Posted on May 21, 2012
Click here to see current summaries of all fifty states’ laws in this area.
The following material has been updated from the February 2008 edition of Regulating Guns in America – An Evaluation and Comparative Analysis of Federal, State and Selected Local Gun Laws.
Laws restricting multiple purchases or sales of firearms are designed to reduce the number of guns entering the illegal market and to stem the flow of firearms between states. Interstate firearms trafficking flourishes, in part, because states regulate firearm sales differently and there is no federal limitation on the number of guns that an individual may purchase at any one time.1 Jurisdictions with weaker firearms laws may attract gun traffickers who make multiple purchases and resell those guns in jurisdictions with stronger firearms laws.2
Efforts to limit multiple purchases or sales generally focus on handguns. Studies show that handguns sold in multiple sales to the same individual purchaser are frequently used in crime.3 “Multiple sales” are defined under federal law as the sale of two or more handguns by a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL) to a non-FFL within five consecutive business days.4 ATF crime gun trace data revealed that 22% of all handguns recovered in crime in 1999 had been transferred to a purchaser involved in a multiple sale.5 Crime gun trace data from 2000 showed that 20% of all retail handguns recovered in crime were purchased as part of a multiple sale.6
One-gun-a-month laws prohibit the purchase of more than one handgun per person in any 30-day period. A study of Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law demonstrated that the law was effective in reducing the number of crime guns traced to Virginia dealers. Virginia initially adopted its law in 1993 after the state became recognized as a primary source of crime guns recovered in states in the northeastern U.S. After the law’s adoption, the odds of tracing a gun originally acquired in the Southeast to a Virginia gun dealer (as opposed to a dealer in a different southeastern state) dropped by 71% for guns recovered in New York, 72% for guns recovered in Massachusetts, and 66% for guns recovered in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts combined.7
Summary of Federal Law
Federal law does not limit the number of guns a person can buy in any given time period. Federal law does require FFLs to report multiple sales of handguns to ATF and other specified law enforcement agencies.8 The law enforcement agencies are not charged with any investigative duties regarding those sales, however. State and local law enforcement agencies are prohibited from disclosing reports of multiple sales (other than those involving prohibited purchasers) and must destroy such reports and related records within 20 days of receipt.9
SUMMARY OF STATE LAWS RESTRICTING MULTIPLE PURCHASES OR SALES OF FIREARMS
(This summary was last updated August 3, 2012.)
Three states, California, Maryland and New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have laws limiting firearm purchases or sales to one per month.10
States Restricting Multiple Purchases or Sales of Firearms
Description of State Laws Restricting Multiple Purchases or Sales of Firearms
1. California: California law prohibits any person from purchasing more than one handgun within any 30-day period. In addition, a licensed firearms dealer may not deliver a handgun to any person following notification from the California Department of Justice that the purchaser has applied to acquire a handgun within the preceding 30-day period. Finally, firearms dealers must conspicuously post in their licensed premises a warning, in block letters at least one inch in height, notifying purchasers of these restrictions.15
2. District of Columbia: A person may not register more than one handgun in the District during any 30-day period. Since every handgun must be registered, this amounts to a purchase and sale limitation of one handgun per 30-day period.
3. Maryland: Maryland prohibits any person from purchasing more than one handgun or assault weapon within a 30-day period. Under limited circumstances, a person may be approved by the Secretary of the Maryland State Police to purchase multiple handguns or assault weapons in a 30-day period. Maryland also penalizes any dealer or other seller who knowingly participates in an illegal purchase of a handgun or assault weapon.
