
States Imposing Waiting Periods for Handguns Only
In Iowa, no handgun may be transferred until the transferee obtains a permit to purchase the handgun, which becomes valid three days after the date of application.35 Iowa exempts concealed weapons permit holders from these waiting periods.
In Maryland, any person who transfers a handgun must wait seven days from the time a prospective purchaser completes an application to purchase the firearm and the application is forwarded to the Secretary of the Maryland State Police.36
New Jersey prohibits retail firearm dealers from delivering a handgun to any person unless he or she possesses a valid permit to purchase a handgun and at least seven days have elapsed since the date of application for the permit.37 Since each permit is valid for only one handgun purchase, this effectively creates a seven-day waiting period for all handgun sales.38
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Key Legislative Elements
The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.
- A waiting period is established for all firearm purchases, of sufficient duration to allow a cooling-off period prior to the purchaser taking possession of the firearm (California, District of Columbia-10 days, Hawaii-14 days, Rhode Island-7 days).
- Permits to carry firearms in public do not exempt a purchaser from the waiting period (California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, District of Columbia).
- Transfer of firearms is prohibited until the background check process has been completed, regardless of whether the waiting period has elapsed (Maryland).39
Universal background checks are essential to close deadly loopholes in our laws that allow millions of guns to end up in the hands of individuals at an elevated risk of committing violence each year.
Extreme risk protection orders provide a way to temporarily restrict a person showing signs of violent intentions from accessing firearms.
- Eberhard A. Deisenhammer, et al., “The Duration of the Suicidal Process: How Much Time is Left for Intervention Between Consideration and Accomplishment of a Suicide Attempt?,” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 70, no. 1 (2008); T. R. Simon, et al., “Characteristics of Impulsive Suicide Attempts and Attempters,” Suicide and LifeThreatening Behavior 32 no. 1 (Suppl.) (2001): 49–59; Catherine W. Barber and Matthew J. Miller, “Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide: A Research Agenda,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 47, no. 3 (2014): S264–S272. See also, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Means Matter, “Impulsivity and Crises,” http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/means-matter/impulsivity.
- J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, and H. H. Goldsmith, “The Role of Affect in Decision Making,” Handbook of Affective Sciences (2003): 619–642. See also, e.g., David Card and Gordon B. Dahl, “Family Violence and Football: The Effect of Unexpected Emotional Cues on Violent Behavior,” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 126, no. 1 (2011): 103–143.
- Michael Luca, Deepak Malhotra, and Christopher Poliquin, “Handgun Waiting Periods Reduce Gun Deaths,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 46 (2017): 12162–12165; Michael D. Anestis and Joye C. Anestis, “Suicide Rates and State Laws Regulating Access and Exposure to Handguns,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 10 (2015): 2049–2058.
- Michael Luca, Deepak Malhotra, and Christopher Poliquin, “Handgun Waiting Periods Reduce Gun Deaths,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114, no. 46 (2017): 12162–12165.
- Represents the average of the five most recent years of available data (2014–2018). “2014–2018 NICS Operations Reports,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/nics.
- Ann Givens and Andrew Knapp, “FBI to Add Major Law Enforcement Database to Gun Background Check System,” The Trace, July 10, 2018, https://www.thetrace.org/2018/07/fbi-background-check-system-nics-ndex-charleston/.
- 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1).
- Detailed information about private sales is contained in our summary on Universal Background Checks & the Private Sale Loophole.
- Wisconsin repealed its 48-hour waiting period for the purchase of a handgun in 2015. 2015 WI S.B. 35. South Dakota repealed its 48-hour waiting period for the purchase of a handgun in 2009. 2009 S.D. ALS 122.
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26815(a), 26950-27140, 27540(a), 27600-27750.
- D.C. Code Ann. § 22-4508.
- Fla. Stat. § 790.0655(1). Florida’s waiting period only applies to sales at retail by licensed firearm dealers and does not apply to people with concealed handgun permits, certain other exempt individuals, or trade-ins of firearms. Id. § 790.0655(3).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(e). Hawaii’s waiting period does not apply to subsequent purchases of long guns during the year following an initial purchase.
- 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-3(A)(g); 2017 IL S 3256.
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-35(a)(1), 11-47-35.1, 11-47-35.2.
- In California, if the California Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot determine within the ten-day period whether the prospective purchaser is prohibited from possessing a firearm, DOJ may notify the dealer and prospective purchaser of this fact and obtain up to a total of 30 days to complete the background check. See Cal Penal Code § 28220(f).
- R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-35(a)(1), 11-47.35.1 and 11-47-35.2(a).
- R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-47-35(a)(2) and 11-47-35.2(b).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(a).
- Firearms brought into the state must be registered within five days of arrival. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-3(a).
- Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-2(e). Permits issued for long guns may be used for subsequent purchases of long guns for one year from date of issuance. Id.
- 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-3(A)(g); 2017 IL S 3256.
- Fla. Stat. § 790.0655(1).
- Fla. Stat. § 790.0655(3).
- Minn. Stat. § 624.7132, subds. 4, 12. Minn. Stat. § 624.7132, subd. 4 is unclear with respect to the length of the waiting period, referring both to a “five business day waiting period” and a “seven day waiting period.”
- Rev. Code Wash. § 9.41.092. In addition, licensed dealers in Washington are prohibited from transferring a handgun to a purchaser until the purchaser passes a background check, or ten business days have elapsed from the date the licensed dealer requested a background check, whichever is earlier. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.092. Furthermore, dealers must await the completion of a background check for up to 60 days for anyone without a valid Washington driver’s license or state identification card, or for anyone who has not been a resident for the previous 90 consecutive days. Id. Until 2019, these waiting periods did not apply to concealed handgun license holders but that exemption has been conditionally repealed. Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(1). To see the conditions that would reinstate the exemption, see 2019 WA HB 1465.
- Minn. Stat. § 624.7132, subds. 4. This provision refers both to a “five business day waiting period” and a “seven day waiting period.”
- Minn. Stat. § 624.7132, subd. 12.
- Iowa Code § 724.20.
- Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-123 – 5-125. Maryland’s waiting period applies to the transfer of “regulated firearms,” which are defined as handguns and assault weapons, but the transfer of assault weapons is now generally banned. See Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety § 5-101; Md. Code, Crim. Law § 4-303 (as amended by 2013 Md. S.B. 281, effective October 1, 2013).
- N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:58-2a(5)(a), 2C:58-3f.
- Iowa Code § 724.20. After the permit is issued, the holder may purchase additional handguns without a waiting period for the duration of the permit (one year).
- Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-123(a), 5-124(a)(1).
- N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-2a(5)(a).
- The time period to obtain the permit itself can be as long as 30 days (45 days for non-residents) while the application is processed. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:58-3f.
- Florida and Maryland have addressed the problem of “default proceeds” under federal law, which results when a firearm is transferred at the end of the waiting period, even if the background check has not been completed. Additional information about the problem of default proceeds and the approaches used to address the problem is contained in our summary on Background Check Procedures.