Background Checks for Firearms Sales and Loans: Law, History, and Policy

66 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2015 Last revised: 10 Apr 2016

See all articles by David B. Kopel

David B. Kopel

University of Wyoming College of Law - Firearms Research Center; Independence Institute; Cato Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law

Date Written: April 8, 2016


This article examines past and present systems requiring that a person receive permission before buying or borrowing a firearm. The article covers laws from the eighteenth century to the present. Such laws have traditionally been rare in the United States. The major exceptions are antebellum laws of the slaves states, and of those same states immediately after the Civil War, which forbade gun ownership by people of color, unless the individual had been granted government permission. Today “universal background checks” are based on a system created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his “Everytown” lobby. Such laws have been enacted in several states, and also proposed as federal legislation. Besides covering the private sale of firearms, they also cover most loans of firearms and the return of loaned firearms. By requiring that almost all loans and returns may only be processed by a gun store, these laws dangerously constrict responsible firearms activities, such as safety training and safe storage. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California are among the jurisdictions which have enacted less restrictive, more effective legislation which create controls on private firearms sales, without inflicting so much harm on firearms safety.

Keywords: Second Amendment, background checks, longstanding

JEL Classification: D30, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Kopel, David B., Background Checks for Firearms Sales and Loans: Law, History, and Policy (April 8, 2016). Harvard Journal on Legislation, Vol. 53, 2016, pp. 303-367, U Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-54, Available at SSRN:

David B. Kopel (Contact Author)

University of Wyoming College of Law - Firearms Research Center ( email )

United States


Independence Institute ( email )

727 East 16th Ave
Denver, CO 80203
United States
303-279-6536 (Phone)
303-279-4176 (Fax)


Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States


Denver University - Sturm College of Law ( email )

2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics