Waiting Periods Policy Summary

Posted on June 24, 2013

Click here to see current summaries of all fifty states’ laws in this area.

Background 

Laws imposing waiting periods require that a specified number of days elapse between the time a firearm is purchased and it is physically transferred to the purchaser.  The goals of a waiting period are to: (1) give law enforcement officials sufficient time to perform a background check; and (2) provide a “cooling off” period to help guard against impulsive acts of violence.

There is no federal waiting period.  As described below, federal law allows a dealer to deliver a firearm to a purchaser as soon as a background check is completed, or after three business days even if a background check has not been completed. Each year, over 3,000 ineligible persons receive firearms through this default provision.  The FBI has determined that in 2012, the number was as high as 3,722.1 The average time it takes for the FBI to determine that illegal purchasers are ineligible to receive firearms is 25 days.2 As a result, the FBI has recommended extending the research time to complete background checks to reduce the number of prohibited people who are able to purchase firearms by default.3 For more information on this issue, see our summary on Background Check Procedures.

Waiting periods also help reduce suicides and other impulsive acts of violence. Suicides are frequently impulsive acts, and approximately 90% of people who have lived through a suicide attempt do not subsequently die in suicides.4 A person who attempts suicide by a method other than a firearm is much more likely to live than a person who uses a firearm.5

  • Approximately 50% of suicides in the U.S. are committed with a gun.6
  • More than 90% of all suicide attempts with a firearm, if serious enough to require hospital treatment, result in death.7
  • Suicide attempts by jumping, by comparison, carry a 34% fatality rate; suicide attempts by drug poisoning carry a 2% fatality rate.8

Americans strongly support waiting periods for firearm purchases.  A December 2011 poll found that 74% of people without a firearm in the home support a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms, while 66% of non-NRA gun-owners and 50% of NRA members support this measure.9

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.10  If the FBI is unable to complete a background check within three business days, the dealer may complete the transfer by default.11

Federal law does not 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.12

SUMMARY OF STATE LAWS GOVERNING WAITING PERIODS

Ten states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to the purchase of some or all firearms.13 See our summary on Background Check Procedures for state laws that prohibit gun sales or transfers until a background check is completed.

Additional states require firearm purchasers to obtain a license or permit prior to the purchase of a firearm. Licensing laws of this kind play a similar role to waiting period laws.  See our summary on Licensing Gun Owners & Purchasers for information about licensing laws.

States Imposing Waiting Periods for Purchases of All Firearms

State (Waiting Period)
California (10 days)14
District of Columbia (10 days)15
Hawaii (14 days)16
Illinois (24 hours) (long guns); 72 hours (handguns)17
Rhode Island (7 days)18

States Imposing Waiting Periods for Purchases of Handguns and Assault Weapons

State (Waiting Period)
Minnesota (7 days)19

States Imposing Waiting Periods for Handguns Only

State (Waiting Period)20
Florida (3 days)21
Iowa (3 days)22
Maryland (7 days)23
New Jersey (7 days)24
Wisconsin (48 hours)25

Description of State Laws Governing Waiting Periods

In addition to the District of Columbia, states currently have laws requiring waiting periods: California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

1. States Imposing a Waiting Period on All Firearm Purchases: 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.26 Rhode Island imposes a seven-day waiting period for all purchases of firearms unless the purchaser is a concealed handgun license holder. However, in Rhode Island the seller must deliver the firearm to the purchaser if within seven days he or she does not receive background check information that would disqualify the potential buyer from purchasing the firearm.

In Hawaii, all firearm purchases require issuance of a permit. No permit may be issued earlier than 14 calendar days after the date of the application, except for sales to state or federally licensed dealers, 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.27 All permits must be issued or the application denied before the twentieth day from the date of application. Permits issued for long guns can be used for subsequent purchases of long guns for one year from date of issuance.

In Illinois, it is unlawful for anyone to deliver a firearm prior to the expiration of the statutory waiting periods, which are 24 hours for long guns and 72 hours for handguns. For transfers through licensed dealers and at gun shows, the Department of State Police must approve the transfer or inform the seller of the applicant’s ineligibility within these waiting periods. The waiting periods begin to run at the time an application to purchase the firearm is made. “Application” is defined to mean “when a buyer and seller reach an agreement to purchase a firearm.” Non-residents of Illinois who purchase long guns at gun shows are not subject to these waiting periods.

2. States Imposing a Waiting Period on Purchases of Handguns and Assault Weapons: Minnesota imposes a seven-day waiting period on transfers of handguns and assault weapons from the day the dealer delivers a transfer report to the police chief or sheriff.28 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. The waiting period does not apply to transfers by private sellers, or to transfers to individuals with a transferee permit or a permit to carry a handgun.

3. States Imposing Waiting Periods on Purchases of Handguns Only: Florida, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey and Wisconsin have waiting periods for handgun purchases only.29

a. 48 hours: Wisconsin prohibits federally licensed firearms dealers from transferring any handgun to any person until 48 hours have elapsed from the time the dealer has received confirmation that the Department of Justice has obtained the request for a record search.30

b. 3 days: Florida31 imposes a mandatory three-day waiting period, excluding weekends and legal holidays, between the retail purchase and delivery of any handgun. 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.32

c. 7 days: In Maryland, any person who transfers a handgun must wait seven days following 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. Similarly, New Jersey prohibits retail firearms dealers from delivering a handgun to any person unless the person possesses a valid permit to purchase a handgun and at least seven days have elapsed since the date of application for the permit. The time period to obtain the permit itself can be as long as 30 days (45 days for non-residents)33 while the permit application is processed.

d. Exceptions: Among states with statutory waiting periods only for handguns, Florida and Iowa exempt concealed weapons permit holders from these waiting periods. Florida also exempts persons trading in another handgun. Most states exempt sales to law enforcement.

