Federal Firearm Carry Laws

NOTE: This website exists as a reference only, and is not to be taken as legal advice. Always read the laws yourself. There may be other laws than the listed laws, information may become out of date, and the interpretations here may not be correct.

Federal Firearm Carry Law

For the purposes of making this information easier to digest, federal firearm carry law will be separated into the following categories:

Federal Preemption Law

There are a few laws that exist which place restrictions on state laws.

One of these laws is Title 18 U.S.C. Section 926A which provides that regardless of prohibitive local laws, one may transport a firearm from one place where a firearm is legal to another place where firearms are legal without fear of prosecution, if the firearm is transported in a specific way. To be protected under this law, the firearm and the ammunition must not be readily accessible from the passenger compartment, or if the vehicle has no compartment other than the driver’s compartment, then the firearms and ammunition must be in a locked case other than the glove box or console. The law imposes no requirement to transport a firearm in such a manner, unless one is seeking protection from prohibitive local laws. Here is the text of this law:

§926A. Interstate transportation of firearms
Notwithstanding any other provision of any law or any rule or regulation of a State or any political subdivision thereof, any person who is not otherwise prohibited by this chapter from transporting, shipping, or receiving a firearm shall be entitled to transport a firearm for any lawful purpose from any place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm to any other place where he may lawfully possess and carry such firearm if, during such transportation the firearm is unloaded, and neither the firearm nor any ammunition being transported is readily accessible or is directly accessible from the passenger compartment of such transporting vehicle: Provided, That in the case of a vehicle without a compartment separate from the driver's compartment the firearm or ammunition shall be contained in a locked container other than the glove compartment or console.

Despite this law, many state governments have tried to enforce their ordinances to the contrary either out of ignorance of the law or out of disrespect for the law. While a person seeking defense under this law may eventually be found not guilty if they meet all the criteria, it is always best to try and avoid being prosecuted in the first place.

Editor's Opinion: I think this is a rare example of where the federal government's law actually conforms both to the wording and intent behind the interstate commerce clause of the constitution, as this law serves to prevent local laws from interfering with interstate commerce. Without this law, it would often be impossible to move arms cargo from one legal place to another, especially by a direct route, because of local restrictions.

Also, under the LEOSA, or "Law Enforcement Safety Act," federal law provides that qualified law enforcement and qualified retired law enforcement officers can carry a firearm, regardless of state or local law to the contrary. However, specific rules regulating the carry of firearms will still apply. In general, a qualified officer will have statutory powers of arrest and be authorized to carry a firearm on the job. A retired officer must generally have been a qualified officer for a period of 10 years and retired under honorable conditions. A retired officer will also generally have to have qualified to use firearms to the same degree as regular officers in the last 12 month period. There is more to this law, but that is the gist of it.

Also, there are federal laws designed to prevent federal regulatory agencies from making regulations. Public Law 111-24 Section 512 states that no regulation that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm in any unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System shall be enforced if the possession of the firearm is in compliance with the law of the State.

The U.S. Constitution has also been held to restrict some overly restrictive gun control laws. See the section on the constitution.

Federal Restrictions

There are quite a few federal restrictions on carry of firearms. They include but are not limited to:

  • One may not carry (or store) a weapon on postal property per 39 CFR 232.1.
  • One may not carry a weapon on VA Hospital property per 38 CFR 1.218.
  • Per Title 18 U.S.C. Section 930 one may not carry a weapon in buildings owned by the federal government, although one exception allows for “the lawful carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in a Federal facility incident to hunting or other lawful purposes.” The probability of a successful legal defense to prosecution under this law when using that exception for carrying a firearm for the purpose of self-defense is unknown.
  • Per 49 CFR 1540.111 firearms are prohibited in the sterile areas of an airport.
  • Title 18 U.S.C. Section 922, (Q), also known as the GFSZA, or Gun Free School Zones Act. The penalty for a conviction is up to five years in prison, a fine, or both. Exceptions to this law include the individual possessing the firearm being on private property, the individual possessing a firearm having been licensed to do so by the state where the school zone is located, or the firearm being unloaded and in a locked case. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 921 Definitions determines that a school zone is within 1000 feet of a school.
It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm that has moved in or that otherwise affects interstate or foreign commerce at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.

In 1990, Congress passed the original Gun Free School Zones Act and it lacked the interstate commerce wording. In 1996, in United States vs. Lopez, the act was considered an unconstitutional extension of the interstate commerce clause and thus was voided. Immediately after that, Congress passed a nearly identical law, but modified it declaring that all firearms have moved in interstate commerce and made it a crime to possess a firearm that has moved in interstate commerce in a school zone.

Editor's Note: Since the law has been modified in response to U.S. vs Lopez, there have been convictions under the new law, and the charges were mostly tacked on in a list of other federal crimes committed at the same time. There has been at least one attempt to argue that the law is still unconstitutional for the same reasons in a federal court, and the new law was upheld. However, the law has not yet been appealed to the Supreme Court. To me, it seems that the law should be held unconstitutional for the same reasons as it was found unconstitutional originally, but Supreme Court rulings regarding the application of the interstate commerce clause to drug laws leave some doubt.

Beware that there are other federal regulatory agencies which may have also established their own rules, which I may have failed to list, and there may be other federal laws that relate to the carry of firearms that I may have missed.

U.S. Constitution

Although arguably outside the scope of powers provided to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution in Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution, federal gun law restricting carry of firearms does exist. It has been justified by spurious reasoning that carry of personal firearm for self-defense somehow is an issue of interstate commerce. This is also in spite of the 2nd Amendment of the United States Constitution which 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.

Recent court cases have held that the 2nd Amendment provides that people cannot be prohibited to own a handgun in their house and to keep it ready for self-defense (U.S. vs Heller), as well as that the 2nd amendment is incorporated to the states (McDonald vs. Chicago).

Editor's Opinion: My belief, which isn't worth a lot when you are being prosecuted for violating laws that should not even exist, is that the 2nd amendment was originally designed to protect all arms, and not just firearms, and that it was for both the keeping and carrying of the arms. To bear arms means to carry arms. The amendment is declaring that the people have the right to keep and bear arms. That is the active clause. The other clause states why the active clause is important, but it does not limit or expand the right. "Well regulated" most closely means, "in good working order," based upon the phrasing of the day. The meaning of this phrase was not that it should be highly restricted by law. The militia, as the word meant at the time of the founding of the United States, means the body of all able-bodied persons. The clause stating that a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state is basically stating that a free state cannot be secure without the people being well armed.

At the time of the founding of this country, private ownership of arms of all types was common. People owned swords and bayonets. People owned the most advanced small arms available. Repeating firearms, while rare, did exist in some forms. There was also private possession of cannons, grenades and other explosives, and even private war ships.