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Firearm Purchaser Licensing

Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws, or permit-to-purchase, are a complement to existing background check systems. They require prospective firearm purchasers to first obtain a license. These laws are associated with lower rates of diversions of firearms for use in crime, homicide, mass shootings, suicide, and shootings by police. 

The Issue 

Existing loopholes in the federal background check law provide an avenue for individuals who are prohibited from owning a firearm to purchase one.  Private sales, at gun shows and through online marketplaces, and delayed background checks contribute to thousands of prohibited persons acquiring firearms each year. 

Universal state background checks are necessary for closing many of these loopholes, but research shows that these laws alone are not linked to reductions in violence. Further enhancements are needed to prevent people who are prohibited from purchasing a firearm and traffickers from acquiring multiple firearms they might then sell in other states. Additionally, universal background checks do not provide a waiting period that may allow individuals in crisis to purchase a firearm on the spot. Both suicide and homicide can result from impulsive thoughts or actions. Putting time and space between a firearm and a person who is at risk of harming self or others can reduce the likelihood that someone may use that firearm in a time of crisis. 

The Solution 

Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws enhance universal background checks by requiring fingerprinting, a more thorough background check using local records, and a built-in waiting period. The additional components play a vital role in preventing people with a history of violence, those at risk for future interpersonal violence or suicide, and traffickers from obtaining firearms. 

Acquiring Firearm Purchaser Licensing typically requires the applicant to apply for a license through local or state law enforcement, undergo a thorough background check (often facilitated by fingerprints), and complete a firearm safety training course. 

Research shows that Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws are one of the most effective ways to reduce many forms of firearm injury and death including homicides and suicides.  


The Evidence

Faculty at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions have conducted a series of studies examining the effect of Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws.1,2

Connecticut firearm licensing law associated with fewer firearm deaths.

Connecticut’s purchaser licensing law was associated with significant reductions in rates of firearm homicide and firearm suicide. The most recent study estimates Connecticut’s law reduced firearm homicide rates by 28 percent and firearm suicide rates by 33 percent over a 22-year period.   

Repeal of Missouri’s firearm licensing law associated with more firearm deaths.

The repeal of Missouri’s purchaser licensing law was associated with an increase in rates of firearm homicides by 47 percent and firearm suicide rates by 23 percent from 2007 to 2016.3

Firearm Purchaser Licensing protects law enforcement.

Another study found evidence that these changes in firearm purchaser licensing laws were linked to lower rates of fatal shootings of police officers in Connecticut and higher rates of nonfatal shootings of police in Missouri.4

Lower rates of mass shootings in states with strong licensing laws.

States with strong firearm purchaser licensing laws were associated with 56 percent lower rates of fatal mass shooting incidents, and 67 percent fewer mass shooting victims.5

Reduction in urban gun violence.

Firearm purchaser licensing laws were associated with an 11 percent reduction in firearm homicides in urban counties from 1984-2015.6

Reduction in gun diversion.

Firearm purchaser licensing laws are also associated with significantly lower rates of firearms being diverted for criminal use shortly after retail sale.7


Data Supporting Firearm Purchaser Licensing

Watch the video produced by experts at the Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Learn more about the impact of these laws in states that have implemented them, the associated reduction in rates of firearm-related crime and violence, and data on the broad public support for these laws across demographics

Our Work 

The Center plays a pivotal role in evaluating the impacts of Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws. We have published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles finding that Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws are consistently an effective solution to reduce homicide, suicide, shootings of law enforcement officers, and intimate partner homicide. 

Our advocacy team has been instrumental in passing Firearm Purchaser Licensing laws and continues to push for this evidence-based policy in states across the country. Following the passage of legislation, the Center’s advocacy team stays engaged to ensure the law is successfully implemented.  

“Requiring a license or permit to purchase a handgun reduces firearm homicides and suicides, as well as trafficking and shootings of law enforcement officers. It is one of the most effective policies we have to reduce gun violence.”  

Cassandra Crifasi, PhD '14, MPH


Firearm Purchaser Licensing Certificate with handgun

Co-director Cassandra Crifasi, PhD '14, MPH, answers frequently asked questions about Firearm Purchaser Licensing as new laws are considered in several states across the country including Delaware, Washington, and Virginia, and a law passed by Oregon in 2022 is being litigated. Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have some form of Firearm Purchaser Licensing in place.

Related Journal Articles

1. Webster D, Crifasi CK, & Vernick JS. (2014). Effects of the repeal of Missouri’s handgun purchaser licensing law on homicides. Journal of Urban Health. 

2. Crisafi CK, Meyers JS, Vernick JS, and Webster DW. (2015). Effects of changes in permit-to-purchase handgun laws in Connecticut and Missouri on suicide rates. Preventive Medicine. 

3. McCourt A, Crifasi CK, Vernick JS, Kagawa R, Wintemute G & Webster DW. (2020). Purchaser licensing, point-of-sale background check laws, and firearm homicide and suicide in 4 US states, 1985-2017. American Journal of Public Health. 

4. Crifasi CK, Pollack KM, Webster DW.(2016). Effects of state-level policy changes on homicide and nonfatal shootings of law enforcement officers. Injury Prevention. 

5. Webster DW, McCourt AD, Crifasi CK, Booty MD & Stuart EA. (2020) Evidence concerning the regulation of firearms design, sale, and carrying on fatal mass shootings in the United States. Criminology & Public Policy. 

6. Crifasi CK, Merrill-Francis M, McCourt A, Vernick JS, Wintemute GJ & Webster DW. (2018). Correction to: Association between firearm laws and homicide in urban counties. Journal of Urban Health. 

7. Crifasi CK, Buggs SA, Choksy S & Webster DW.(2017). The initial impacts of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013 on the supply of crime handguns in Baltimore. The Russel Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences. 

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