When I’ve traveled, I’ve learned that there are many things about the United States that mystify Europeans. I often have no logical explanation for them either. One topic that often comes up is guns. I’m not going to get into the heated debate about gun control today. And although I have some theories on the topic, I’m also not going to try to explain why gun ownership is such a fraught topic in this country. What I will do, however, is give a very quick introduction to the laws on gun ownership. If our characters are going to carry, you should know about this.

The mot famous law regarding weapons is the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which states: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Like most of the other rights enumerated in the Constitution, this one is succinct. It doesn’t define it own terms, and it’s been up to the courts to interpret it and, on occasion, limit its scope.

Federal law places very few limits on gun carrying and ownership; those restrictions have been left to the states. This means laws can vary a great deal across jurisdictions. Also, most jurisdictions make distinctions between handguns and long guns (rifles and shotguns). Some states have different rules depending whether the gun is loaded. Some require permits and some do not, whereas in a few states openly carrying a gun in public is prohibited even with a permit.

So can your character legally walk down Main Street with a visible gun? Depends where he is.

There are many other variables to consider as well. What is the age, criminal history, and mental status of your character? What kind of gun does he want? When, where, and how does he want to acquire the gun? What kind of registration or licensing process is required? All things you’ll want to consider before handing him a weapon.

Also, you might want to think about the distinction between gun access and gun ownership. I live in California, which has some of the country’s most restrictive gun laws. But when I went to a shooting range, all I had to do was show my drivers license and they happily handed me a Berretta and a box full of bullets.

So you’ve heard this story from me many times before: before you write, research the relevant laws in your jurisdiction. You can begin with the Giffords Law Center or the NRA, both of which are partisan, but they do offer correct information.