Press Release

Giffords Law Center Details How Licensing Could Effectively Save Lives in Every State

Federal licensing system would be effective in reducing gun violence across the country

New polling indicates a majority of 2020 voters support licensing laws

April 29, 2020 — The coronavirus epidemic has led to a spike in gun sales that heightens the risks associated with guns in the home. The development has underscored the fact that gun violence is a problem that will not go away without action from lawmakers to protect American communities and families. Today, Giffords Law Center called for a federal licensing system in a new report that details the evidence in favor of this critical policy, as well as its broad public support. The Case For Firearm Licensing explores the various ways that states around the country have implemented licensing, recommends core components of effective licensing systems, and proposes an approach for federal leaders to implement a nationwide firearm licensing system.

“Gun violence impacts every community in our country, and it’s time to pass policies that reflect the scale of this devastating problem,” said Allison Anderman, Senior Counsel at Giffords Law Center. “We’ve made enormous strides in the fight to save lives, but too many communities remain at risk. Americans from across the political spectrum recognize how easy access to firearms are fueling mass shootings and gun suicide, and they want their federal leaders to step up. This report highlights the critical importance of a bold plan for a national license system based on the successes we’ve seen at the state level. It’s time for our legislators to understand that effective, comprehensive gun safety reforms like gun licensing are not only lifesaving but also broadly supported—and they must be passed.”

Click here to read the report The Case For Firearm Licensing.

While no federal licensing requirement currently exists, there is ample evidence of its effectiveness at the state level. For example, Connecticut’s licensing law, enacted in 1995, was responsible for a 40% decrease in the state’s firearm homicide rate and a 15% decrease in its firearm suicide rate. In Missouri, when the state repealed its licensing law in 2007 on the other hand, saw its firearm homicide rate increase by an estimated 17 to 27% and its firearm suicide rate increased by 16%.

The report recommends that Congress pass a federal licensing requirement using grant funding to incentivize states to adopt licensing systems that meet a set of minimum standards. This includes ensuring an effective means of disarming individuals who don’t meet the licensing requirements. Individuals who live in states that have failed to adopt adequate licensing systems should be required to obtain a federal license, and gun sellers should be required to verify that buyers possess an approved license.

As detailed in the report, effective licensing systems include the following core components:

  • Background Checks
  • In-Person Interaction with Law Enforcement
  • Law Enforcement Input
  • Fingerprinting
  • Waiting Periods
  • Bulk Purchase Prohibitions
  • Firearms Safety Courses
  • Relinquishment Procedures
  • Limited Period of Validity

A majority of Americans support licensing laws. Newly released polling from Global Strategy Group included in the report finds that firearms licensing is overwhelmingly supported by voters, with 86% of likely 2020 voters expressing support for licensing. Various aspects of licensing systems, like fingerprinting and waiting periods, also received approval from a majority of voters.

“Despite the gun lobby trying to flame fears of government tracking gun ownership, this poll clearly demonstrates that the large majority of voters reject that argument and support gun licensing,” said Angela Kuefler, Senior Vice President, Research, Global Strategy Group. “Support for gun licensing nearly reaches the same level as the overwhelming support for universal background checks, and crosses all party lines. Even over 70% of gun owners support licenses. This broad support makes sense, as historically swing voters in focus groups across the country, for years now, have offered up licenses for gun ownership as a policy they would like to see to try to combat gun violence. To these voters, it’s a smart and effective policy that closes current loopholes in the law, and they often compare it to the training, testing, and licensing process required to drive a car.”

As documented in Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard, of the ten states with the lowest gun death rates in 2018, nine of the ten have implemented licensing or safety certificate requirements.

  • Eight states—Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and North Carolina—require a firearm purchaser to obtain a license in order to purchase some or all types of firearms. 
  • Three states—Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York—require licenses to purchase and own some or all types of firearms.
  • Three states—California, Rhode Island, and Washington—do not require gun owners to obtain licenses to own or possess firearms but do require them to obtain certificates of firearm safety training before purchasing certain types of firearms.
  • The District of Columbia requires that gun purchasers and owners obtain a registration certificate for guns they wish to buy or possess.

Click here to read the report The Case For Firearm Licensing.