Federal Law on Concealed Weapons Permitting

Posted on May 21, 2012

Federal law does not prohibit or require the carrying of concealed weapons by private citizens, nor provide rules for concealed weapons permits or licenses by private citizens. The adoption of such rules is largely left to the states.

Regarding the purchase of firearms, federal law does not require that a person holding a state-issue permit allowing the person to acquire or possess firearms (e.g., a concealed weapons permit) undergo a background check if the permit was issued: 1) within the previous five years in the state in which the transfer is to take place; and 2) after an authorized government official has conducted a background investigation to verify that possession of a firearm would not be unlawful.1 Permits issued after November 30, 1998 qualify as exempt only if the approval process included a NICS check.2 This exemption could allow some prohibited persons to acquire firearms, in cases where a state permit holder falls into a prohibited category after issuance of the permit. Under the federal exemption, no background check is required and the seller would have no way to learn that the prospective purchaser is prohibited from possessing firearms.

Concealed Weapons Permits for Law Enforcement

Federal law provides that certain law enforcement officers may carry concealed firearms. Any “qualified law enforcement officer” with proper agency-issued identification may carry a concealed firearm.3 The term “qualified law enforcement officer” is defined as any employee of a governmental agency who:

  • Is authorized to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of, or the incarceration of any person for, any violation of law, and has statutory powers of arrest;
  • Is authorized by the agency to carry a firearm;
  • Is not the subject of any disciplinary action by the agency;
  • Meets the standards, if any, established by the agency which require the employee to regularly qualify in the use of a firearm;
  • Is not under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating or hallucinatory drug or substance; and
  • Is not prohibited by federal law from receiving a firearm.4

Under federal law, any “qualified retired law enforcement officer” with proper identification also may carry a concealed firearm.5 The term “qualified retired law enforcement officer” is defined as an individual who:

  • Retired in good standing from service with a public agency as a law enforcement officer, other than for reasons of mental instability;
  • Before such retirement, was authorized by law to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of, or the incarceration of any person for, any violation of law, and had statutory powers of arrest;
  • Either:
    • Before retirement, was regularly employed as a law enforcement officer for an aggregate of 15 years or more; or
    • Retired from service with such agency, after completing any applicable probationary period of such service, due to a service-connected disability, as determined by such agency;
  • Has a nonforfeitable right to benefits under the retirement plan of the agency;
  • During the most recent 12-month period, has met, at the expense of the individual, the state’s standards for training and qualification for active law enforcement officers to carry firearms;
  • Is not under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating or hallucinatory drug or substance; and
  • Is not prohibited by federal law from receiving a firearm.6

These federal statutes supersede state and local laws regarding CCWs for law enforcement except in certain circumstances. States are not precluded from allowing private persons or entities to prohibit or restrict the possession of concealed firearms on their property by current or retired law enforcement. States also are not precluded from prohibiting or restricting the possession of firearms by current or retired law enforcement on any state or local government property, installations, buildings, bases or parks.

Click here to view additional information about carrying concealed weapons, including background information and state and local laws on the topic.

  1. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(3); 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d). []
  2. 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(d). []
  3. 18 U.S.C. § 926B. []
  4. 18 U.S.C. § 926B(c). []
  5. 18 U.S.C. § 926C. []
  6. 18 U.S.C. § 926C(c). []