The NCSL Blog


By Jonathan Griffin

Voters in California, Maine and Nevada will decide next week whether to change their states’ laws regarding firearms and ammunition.

Handgun and ammunitionMaine and Nevada’s ballot measures would require a background check before any firearm transfer.

If approved, they would join the eight states and Washington, D.C., that already require background checks before any firearm transfer. In addition, Maryland and Pennsylvania require background checks on handgun transfers, and specified other firearms in Maryland’s case. 

Firearm regulation has typically been handled via the legislature amending their state statutes, but recently states have begun allowing voters to determine the level of firearm regulation in their state. 

Washington successfully passed a universal background check ballot measure in 2014, becoming the first state to pass a similar law through this method. Groups that advocate for greater firearm regulation consider private transfers without background checks “the most dangerous gap” in firearms policy, but opposing groups say that these ballot measures “accomplish little besides burdening honest gun owners with new fees and paperwork.”

California is also looking to amend their firearms laws, notably to require a background check when purchasing ammunition.

New York is the only other state that requires a background check for all ammunition purchases. Proponents of the ballot measure say that it will help keep ammunition out of the wrong hands, but opponents point out the difficulty in implementing the ballot measure if passed. New York has suspended their program due to a “lack of adequate technology.”

Jonathan Griffin covers firearm issues and is a program principal in NCSL's Center on Legislative Strengthening.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.