Gun Laws: Things To Know If You're Packin'

United States


Caution: California has extensive state and local regulatory schemes over firearms and ammunition. With narrow exceptions, California law generally prohibits the transport or carrying in public (either in a vehicle or on one's person) of concealed handguns, and the carrying of any loaded firearm. During transport a firearm must generally be unloaded and locked in the vehicle's trunk or in a locked container in the vehicle other than the utility or glove compartment. Permits to carry concealed or loaded firearms are often difficult to get, particularly in urban areas.

Importation of so-called "assault weapons," .50 BMG rifles, and magazines that hold over ten rounds is heavily regulated and generally prohibited. Possession of an "assault weapon" or .50 BMG rifle is prohibited unless the firearm is registered. Even registered "assault weapons" or .50 BMG rifles may only be transported to and from specified places for specified purposes. A person moving into California must first show "good cause" for a permit to bring these firearms into the state. Permits are rarely issued except for police or for entertainment productions. The general prohibitions on the importation and possession of "assault weapons" and .50 BMG rifles do not apply to nonresidents coming to California to compete at authorized sporting events at authorized venues. Preauthorization from the California Deptartment of Justice in Sacramento for any of these activities is required. For additional information call the Department of Justice Firearms Bureau at (916) 263-4887, or at


A permit is required to transport a handgun in a vehicle. A nonresident may transport a handgun in or through the state for the purpose of changing residences or taking part in a firearms competition, "formal" training or a collectors' exhibition, provided the person is a resident of the U.S. and is "permitted to possess and carry a pistol or revolver in the state or subdivision of the United States in which such person resides." In all cases, the handgun must be unloaded and not readily or directly accessible from the passenger compartment of the vehicle. If the vehicle has no compartment separate from the passenger compartment, the firearm must be in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console. A special permit is required to possess a so-called "assault weapon," a term that is defined to include any selective-fire firearm capable of fully automatic, semi-automatic or burst fire at the option of the user, or any one of more than five dozen specified semi-automatics. Connecticut law expressly incorporates FOPA's protections with respect to those who are transporting firearms through the state. Contact the Connecticut State Police Special Firearms Licensing Unit for further information at (860) 685-8290.


Registration is required of all firearms with the county chief of police within 72 hours of arrival on the islands. Rifles or shotguns may be transported for target shooting at a range or for hunting, provided they are unloaded and cased or securely wrapped. If they are transported for hunting, a valid state hunting license must be procured. Handgun transportation is limited to one's place of sojourn or between the place of sojourn and a target range or going to or from a hunting area. The handgun must be unloaded and securely wrapped or cased. Similar transportation restrictions apply to ammunition.

Hawaii also bans the possession or importation into the state of so-called "assault pistols," which are defined in relation to certain physical characteristics. Also banned is the "possession ... of detachable ammunition magazines with a capacity in excess of ten rounds which are designed for or capable of use with a pistol."


Illinois is the only state in the nation without a lawful means of carrying a usable and readily-accessible handgun about one's person. In addition, several overlapping state statutes restrict the transport of firearms in vehicles. Non-residents who are traveling through Illinois and whose itinerary does not allow them to take advantage of FOPA should have a valid Illinois Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) or a valid firearm license or registration from another state and should keep any firearms unloaded and cased; store ammunition in a separate, closed container; and transport both firearms and ammunition in as inaccessible a location within the vehicle as possible.

Illinois also allows localities to enact firearms restrictions greater than those imposed by state law, and a number of jurisdictions have done so, including Aurora, Chicago, Cook County, Evanston, and Oak Park. In addition to the steps mentioned above, travelers may want to transport their firearms in a broken down, non-functioning state when traveling through these jurisdictions. Chicago's Municipal Code also contains a rebuttable presumption that any person in the city for more than 24 hours is not engaged in interstate travel and is subject to all local laws and requirements regarding the possession of firearms and ammunition.

Travelers should also be aware that several of these jurisdictions ban specific types of firearms, ammunition, ammunition feeding devices, and/or firearm accessories. Chicago, for example, bans handguns declared "unsafe" by the Superintendent of the Department of Police, so-called "assault weapons," machine guns and other firearms regulated under the National Firearms Act, "laser sight accessories," firearm silencers or "mufflers," "high-capacity" (i.e., more than 12-round) magazines, and "metal piercing bullets" (which include ammunition with non-lead projectiles). All these items are subject to seizure and forfeiture. In some cases, the local ordinances have no explicit exceptions to these bans for travelers merely passing through the jurisdiction.

