Spoiler alert: in 43 of 50 U.S. states, you do not have to register any of your guns in your name. In the seven other states and D.C., however, gun registration is an important part of owning a firearm. We won’t be able to go hugely in-depth with each individual state’s policies in this article, but we will discuss the basics.
We’ll cover which states require firearm registration, and which states prohibit it. Additionally, we will cover the rules to follow when registering for a gun legally, as well as provide some frequently asked questions about gun registration.
How to Register a Gun in Your Name
The process for registering a gun in your name varies by state and the type of firearm you’re registering, so it’s important to research your state’s laws before attempting to register a weapon. Generally speaking, to register a gun in your name you will need to fill out an application with your local or state law enforcement agency.
The application will ask for basic information such as your name, address, date of birth, and the make, model, and serial number of the firearm (especially if the firearm is reported as stolen). You may also be asked to provide proof of ownership (such as a bill of sale) and proof of residency. It’s also possible that you may be required to submit fingerprints.
Federal Firearm Registration
The federal government does not require individuals to register their firearms at the federal level. However, certain firearms that are considered “NFA weapons” are subject to federal firearm registry requirements. These include possessing firearms such as machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and rifles, suppressors (also known as silencers), and destructive devices such as grenades or bombs.
If you are purchasing an NFA (National Firearms Act) item, the registration will happen as part of the months-long process of getting it. If someone left you a suppressor or other national firearms act item after they died, you’ll need to go through the same application for ownership as they did when they bought it for the gun owners. It’s worth noting that the registration of these items never takes place after the purchase, always before ownership is taken by gun owners.
Which States Require Firearms Registration?
Some states have local law enforcement that requires individuals to register certain firearms with state law enforcement. These states are, at the time of writing this article: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon. Each state has different requirements for which types of firearms need to be registered and which ones don’t, and we’ll cover those in more detail below.
The District of Columbia also requires firearm owners registration and is the only place in the country besides Hawaii where every single firearm must be registered. It’s interesting to see the variety of federal law in place in these states. Technically California and Oregon don’t count, though they have other means of tracking who owns what firearms.
Which States Prohibit Firearm Registration?
Most states don’t have any registration laws on the books regarding firearm registries, but there are currently nine states that have laws that specifically prohibit the establishment of any kind of firearm registry. These states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont.
Rules to Follow When Registering for a Gun Legally
Follow State Guidelines
As mentioned above, the rules for registering a firearm vary by state so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific laws in your state before attempting to register a weapon.
The only literal registry that California maintains is for “assault weapons”, but California also requires that anyone moving to their state report the firearms that they own to the federal government, and California requires all gun sales and transfers (including private sales) to be processed through a licensed dealer and all gun transfer records kept by state law enforcement.
So, they don’t have a gun registry for all firearms but they have a gun registry for all firearms.
New Jersey also maintains a registry for “assault weapons” (I keep putting that in quotes because I have no idea what it means, and I doubt the people who crafted the legislation do either), and will be implementing a new handgun registry for people moving into the state throughout 2024.
New York has an “assault weapons” registry along with a universal handgun registry that is populated when the purchase of the firearm is graciously allowed to happen. Getting a permit to purchase a handgun in New York is a difficult proposition, and the federal firearms license information includes the specific information about the firearm being purchased, including the serial number.
Connecticut is the only state in the Union that bans high capacity magazines and requires any high capacity magazines that pre-ban assault weapons to be registered. The state defines high capacity as anything that holds more than 10 rounds like machine guns and other types. Connecticut also has a registry for “assault weapons”, but not for handguns.
Oregon’s registration laws are basically a carbon copy of California’s – they have a de facto registry by tracking every single firearm sale or transfer (even private ones) in a central database managed by the Department of State Police. While it doesn’t fit the technical definition of a registry, it works in exactly the same way.
This does mean, however, that you don’t have to take any extra steps to register your firearm in Oregon.
Like California, Maryland requires anyone who moves into the state to register all handguns and “assault weapons” they own. Maryland also requires the registration of pre-ban “assault pistols”, but strangely, not long guns that are considered “assault weapons”. At this point, you should only need to register a gun in Maryland if you move there or inherit something that was grandfathered in.
Hawaii is like the District of Columbia, in that they require every single firearm of every type to be registered with the state within 5 days after the firearm is purchased. The registration doesn’t ever need to be renewed because a license is required from anyone who wants to purchase the firearm, so the ownership of every gun is tracked automatically for the firearm owners.
Only Provide Required Information
When registering for a firearm it’s important only to provide the information required by federal law enforcement authorities and not volunteer any additional information that is not directly related to the application process.
This may seem like an odd point to bring up, but there are countless stories of people being temporarily denied weapons permits or having issues with their gun registration because they included information that wasn’t actually necessary and some go-getter at the government agency office decided it was a red flag. Just answer the required questions, get in and get out as quick as you can.
This depends completely on the state that you’re transferring ownership in and the nature of the item that you’re transferring. If it’s an NFA item in a state that allows ownership of NFA items, then the person receiving the item will need to go through the same application process and pay the same fee to get the item that you did when you bought it.
It’s not really a matter of whether you “can”. It’s much more a matter of whether you are required to or not required to. In states where you aren’t required to register your firearm, there’s generally not a method of voluntary registration. Registering your firearm takes place so the government agency can know who each legally-purchased firearm belongs to.
Gun registration is an important part of owning a firearm responsibly in some states where it’s required by law . Knowing which states require firearms to be registered, which ones prohibit such gun registration, and what rules must be followed when registering for one legally can help ensure you remain compliant with all the laws that apply to you.
Gun registration is a hot topic, and it can be frustrating for someone who is not used to having to register their firearms to be put into a situation where they have to disclose what weapons they own to people they neither know nor trust.
Unfortunately the nuts and bolts of how to register a firearm vary so much that it’s not practical to try and put them all into an article like this one, but I hope this article was still helpful and pointed you in the right direction.