Gun Permits: States, License Applications & Everything You Need to Know About Getting a Firearms Permit

In 1776 the founders of the United States witnessed a problem as they declared independence from Britain. 

They noticed in the year prior that the British troops were going from city to city collecting weapons and forcing civilians to give up the rights to their firearms. The British did this as a response to the rebellion from the colonies. Their goal was simple, to prevent the people from rising up and fighting back. 

An unarmed population cannot fight back against a well-trained (and subsequently well-armed) military force. 

This didn’t sit well with the founding fathers. In fact, because of this act, the individuals who wrote the constitution were persistent to put in the second amendment as a protection mechanism for the people. 

The Second Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This plainly means the people have an inalienable right to protect themselves with the use of firearms. 

The Second Amendment does create precedence for allowing the people to keep and own guns as a means of protecting themselves and the security of their State. However, this doesn’t mean the right is unlimited. 

In fact, the late Supreme Court Judge Antonine Scalia wrote an opinion which states: “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues ...  The majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues.

This is where the topic of gun permits comes into the picture. It’s because of these judgments where the topic of gun permits even exists. 

The goal of the justices was to communicate that sensible restriction on the right to bear arms is constitutional, yet it’s unconstitutional to ban specific types of firearms. 

So, with this in mind, where do we stand now as citizens of the United States regarding gun permits?

Well…

It’s complicated.

Why?

Because each state has the right to issue its own permits and restrictions (for a variety of aspects related to owning firearms) as long as they’re not infringing on the rights previously granted by the Second Amendment. 

With this in mind, you can now understand the different types of gun permits, the difference between a gun permit and license, and the application process for obtaining these permits. 

Let’s begin!

What Are Licenses and Permits?

This has been a hot topic with gun owners for the past two decades. There’s still quite a lot of confusion about how these words should be interpreted and the meanings behind them. Along with if they can be used interchangeably. 

What exactly is the difference between a gun permit and a gun license? 

Can you use the two interchangeably?

If you have a gun permit, is that also a license?

These are all questions I’m sure you’re probably asking when you start diving deep into the legality of owning a firearm. 

Important Side Note: before the difference is discussed it’s important to point out that we are not lawyers. We are citizens who study the material provided to us in as much depth as possible, but we are not offering any legal advice. You need to double-check with your state legislature. We can only give you a layman’s point of view.

What Is A License?

A license is given by a governmental authority allowing a citizen to engage in an activity that is regulated or controlled by the authority. 

A good example is your driver’s license. You are allowed by the Department of Transportation (i.e. the government) to operate a motor vehicle on public land. Now, there are certain restrictions with this license. For example, in Florida non-commercial drivers have a Class E license which only allows you to operate a vehicle under a certain weight. 

This works similarly when it comes to a “gun license”. 

States which offer a “gun license” typically operate in a “Shall Issue” process for their gun ownership. Typically this means the state doesn’t have strict laws preventing the owning of a firearm, and they offer a federally legal citizen a license to participate in owning and carrying a firearm. 

What Is A Permit?

A permit is an official permission, by a government authority, to participate in an activity they normally determine is “illegal” otherwise. In theory, a permit offers the citizen the ability to “break the law” (so to speak) but ONLY if you have a permit indicating this. 

In short, you’re “permitted” to proceed with your action even if the law prevents regular citizens from doing so.

Going back to the driver’s example. Most states only allow individuals 16 years or older to legally drive. However, a 15-year-old can get a driver’s “permit” which allows them to “break the law” with strict restrictions in place to prevent unnecessary damage from occurring. 

If you deviate from the restrictions, you would be breaking the law, and not following the “permission” (permit) granted to you by the governmental authority.

Difference Between Gun License & Permit

With these two definitions cleared up, we can now talk about the difference between the two, and why they matter to you. 

The best example of the difference is in the case of New York state vs. New York City. 

In New York state you can obtain a handgun license allowing you to purchase and possess a handgun. 

However, this license wouldn’t be allowed or acknowledged in New York City. You would need an additional endorsement in the form of a “gun permit” to possess and carry a handgun in the city (typically law enforcement officers only have this permit, along with federal agents, and military). 

It’s important to remember that every state has the right to define its own local regulations when it comes to offering a license or permit to residents (or non-residents for that matter). 

Yet, this is the general difference between the two terms, and why it’s important for you (as the well-informed citizen you are) to know how they differ. 

Different Types Of Gun Permits & Licenses

With all of the above known, we can now go into the different types of gun permits and licenses. Remember, each state is going to be different, and new laws are being created every year, so keep an eye on your local regulations to be 100% certain. 

In the United States, gun laws (including their permits and licenses) are enforced by local state agencies along with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives or the ATF. 

Unfortunately, even though we’ve created the most accurate definition regarding the difference between licenses and permits, quite a lot of states use them interchangeably. 

It’s not technically correct for them to do this, but it’s important to know in case you were wondering. 

Generally, you can group the gun licenses into 4 separate categories: 

  1. Permits To Purchase Firearms
  2. Licenses To Carry Or Own Firearms
  3. Knowledge Licenses (Certifications)
  4. Registration Licensing

Permit To Purchase Firearms

There are currently 15 states who categorize themselves as a state requiring a purchase permit. These states require you to purchase a license or permit (depending on how the state defines it) to purchase a handgun.

These states include: 

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island

Licenses To Carry Or Own Firearms

In general, these licenses are required in order to carry your handgun (or long barrel firearm) with you on your person at any time. These are often considered concealed carry licenses (CCW Licenses) or concealed carry permits depending on the state code. 

There is some confusion on this subject. If your state is a constitutional carry state, this means you’re allowed to carry your weapon on your person without needing a permit. There are currently 19 states which allow for this.

However, most states only allow carrying (both openly and concealed) through the use of a permit.

These states include: 

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts 
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Knowledge Licenses Or Certifications

These licenses or permits indicated a citizen did the required firearm training to be allowed for purchasing or carrying a firearm. These trainings are rather intensive and are used to vet individuals before they purchase a firearm. 

There are currently 2 states who require a knowledge license: 

  • California
  • Washington

Registration License

There is currently one jurisdiction that requires a registration of your firearm. The District of Columbia requires all weapons to be registered and licensed before obtaining them. 

License Application Process

As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to understand that each gun permit is regulated and controlled by the state itself. Each state handles its interpretation of the law differently, so long as it’s not infringing on the Second Amendment.

This is also true of the application process. Each state will require a different process, but it generally falls under the following rules:

  • Obtain the application form from your local county Sheriff.
  • Complete the form.
  • Submit your application to the Sheriff's Office in the county you reside in.
  • You will be notified by mail if your application has been approved.

For more information, click below to your individual state's gun laws.