4. New Jersey: New Jersey prohibits licensed firearms dealers from knowingly delivering more than one handgun to any person within any 30-day period. With limited exceptions, no person may purchase more than one handgun within any 30-day period.16
EXEMPLARY LOCAL LAW
New York City17
As noted above, efforts to restrict multiple purchases and sales of firearms generally focus on handguns, and usually limit purchases or sales to one per month. New York City, however, takes a more comprehensive and robust approach. The City limits all firearm purchases (not just handguns) to one handgun and one rifle or shotgun every 90 days. Before a sale can occur, the seller must check with the governmental authority that licensed the purchaser to ensure that the purchaser hasn’t bought another firearm within the previous 90 days. This restriction represents a powerful disincentive to gun traffickers, who prefer to buy and transport multiple weapons at one time. By preventing bulk sales, the City has taken an important step toward thwarting the accumulation of weapons in the hands of criminals.
View the Law Center’s September 2011 publication, Model Laws for a Safer America: Seven Regulations to Promote Responsible Gun Ownership and Sales, which includes a model law limiting firearm purchases to one per person every 90 days.
FEATURES OF COMPREHENSIVE LAWS RESTRICTING MULTIPLE PURCHASES OR SALES OF FIREARMS
The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered and debated. The Law Center has not attempted to include every provision or every creative approach identified in the analysis above, nor have we addressed appropriate exceptions so that the regulation does not produce unintended consequences. A jurisdiction considering modifying existing, or developing new legislation in this area should consult with counsel to ensure its legal sufficiency and compatibility with existing codes and statutes, as appropriate.
- The restriction applies to both multiple purchases and sales of specified classes of weapons (California, Maryland, New Jersey)
- The restriction on multiple sales applies to both licensed dealers and private sellers (District of Columbia, Maryland)
- A state agency maintains purchase information and must verify that the person has not purchased another weapon within the time period (California, District of Columbia)
- The restriction applies to all firearms (New York City) or to handguns (California, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey), and also may apply to other classes of weapons such as assault weapons and 50 caliber rifles, if they are not otherwise banned (Maryland (assault weapons))
- The most frequently used approach is to restrict multiple purchases or sales to no more than one per person per month (California, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey), but stricter limitations may be used (New York City restricts sales to no more than one handgun and one rifle or shotgun per person every 90 days)
- Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca C. Knox, Effects of Limiting Handgun Purchases on Interstate Transfer of Firearms, JAMA 1759, 1759-60 (1996). [↩]
- Id. [↩]
- See, e.g., Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, Crime Gun Trace Reports (2000) National Report 50 (July 2002); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, Crime Gun Trace Reports (1999) National Report 40 (Nov. 2000). [↩]
- 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(3)(A). [↩]
- Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, Crime Gun Trace Reports (1999) National Report, supra note 3, at 40. [↩]
- Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, Crime Gun Trace Reports (2000) National Report, supra note 3, at 50. [↩]
- Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca Knox, Evaluating the Impact of Virginia’s One-Gun-A-Month Law, The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence 1, 4-6 (Aug. 1995). Virginia repealed its one-gun-a-month law in 2012, due to strong lobbying by the firearms industry and National Rifle Association. [↩]
- 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(3)(A). [↩]
- 18 U.S.C. § 923(g)(3)(B). [↩]
- South Carolina enacted a one-handgun-a-month law but repealed the provision in 2004. Virginia also enacted a one-handgun-a-month law but repealed the provision in 2012, due to strong lobbying by the firearms industry and National Rifle Association. [↩]
- Cal. Penal Code §§ 26835, 27535, 27540. [↩]
- D.C. Code Ann. § 7-2502.03(e). [↩]
- Md. Code Ann., Pub. Safety §§ 5-128(a), (b), ), 5-129, 5-143. [↩]
- N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:58-2(a)(7), 2C:58-3(i), 2C:58-3.4. New Jersey enacted its law in 2009. [↩]
- This restriction does not apply to sales between private persons, even if they are processed as required through a licensed dealer. Cal. Penal Code § 27535. [↩]
- New Jersey requires a handgun purchaser to obtain a separate permit for each handgun purchased, and present the permit to the seller. The seller must keep a copy of each permit presented. [↩]
- N.Y. Admin. Code § 10-302.1 [↩]