Travelers planning extended stops in any of these jurisdictions should contact local authorities for more detailed information and proceed with caution.


The unlicensed transportation of handguns in vehicles is prohibited, except for a variety of lawful purposes, including target shooting. A handgun must be transported unloaded and in an enclosed case or holster with a strap. Maryland also prohibits the possession or transportation into the state of so-called "assault pistols," which a statute defines by specifying certain makes and models, as well as "a copy, regardless of the producer or manufacturer." Prohibited models include, but are not limited to, semi-automatic versions of the UZI, Intratec TEC-DC9, and Bushmaster pistols.


Caution: Massachusetts imposes harsh penalties on the mere possession and transport of firearms unrelated to criminal or violent conduct. Possession of any firearm or ammunition within the state generally requires a state-issued firearm identification card (FID) or license. Licensing and possession regulations vary according to the type of firearm at issue.

Nonresidents may possess rifles, shotguns and "ammunition therefor" without a license or FID while traveling in or through the Commonwealth, provided that the rifle or shotgun is unloaded and enclosed in a case. A nonresident without a license or FID may also carry or possess "conventional rifles, shotguns, and ammunition therefor" if the person meets the requirements for such carrying or possession in the state in which he or she resides. Persons in possession of firearms or ammunition who are moving into Massachusetts or returning to the Commonwealth after an absence of at least 180 consecutive days must obtain the proper credentials within 60 days of entry in order to continue to possess the firearms or ammunition legally.

A nonresident "may carry a pistol or revolver in and through the commonwealth" for purposes of attending a competition or a meeting or exhibition of collectors, or for hunting, provided the person has a valid carry permit from another state whose issuing requirements meet certain guidelines specified under Massachusetts law. If the person is traveling for hunting, he or she must also possess a hunting license issued by Massachusetts or the state of destination. Massachusetts will also issue qualified nonresidents a one-year license to carry a firearm in the Commonwealth. The possession of so-called "assault weapons" and "large capacity feeding devices" (except those "lawfully possessed on September 13, 1994") is forbidden throughout the Commonwealth. An earlier-enacted ban on "assault weapons" that applies only to Boston theoretically allows for covered firearms to be transported or possessed in certain circumstances. Since Boston is authorized under the law to establish its own roster of banned weapons, firearms that are not considered "assault weapons" under state law could conceivably still be covered by the Boston ban. Prospective travelers are urged to contact the Massachusetts Firearms Records Bureau at (617)660-4780 or the State Police at for further information.


Caution: New Jersey has highly restrictive firearms laws. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that anyone traveling within the state is deemed to be aware of these regulations and will be held strictly accountable for violations.

State law generally prohibits any person from knowingly possessing or transporting any rifle or shotgun without first having obtained a New Jersey firearms purchaser identification card (FPIC),or from possessing or transporting any handgun without first having obtained a New Jersey handgun carry permit. State law also bans the possession or transport of any so-called "assault firearm," models of which are specified by statute, as well as any firearm which is substantially identical to the listed models, unless the firearm is licensed or registered in accordance with New Jersey law or rendered inoperable. Nonresidents are eligible to obtain a New Jersey FPIC, handgun carry permit, or "assault weapon" license. Also prohibited is the knowing possession of any loaded rifle or shotgun, "[u]nless otherwise permitted by law." Finally, the transport of a so-called "large-capacity ammunition magazine" (i.e., a magazine for a semi-automatic firearm capable of holding more than 15 rounds) except by military or law enforcement personnel for official purposes, is also prohibited.

The law presumes that a person does not have any required license, permit, or registration "until he establishes the contrary."

Various exceptions apply. An FPIC or carry license is not required for transporting a rifle, shotgun, or handgun from the place of purchase to the person's residence or place of business, for transporting a rifle or shotgun between a residence and place of business or between businesses and residences when moving, or for transporting a rifle or shotgun between a residence or business and a place of repair for the purpose of repair. A member of a qualifying rifle or pistol club may transport "such firearms as are necessary for ... target practice" when traveling to or from a place of target practice.

