Top 10 US States With Strictest Gun Laws 2023: Locked & Regulated

Gun Rights

In the tapestry of American life, the thread of gun ownership weaves a complex pattern, colored by the fierce debate over Second Amendment rights and the quest for public safety.

As someone  immersed in the study of gun laws, I’ve watched the evolution of legislation with keen interest, particularly noting the shifts and turns that have led us to the current state of affairs in 2023.

This year, the spotlight falls on ten states that stand out for their rigorous approach to gun control. Join me as we traverse the landscape of America’s strictest gun legislation, examining the intricate details that define each state’s unique stance.

State May Carry Shall Carry Permitless Carry
New Hampshire  
New Jersey    
New Mexico    
New York    
North Carolina    
North Dakota  
Rhode Island    
South Carolina    
South Dakota  
West Virginia  

Criteria Considered for These States

May Carry Vs Shall Carry

Gun Laws - May carry or Shall Carry

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In my analysis, a key distinction in state gun laws is the “May Carry” versus “Shall Carry” policies.

  • May Carry states exercise considerable discretion in issuing gun permits. Even if an applicant ticks all the boxes—background checks, training, fees—the state has the final say. This approach aims to limit firearm possession and reduce the likelihood of weapons falling into the wrong hands.
  • Shall Carry states, on the other hand, are obligated to issue permits to applicants who fulfill all legal requirements. These states often have robust criteria, such as mandatory firearm training or thorough background checks, to ensure responsible gun ownership.

Age Restriction

Another significant factor is the age restriction for firearm possession.

  • While many states set the minimum age at eighteen, those with the most stringent laws raise this limit to twenty-one. This higher age threshold applies not only to the possession of firearms but also to permit applications and firearm transfers.

Permit Restrictions

Handgun Permit

Permit restrictions serve as another layer of control.

  • States with strict gun laws often limit permit issuance to residents, excluding non-residents from firearm possession without a permit according to
  • They also disqualify certain individuals from obtaining a gun permit, including sex offenders, domestic violence offenders, felons, dishonorably discharged military personnel, and others deemed a risk to public safety.

Top 10 States with Strictest Gun Laws & Why


As per study of Giffords Law Center, California stands out for its proactive measures in gun regulation.

  • The state’s approach includes the prohibition of high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. California’s laws are designed to prevent firearm access to individuals considered high-risk or those with a history of domestic violence.
  • Comprehensive background checks are mandatory for all firearm purchases, reflecting the state’s commitment to thorough vetting of potential gun owners.

New Jersey

The Brady Campaign ranks New Jersey highly for its progressive gun control measures.

  • New Jersey’s stringent laws require residents to obtain a state-issued permit to possess firearms, and it does not recognize permits from other states. The permit process is highly personalized, managed by local law enforcement, and includes mandatory background checks.


Following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary, Connecticut’s General Assembly passed significant gun control legislation.

  • The state’s laws mirror California’s in many respects, including the prohibition of assault weapons. Connecticut’s May Carry policy means that permits are issued at the discretion of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, with a provisional permit provided by local law enforcement in the interim.

New York

New York State’s gun laws are among the most comprehensive in the nation.

  • The state bans the possession and sale of assault weapons and mandates that semi-automatic firearms have magazines that do not exceed ten rounds. New York’s May Carry policy ensures that permits are issued based on local discretion, with strict eligibility criteria.
  • New York also enforces the “Safe Act,” which includes a universal background check requirement, even for private gun sales, which closes the commonly referred to “gun show loophole.” This act is a critical component of New York’s comprehensive approach to gun control.


As stated by Hawaii’s gun control laws are particularly rigorous regarding permit issuance.

  • Applicants must provide a valid reason for firearm ownership, and permits are issued at the discretion of the local sheriff. Hawaii’s age limit for firearm possession is twenty-one, and the state enforces federal prohibitions on gun ownership.
  • In Hawaii, all firearm applicants must also undergo a mental health evaluation, which is part of a rigorous set of checks designed to ensure that firearms do not fall into the hands of those deemed a risk to themselves or others


Maryland’s legislature has been active in introducing new gun control measures, including the prohibition of bump stocks according to

  • The state requires a permit for both open and concealed carry and mandates the completion of a firearm training course. Maryland’s approach is indicative of a trend toward more comprehensive gun safety education.
  • Maryland has also implemented a licensing requirement for handgun purchasers, which includes fingerprinting, to ensure a thorough vetting process. This step is aimed at reducing the number of guns that end up in the hands of criminals.


Massachusetts boasts some of the lowest gun death rates in the country, attributed to its strict gun laws.

  • The state’s May Carry policy allows for discretion in permit issuance, and the law includes provisions for revoking permits if an individual is later deemed unfit to possess a firearm.
  • Massachusetts requires all gun owners to store firearms in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device stated by Mass gov. This law is intended to prevent accidental shootings and unauthorized access to firearms.


Illinois State Police outline clear requirements for firearm permit applications.