MODEL LAW

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 imposing a ten-day waiting period prior to the sale of a firearm.

FEATURES OF COMPREHENSIVE LAW GOVERNING WAITING PERIODS

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.

    • 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, Wisconsin, 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)34
  1. Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Operations 2012, at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/reports/2012-operations-report. []
  2. U.S. General Accounting Office, Gun Control: Implementation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System 13 (Feb. 2000), at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/g100064.pdf. []
  3. Id. []
  4. Matthew Miller et al., Suicide Mortality in the United States: The Importance of Attending to Method in Understanding Population-Level Disparities in the Burden of Suicide, 33 Ann. Rev. Pub. Health 393 (2012). []
  5. Matthew Miller et al., The Epidemiology of Case Fatality Rates for Suicide in the Northeast, 43 Annals Of Emergency Med. 723, 726 (2004). []
  6. Nat’l Ctr. for Injury Prevention & Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web-Based Injury Statistics Query & Reporting System (WISQARS) Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010, for National and Regional (Sept. 2012), http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html. []
  7. Id. []
  8. Id. []
  9. John Sides, Gun owners vs. the NRA: What the polling shows, Wash. Post (Dec. 2012) at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/23/gun-owners-vs-the-nra-what-the-polling-shows/. Similarly, a survey conducted for the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2013 found that 76% of Americans, including 67% of gun owners and 47% of NRA members, support giving law enforcement up to 5 business days, if needed, to complete a background check for gun buyers. Colleen L. Barry et al., Perspective:  After Newtown — Public Opinion on Gun Policy and Mental Illness, 368 New Eng. J. Med. 1077-1081 (March 21, 2013) at http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1300512?query=featured_home&&. []
  10. 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1). []
  11. Id. []
  12. Detailed information about private sales is contained in our summary on Universal Background Checks & the Private Sale Loophole. []
  13. South Dakota repealed its 48-hour waiting period for the purchase of a handgun in 2009. 2009 S.D. ALS 122.  Connecticut currently imposes a two-week waiting period on long gun sales, but a law that will become effective April 1, 2014 replaces that waiting period with a licensing requirement.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-37a(g).  Connecticut already imposes a licensing requirement on handgun sales. []
  14. Cal. Penal Code §§ 26815(a), 26950-27140, 27540(a), 27600-27750. []
  15. D.C. Code Ann. § 22-4508. []
  16. 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. []
  17. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/24-3(A)(g). []
  18. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 11-47-35(a)(1), 11-47-35.1, 11-47-35.2. []
  19. 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.” []
  20. South Dakota repealed its 48-hour waiting period for the purchase of a handgun in 2009. 2009 S.D. ALS 122. []
  21. Florida’s three-day waiting period excludes weekends and legal holidays. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 790.0655(1);
    Fla. Const. art. VIII, § 5(b). []
  22. Iowa Code § 724.20. []
  23. 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 will soon be generally banned. See  Md. Code, Crim. Law § 4-303 (as amended by 2013 Md. S.B. 281, effective October 1, 2013). []
  24. N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:58-2a(5)(a), 2C:58-3f. []
  25. Wis. Stat. §§ 175.35(2)(d), 175.35(2g)(c)4.c. []
  26. 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). []
  27. Hawaii requires registration of all firearms. Firearms brought into the state must be registered within three days of arrival. Haw. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 134-3(a). Additional information on Hawaii’s registration requirements is contained in our summary on the Registration of Firearms. []
  28. In Minnesota, with certain limited exceptions, if a person wishes to acquire a handgun or assault weapon from a federally licensed dealer, but does not have a transferee permit or a permit to carry, then the dealer must file a report with the police chief or sheriff, after which time the police chief or sheriff will conduct a background check of the prospective purchaser. Minn. Stat. § 624.7132. []
  29. In addition, dealers in Washington are prohibited from transferring a handgun to a purchaser until five business days have elapsed from the time of receipt of the application to purchase unless a background check is completed beforehand.  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(1)(c).  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 been a resident for less than 90 consecutive days prior to the dealer’s receipt of the application to purchase.  Id.  However, these waiting periods do not apply to concealed handgun license holders.  Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 9.41.090(1). []
  30. In Wisconsin, if the initial background check indicates a felony charge without a recorded disposition, the 48-hour waiting period is extended to the end of the third complete working day commencing after the day on which the finding is made.  The Department must notify the firearms dealer of the extension as soon as practicable.   During the extended period, the Department is to make every reasonable effort to determine the disposition of the charge and notify the firearms dealer of the results as soon as practicable. []
  31. Florida’s constitution authorizes counties to enact three to five-day waiting periods, excluding weekends and legal holidays, in connection with the sale of any firearm occurring within the county. “Sale” is defined to include gun shows and other events open to the public outside of retail firearms establishments. Concealed weapons permit holders are not subject to such waiting periods when purchasing a firearm. Fla. Const. art. VIII, § 5(b). []
  32. After the Iowa permit is issued, the holder may purchase additional handguns without a waiting period for the duration of the permit (one year). []
  33. Note that federally licensed dealers may not sell handguns to out-of-state residents. Additional information on transfer restrictions imposed on federally licensed firearms dealers is contained in our summary on Dealer Regulations. []
  34. Maryland has 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 . []