An FPIC or handgun carry permit is also not required by a person transporting any firearm while traveling directly to or from: (1) any place for the purpose of hunting, provided the person has in his possession a valid hunting license; (2) any target range or other authorized place for the purpose of practice, match, target, trap, or skeet shooting exhibitions; or (3) any exhibition or display of firearms that meets various qualifications specified by law or in rules promulgated by the Superintendent of State Police, who must be notified of the exhibition or display at least 30 days in advance.

Any firearm being transported in a vehicle for any of these purposes "shall be carried unloaded and contained in a closed and fastened case, gunbox, securely tied package, or locked in the trunk of the automobile in which it is being transported, and in [sic] the course of travel shall include only such deviations as are reasonably necessary."


Caution: New York state's general approach is to make the possession of handguns and so-called "assault weapons" and "large capacity ammunition feeding devices" illegal and then provide exceptions that the accused may raise as "affirmative defenses" to prosecution. The only exceptions to the "assault weapons" and "large capacity" magazine bans are provisions which allow possession of otherwise banned items manufactured on or before September 13, 1994, or ammunition feeding devices "capable of operating only with .22 caliber rimfire ammunition." The possession or transport of any other "assault weapon" or "high capacity" magazine is a felony. The prohibited ammunition feeding devices include not just magazines that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds but those "that can be readily restored or converted to accept more than 10 rounds."

Possessing a loaded handgun outside one's home or place of business without a license is a felony. This applies not only to those who possess loaded handguns, but also to anyone who merely possesses a handgun and "at the same time ... a quantity of ammunition which may be used to discharge such firearm." Licenses to possess and carry handguns are not issued to out-of-state residents, unless they are principally employed or own a business in New York.

A nonresident who "has in his possession a pistol license or firearms registration card issued in accordance with the laws of his place of residence" may transport a handgun to and from, and possess a handgun while attending, "an organized competitive pistol match or league competition" approved by or conducted under the auspices of the National Rifle Association or the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association or at a "an organized convention or exhibition for the display of or education about firearms" approved by or conducted under the auspices of the NRA, so long as all of the following apply: (1) the person is a competitor in the match or a registered participant in the exhibition or display; (2) the possession occurs during or within 48 hours of the event; (3) the person has never been convicted of a felony or a crime that within New York would constitute a felony; and (4) the handgun is transported unloaded in an opaque container together with a copy of the match or exhibition program, schedule, or registration card. A person may also possess or transport a handgun if he or she is a member or coach of an accredited college or university target pistol team who is transporting the handgun into or through New York to participate in a collegiate, target, or Olympic pistol competition approved by or under the auspices of the National Rifle Association. During transport the handgun must be unloaded and in a locked carrying case, and any ammunition for the handgun must be locked in a separate container.

A number of localities, including Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Suffolk County, and Yonkers, impose their own requirements on the possession, registration, and transport of firearms. Possession of a handgun within New York City requires a New York City handgun license or a special permit from the city police commissioner validating a state license within the city. Even New York state licenses are generally not valid within New York City unless a specific exemption applies, such as when the New York City police commissioner has issued a special permit to the licensee or "the firearms covered by such license are being transported by the licensee in a locked container and the trip through the city of New York is continuous and uninterrupted." Possession of a shotgun or rifle within New York City requires a permit, which is available to non-residents, and a certificate of registration. No person may possess a loaded rifle or shotgun anywhere in public within New York City limits. A non-resident without a permit may possess an unregistered long gun for up to 24 hours in New York City if in transit to a destination outside the city, provided that the firearm is at all times unloaded and in a locked case or locked automobile trunk and the person is "lawfully in possession of said rifle or shotgun according to the laws of his or her place of residence."


A Rhode Island carry permit is generally required to transport a handgun in a vehicle. This requirement does not apply, however, to the holder of an out-of-state carry permit who intends to travel uninterrupted through the state. No permit is required to transport an unloaded handgun from the place of purchase to the purchaser's business or residence, between a person's residence and business, or to a federal firearms licensee for the purpose of sale, provided that the pistol and any ammunition for it is stored in a locked container or the ammunition is in a place, such as the trunk, that is not directly accessible from the vehicle's passenger. A person may also transport an unloaded handgun without a permit between the person's home or place of business and a "bona fide target practice range" for the purpose of competition or training. During such transport the handgun must be either "broken down ... and carried as openly as circumstances will permit" or "secured in a separate container suitable for the purpose."