  • Illinois is unique in that it allows only concealed carry, with a total prohibition on open carry. The state also bans the manufacturing and assembly of certain types of firearms and requires state-licensed firearm training.
  • Illinois has a Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card system, which is a prerequisite for the possession and purchase of firearms and ammunition, adding an additional layer of screening to firearm ownership.

Rhode Island

Stated by Rhode Island Attorney General Rhode Island’s gun laws are enforced with a high degree of discretion by the attorney general or the police chief.

  • While non-residents can apply for permits, they must already hold a permit from their home state. Rhode Island’s age requirement and reference system underscore its commitment to responsible gun ownership.
  • Rhode Island mandates that all new handgun purchasers submit a safety questionnaire that tests their knowledge on safe handling and the laws regarding firearms, reinforcing the state’s commitment to educated and responsible gun ownership.

Washington DC

Washington DC’s gun regulations require a license for both concealed and open carry as stated by MPDC.

  • The district has a comprehensive list of requirements for firearm permit applications, including criminal record background checks. Washington DC’s restrictions extend to the transfer and manufacturing of firearms, reflecting an all-encompassing approach to gun control.
    • Washington DC has a “red flag” law that allows law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others, providing a proactive approach to prevent potential gun violence.

The Balance Between Rights and Regulations

Striking a balance between individual rights and public safety is perhaps the most delicate aspect of gun law legislation.

  • The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms, and any discussion of gun control must take this constitutional right into account. States with strict gun laws must navigate the fine line between infringement on rights and the need to protect citizens.
  • Public opinion also plays a significant role in shaping gun laws. The democratic process reflects the will of the people, and in states with strict gun laws, there is often a public mandate supporting such measures.

Perspectives on Gun Control Measures

Advocacy and Opposition

The conversation around gun control is deeply polarized, with passionate advocacy and opposition.

  • Advocates for stricter gun laws argue that these measures are necessary to prevent gun violence and save lives. Organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety support legislation aimed at closing loopholes and enforcing background checks.
  • Opponents, including groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), contend that strict gun laws infringe upon constitutional rights and do not effectively deter crime. They advocate for a focus on enforcing existing laws and improving mental health care.

The Role of Research in Shaping Policy

As a researcher, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of data and analysis in informing gun policy.

  • Empirical evidence is crucial for understanding the implications of gun laws. Research can provide insights into which measures are most effective and which may have unintended consequences.
  • Ongoing studies are essential for adapting to changes in society and technology. For example, the emergence of 3D-printed firearms presents new challenges that lawmakers must address.

Looking to the Future

Technological Advances and Gun Safety

Technology has the potential to enhance gun safety and enforcement.

  • Innovations such as smart guns, which use biometric technology to prevent unauthorized use, could reduce accidents and illegal firearm use. However, these technologies are not without controversy and raise questions about reliability and privacy.
  • The integration of digital systems in background checks can streamline the process and improve accuracy, ensuring that individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms are effectively screened out.


How do state gun laws interact with federal gun laws?

State gun laws operate alongside federal regulations. States can impose stricter laws than the federal baseline, but they cannot enact laws that would conflict with federal statutes. For instance, while federal law mandates background checks for sales by licensed dealers, states can extend this requirement to private sales and gun shows.

Can state gun laws affect gun violence rates in neighboring states?

Yes, gun laws in one state can impact neighboring states. For example, if a state with strict gun laws borders a state with more lenient laws, firearms can be purchased more easily across state lines and then brought into the stricter state, potentially affecting its gun violence rates.

Are there any federal laws that could override state gun laws?

Federal laws set the minimum standard for gun regulation. While states can pass more restrictive laws, they cannot contravene federal laws. If a federal law is passed that explicitly preempts state law, it can override state regulations.

How do background checks differ among states with strict gun laws?

States with strict gun laws may require background checks for all gun sales, including private transactions and gun shows, while federal law requires them only for sales through licensed firearm dealers. Some states also have longer waiting periods or additional criteria for what disqualifies someone from owning a gun.

What is the process for challenging a denied gun permit in a May Carry state?

In May Carry states, the process for appealing a denied gun permit varies. Typically, it involves a review by the issuing authority or a legal appeal through the state’s court system. The specific procedures and grounds for appeal are outlined in each state’s laws.

How do gun laws address the issue of 3D-printed guns?

Some states with strict gun laws have updated their statutes to include provisions specifically addressing 3D-printed guns, often requiring that any firearm, including those that are 3D-printed, be registered and that the owner has a serial number issued by the state.

Do strict gun laws affect the right to self-defense?

Strict gun laws are designed to regulate the ownership and use of firearms, not to prevent self-defense. Most states have laws that specify the conditions under which an individual can use a firearm or other means for self-defense.

Final Words

As we look ahead, it’s crucial to remember that the effectiveness of these laws is not just in their strictness but in the cultural and societal embrace of the principles they uphold. It’s a collective journey—one that requires the participation and support of every community member. The states highlighted here are leading the charge, but they do not walk alone. They are part of a larger national conversation, one that we all contribute to, in the pursuit of a safer, more responsible society.

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