The great registration myth

I have just released our latest map over at It categorizes all 50 states based upon the kinds of firearms registration laws (if any) that the state has implemented.

This is a resource that we should have developed long ago because registration is one of the great myths and misconceptions about firearms in America. I have been teaching firearm safety and carry permit classes for almost a decade now and this is a topic that I have to cover in every single class. And it never ceases to amaze me how gun owners who are otherwise incredibly well informed about the laws regarding firearms will blithely tell me that their guns are “registered.”

At the heart of this misunderstanding lies the background check required for all purchases from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Faced with the bureaucratic detail of the BATFE 4473 form, many gun owners mistakenly think that the firearm is being “registered” at the same time that the background check is being conducted.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the same law that mandates the background check also prohibits the data being used for registration purposes and requires that all data thus collected be destroyed other than the identifying number and the date the number was assigned.

This explains why gun owners are confused about registration, but what about non-gun owners? The fault here lies almost exclusively with the media (TV shows, movies and news reports). From CSI to NCIS to daytime soap operas, registration is presented as a given, even in those states where registration is specifically banned by state law.

And why is this? Some will be quick to say that the main-stream media is anti-gun and takes every opportunity to present an anti-gun viewpoint. Others will accuse the writers of entertainment shows of simple laziness in the face of research they feel to be immaterial in a fictional show. And while both of these are probably true to a certain extent, I believe there is a simpler explanation.

Much of the writing, production and filming of TV shows and movies occurs in California, New York, Las Vegas & Chicago. If you look at our map, you will see that these are some of the rare areas where there actually is some form of registration required. In speaking today with members of the media who live in California or New York, they invariably expressed disbelief and amazement that their states are such far outliers where gun laws are concerned.

This myopic tunnel-vision invariably bleeds over into both entertainment scripts as well as new reports. As a result, the public is ill-served and lead to believe in an illusion.

The reality is that outside of DC, Chicago, and a few states, gun registration is largely unknown in America, and Canada is moving to abolish their national gun registration system.

The few states and cities that do have registration requirements are small, isolated islands in the sea of gun freedom that is America. To my friends and colleagues marooned on these islands I can only say, “Come on in … the water’s fine!”

About John Pierce

Monachus Lex is written by Virginia attorney John Pierce. John is a life-long gun rights advocate, an NRA certified instructor and co-founder of the nationwide gun rights group

He has an undergraduate degree in Computer Information Systems, an MBA from George Mason University and is a 2012 Honors Graduate of Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN.

Professionally, John is a member of the American Bar Association Second Amendment Civil Rights Litigation Subcommittee and his writings have been published by the ABA Civil Rights Litigation Committee and the ABA Minority Trial Lawyer Committee.

In addition, his open carry advocacy has been featured on Nightline and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.
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4 Responses to The great registration myth

  1. Pingback: Anti-Gun Wacko of The Week: Professor Jerry Peterson | Monachus Lex

  2. Brian says:

    One thing I need to correct here is that in NJ, there IS a backdoor registration for handguns.

    when you purchase a handgun from a dealer in NJ, you must first apply for a pistol permit (for each and every pistol you which to purchase). you can apply for multiple at a time, but each time you go you must submit to a background check. this is AFTER you already have gotten a standard firearms purchaser ID card (which for purchase of long-guns and ammo)

    now, when you apply for these permits, which take the police department on average of about 4 months to process if not LONGER… there are 4 copies of the permit. one you give to the FFL, one you keep for your records, one to the local PD, and one to the state cops… This form contains all info on the purchase. In essence, this form is a backdoor registration, with newer electronic means of today’s technology, and everyone trying to go paperless, I can gauruntee you that this is input into a state wide database, but it is unknown to me whether or not they can use this system as of yet in the court-of-law.

    I believe there are several other states that also use this process. Last time I was in MA the process was similar.

    Long-guns on the other hand, require nothing more than the standard FPID card (which also takes about 3-6 months for the PD to process), plus submitting to having your mental health background checked. NJ also does 2 background checks. the standard federal NICS check, as well as a non-standard NJ state background check.

    the portion about registering “Assault Weapons” in NJ is true, however it is up to the officers of the county in which you live, whether or not they allow you to register the weapon as such… they can very well tell you no and require you to sell it or keep it out of state.

    There is also Voluntary Registration – but who the hell would do that?

    NJ is also a “May Issue” state for concealed carry, but only ~1500 residents actually have the permit. they have a clause in the law that says the person applying must have “justifiable need” which is at the complete discretion of a judge. Even as a military member I have zero chance of being able to carry unless I am carrying out official duties.

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  4. However, I lived in Pennsylvania for a few years (recently) and it seemed that EVERYONE there thought that PA required guns to be registered. The first question I got every single time anyone found out I had guns was “Are they registered?” And this was in a very rural, gun owning area of the state. So, it isn’t just big city folks from anti-liberty cities who assume gun registration is “normal”.

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