Although the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right to keep and bear arms for all Americans, regardless of where they live, each state imposes its own laws, rules, and regulations regarding firearms.
Learn about the states with the most restrictive gun laws and how each one fares in various critical aspects of gun ownership and the right to carry.
What Makes a State’s Gun Laws Restrictive?
Generally speaking, any specific state-level firearm legislation or regulation is typically regarded as a gun control law if it imposes restrictions, limitations, or bans regarding ownership, carrying, or particular types of firearms, accessories, and ammunition.
Other measures, such as waiting periods, strict licensing schemes, and state-level background check systems, are also considered gun control laws. The more laws a state has on the books, the more restrictive they are.
Right-To-Carry (RTC) Laws
This category encompasses the state’s rules regarding the right to carry a firearm in public, including concealed and open carry and whether permits are required.
Although the landmark NYSRPA v. Bruen Supreme Court case eliminated arbitrary may-issue concealed carry licensing schemes nationwide, the most restrictive states in the nation may still impose various RTC barriers and limitations.
Magazine Capacity Restrictions
Specific states restrict or ban civilians from possessing detachable magazines or firearms with an ammunition capacity exceeding a set number, often referred to as high-capacity magazines.
Assault Weapon Bans
Named after the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban, which sunset in 2004, this category of gun laws encompasses state-level legislation banning specific firearms.
Such weapons are referred to as assault weapons or similar terms, such as assault rifle or“assault pistol, and the restrictions are typically based on particular, often cosmetic features, commonly perceived to be military-styled.
This category evaluates the rules regarding the state’s self-defense laws and whether the lawful use of force carries specific conditions (Duty-to-Retreat, as opposed to Stand-your-Ground), including in the home (Castle Doctrine).
NFA Item Ownership Restrictions
Some states impose additional restrictions regarding the ownership of National Firearms Act (NFA) items on top of the existing federal laws. NFA items include silencers, short-barreled rifles (SBR), short-barreled shotguns (SBS), machine guns (MG), Destructive Devices (DD), and a catch-all Any Other Weapon (AOW) category.
Gun Transfer Regulations
Federal law requires licensed firearm dealers to verify the identity of all firearm buyers using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). However, some states may also require background checks at the state level or impose additional restrictions, such as waiting periods or background checks on private sales.
Additional rules and statutes that don’t fit into any other category include:
- Whether a state lacks a pre-emption statute preventing cities, counties, and local governments from enforcing laws that are stricter than state-level laws
- Whether the state has Red Flag laws allowing law enforcement to confiscate firearms from individuals deemed at risk to themselves and others without due process
- Laws imposing gun owners to meet minimum gun storage requirements when not in use
List of States with the Most Restrictive Gun Laws
Here’s a closer look at the three states with the most unfriendly laws and regulations for gun owners and the Second Amendment.
1. New York
Since the landmark NYSRPA v. Bruen Supreme Court case, New York’s right-to-carry laws have improved, striking down the previous may-issue concealed carry licensing scheme in favor of a more permissive shall-issue scheme.
However, concealed carrying remains illegal without a NY Pistol License, and although the state’s law books do not address open carry, it is generally considered illegal. Other aspects of New York’s gun laws have remained unchanged (e.g., NY SAFE Act), making them among the most restrictive in the nation.
State laws summary:
- Right-to-carry laws: Shall-issue licensing (CLNY 400.00), open-carry illegal, concealed carry illegal without a license
- Magazine capacity restrictions: All firearms, 10 rounds (265.02)
- Assault weapon bans: Yes, per NY SAFE Act
- Use-of-force laws: Duty-to-Retreat, with a Castle Doctrine exception (35.20)
- NFA items: All banned, except DDs with 3 ounces or less of propellants, and AOWs not disguised as non-firearms (265.02)
- Gun transfer regulations: NY Pistol License required to purchase any handgun or semi-automatic rifle and a minimum age of 21 to purchase a semi-automatic rifle
- Miscellaneous laws: Red Flag law and a 30-day waiting period for buyers who don’t pass the NICS
Hawaii’s gun laws have historically ranked among the most restrictive in the nation, with numerous restrictions regarding the right to purchase, carry, and use firearms on any of the state’s 137 islands. Before the landmark NYSRPA v. Bruen case, Hawaii was a may-issue state notable for delivering very few licenses to its citizens.
Many restrictions unique to Hawaii remain in force, such as a requirement to register all firearms with the county’s local police chief within five days of purchase or arrival to Hawaii.
State laws summary:
- Right-to-carry laws: Shall-issue licensing, licenses valid in the county of issuance only. Open and concealed-carry illegal without a license. (HRS 134-9)
- Magazine capacity restrictions: Pistols only, 10 rounds (134-8)
- “Assault weapon” bans: Pistols only (“assault pistols” as per 134-1)
- Use-of-force laws: Duty-to-Retreat, with a Castle Doctrine exception (703-304)
- NFA items: MGs, SBRs, SBSes, silencers, and most DDs are banned (134-8). Specific AOWs and DDs are legal to possess
- Gun transfer regulations: Permit to purchase required to buy any firearm. Must be at least 21, provide an affidavit of mental health, and pass a waiting period (14 to 20 days, depending on the county) to obtain a permit
- Miscellaneous laws: Red flag law and a state pre-emption statute
As the home of some of the nation’s largest gun control organizations, such as the Giffords Law Center, California is another historically restrictive state for gun owners in the United States.
Although the NYSRPA v. Bruen ruling resulted in the California Attorney General ordering the cessation of enforcement of the state’s “good cause” provisions for concealed carry weapon permits, each county remains free to impose its own requirements.
Additionally, California imposes many unique restrictions, such as a ban on private transfers, restrictions regarding homemade firearms, and a requirement to pass a background check for ammunition purchases.
State laws summary:
- Right-to-carry laws: Nominally shall-issue since NYSRPA v. Bruen depends on each county in practice
- Magazine capacity restrictions: Yes, 10 rounds on all firearms (CAPC 32310). Although the law was temporarily ruled unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit in August 2020, temporarily rendering once-restricted magazines legal, the decision was vacated in February 2021 by the Circuit Court, causing the ban to be reinstated in April of the same year.
- “Assault weapon” bans: Yes
- Use-of-force laws: Stand-your-Ground, Castle Doctrine (198.5)
- NFA items: MGs, SBRs, SBSes require a CA-DOJ Dangerous Weapons Permit. Silencers, most DDs, and most AOWs are banned
- Gun transfer regulations: Private transfers are illegal; all transfers must go through a licensed dealer
- Miscellaneous laws: State assault weapons ban prohibits .50 BMG firearms, homemade firearms must be serialized and registered (29180), and purchasing ammunition requires a background check (30312, 30314)
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