Do You Have to Be Fingerprinted to Buy a Gun?

Do You Have to Be Fingerprinted to Buy a Gun?: The Truth About State Laws, Federal Laws, and You

You might be in the market for a firearm. At the same time, you may be wondering something: Do you have to be fingerprinted to buy a gun? Well, the answer often depends on the state where you live.

Federal Law

Under federal law, to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, you must fill out a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) form. This document will ask for your personal information, your contact info, and your history of arrests. The dealer will submit this form to the NICS. Then the agency’s computers will approve or deny the application based on your criminal history.

As the name suggests, this process is usually completed right away. And, at this time, it does not involve fingerprinting.

In a few cases, state laws overrule the NICS requirement. For example, a resident of South Carolina with a concealed weapons permit can bypass this background check.

State Laws

Most gun sales involve licensed dealers. However, in some cases, people privately sell guns to others. For those sales, a federal background check is not required. Instead, state governments regulate private gun sales. And some states insist on fingerprinting customers before those transactions take place.

For instance, in Maryland, a person who wants to buy a handgun privately must apply for a license beforehand. To get such a license, he or she has to undergo a background check that involves getting fingerprinted.

Similarly, in Connecticut, a government agency called the Special Licensing and Firearms Unit reviews applications for gun sales. Each permit lasts for five years and involves a background check with fingerprinting.

At the other end of the spectrum is a state such as Alabama. Alabama requires no fingerprinting, no waiting periods, and no registrations for private gun sales.

Stay Up to Date

The day may come when everyone in the U.S. must submit fingerprints before buying a gun. Indeed, Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives introduced the Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act of 2015. This bill would have required people to get a license from the government to own a gun. Under that proposal, fingerprinting would have been mandatory for all gun sales.

Also, keep in mind that state laws change from time to time. In Illinois, for example, the General Assembly put forward three different gun bills in 2019. All of these proposed laws called for the fingerprinting of people who buy handguns.

Thus, it makes sense to verify the fingerprinting rules before you buy a handgun. You could call your state house, check with a local gun dealer, or search online. By doing so, you’ll have a timely answer to the important question: Do you have to be fingerprinted to buy a gun?