Caution: In general, no one may possess a firearm within the District without a valid registration certificate. No such registration is available for .50 BMG rifles or so-called "assault weapons." The District also bans the possession of magazines (except those for .22 caliber rimfire ammunition) with a capacity of more than 10 rounds or that can be readily converted or restored to accept more than 10 rounds, as well as the possession of ammunition without a firearms registration certificate. The certificate requirement does not apply to nonresidents who are "participating in any lawful recreational firearm-related activity within the District, or on [their] way to or from such activity in another jurisdiction." To qualify for this exception, a person must, upon demand of a law enforcement officer, "exhibit proof that he is on his way to or from such activity" and that the person's possession of the firearm is lawful in the person's place of residence. The person must also be transporting the firearm from a place where the person may lawfully possess and carry it to another place where the person may lawfully possess and carry it, the firearm must be unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition may be readily or directly accessible from the automobile's passenger compartment, or if the vehicle does not have a separate trunk, the firearm or ammunition must be kept in a locked container.


Caution: Canada has very strict laws governing the transportation and possession of firearms.

Lawful use and possession of firearms in Canada requires the possessor to be licensed and the firearm to be registered. Nonresidents may meet these requirements in either of two ways. The first is to complete a Non-resident Firearm Declaration prior to arrival at the point of entry. Declarations are valid for 60 days but may be renewed free of charge before expiration. The second method is to apply for a five-year Canadian Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) and then, once the PAL is obtained, register the firearms in Canada.

In addition, Canadian law establishes three broad classifications of firearms: "non-restricted," "restricted," and "prohibited." A person may not enter Canada with prohibited firearms, which include: (1) a handgun with a barrel length of 105 mm (approximately 4.1 inches) or less; (2) a handgun capable of firing .25 or .32 caliber ammunition; (3) a rifle or shotgun that has been altered so that its barrel length is less than 457 mm (approximately 18 inches) or its overall length is less than 660 mm (approximately 26 inches); (5) automatic firearms (including those converted to fire only as semiautomatics); and (6) certain firearms specified by model (and their variants), including AR-15s (as well as .22 rimfire clones), AKs, various semi-automatic shotguns, Intratec TEC-DC9s, UZIs, Steyr AUGs, FN-FALs, and numerous others. Also prohibited is the importation of so-called "large capacity magazines," which generally means any magazine for a semiautomatic centerfire rifle that holds more than five rounds or any magazine for a handgun that holds more than 10 rounds.

Restricted firearms include any non-prohibited handgun; a non-prohibited centerfire rifle with a barrel of less than 470 mm (approximately 18.5 inches); a firearm that can be fired after being folded, collapsed, or otherwise reduced to a length of less than 660 mm (approximately 26 inches); and other models designated by law. These require an Authorization to Transport (ATT) in addition to the Non-resident Firearm Declaration or PAL.

Limited amounts of ammunition may be imported.

All firearms must be transported unloaded. Non-restricted firearms left unattended in a vehicle should be locked in the vehicle's trunk, or if the vehicle does not have a trunk, locked out of sight in the vehicle's interior. Restricted firearms must be rendered inoperable during transport by a secure locking device or locked within an opaque container that cannot readily or accidentally be broken open during travel. Canadian officials recommend using both of these measures for restricted firearms, as well as removing the bolt or bolt carrier, if applicable. Information and forms governing all of these requirements may be obtained from the Canadian Firearm Program (CFP) website at or by contacting the CFP at 1-800-731-4000.


Caution: Mexico severely restricts the importation of firearms and ammunition, and violations are likely to result in harsh punishment. The United States Department of State and Mexican tourism officials have strongly cautioned U.S. citizens visiting Mexico to leave their firearms at home.

Limited exceptions apply for the purpose of hunting. Because foreign hunters in Mexico must be accompanied by a licensed Mexican hunting guide, anyone planning to hunt in Mexico should contact his or her outfitter for information on import requirements. Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change, and the NRA warns that their summary of gun laws "is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law. To determine the applicability of these laws to specific situations which you may encounter, you are strongly urged to consult a local attorney."

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