Gun Transfer Laws: Buying Out of State

The issue of gun transfer laws when buying a weapon from out-of-state is one we frequently get questions about.  Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of misconception about how this process works.  So, in this post, we’d like to set the record straight about what is and isn’t allowed under federal law.  However, remember: we’re not lawyers.  This article is intended for purposes of general information.  If you have specific concerns, then we strongly suggest you direct them to an attorney well-versed in firearms statutes.

“From FFL to FFL, every time, no exceptions.”

Remember that phrase.  It tells you what you need to do to stay out of trouble with the gun transfer laws when buying firearms across state lines.  Federal firearms license (FFL) holders are the only persons who can legally handle gun sales across state lines.  This means that the merchant you’re buying from must have an FFL, and that seller must, we repeat, must, ship the weapon directly to an FFL holder in your state.  It’s then up to you to go to the FFL holder in your state and take possession of the weapon.  Usually, the dealer will charge a small handling fee for his or her part in the transaction.  Be sure to contact the FFL holder in your state to advise them you’d like to have the firearm shipped to their location.  By handling interstate transactions in this manner, you’ll be in full compliance with federal laws.

A Word about Personal Transactions

Sometimes, a person in one state may wish to sell a firearm to an individual in another state, usually a friend or family member.  In such a case, the safest procedure is for the seller to take the weapon to an FFL dealer in his or her state and have that dealer ship the gun to an FFL holder in the recipient’s state.

Unfortunately, people disregard both federal law and common sense all the time when exchanging weapons across state lines.  They try shipping the weapon themselves without any special precautions, as if it were a fruitcake in that box and not a firearm.  Don’t try it.  If the package is intercepted, you’ll have the law knocking on your door quicker than you can say “Uncle Sam.”  Also, if the gun should discharge while en route, then your problems will quickly go from bad to worse.  Unless a stint in federal prison is your idea of a good time, you should work through FFL holders in each state.  Don’t let a stupid mistake earn you the title of “convicted felon.”

Person-to-Person Transfers

This is how these kinds of transactions work: Uncle Harry is coming in for a visit from another state and wants to stay with his favorite nephew, Johnny, for a while.  Harry remembers that Johnny always admired his pearl-handled Colt revolver, and he decides to stow it in his suitcase and surprise Johnny with it.  Just a little friendly exchange between relatives; nothing the matter with that, right?

Wrong.  Harry is well within his rights to transfer ownership of the weapon to his nephew, but simply giving it directly to Johnny makes him a gun trafficker in the eyes of the law.  To make it legal, Harry should follow the FFL-to-FFL procedure previously discussed.

Sound like a lot of hassle?  Well, imagine this: Uncle Harry disregards gun transfer laws and gives the revolver directly to his nephew during the visit.  Johnny later decides that he doesn't like his ex-wife’s new boyfriend very much and uses Uncle Harry’s old revolver to send the boyfriend to his eternal reward.  The police, in the process of doing their job, discover how Johnny got possession of the weapon. 

Now Uncle Harry gets a knock on his door from fellows wearing badges and carrying a warrant for his arrest.  Harry loses his job, his home, his family, and five to 10 years of his freedom.  That’s a lot more hassle than he would have dealt with had he worked through FFL dealers in both states.

“From FFL to FFL, every time, no exceptions.”

We repeat that because it’s the way that every state-to-state firearms transaction should be conducted.  Keep your reputation and your freedom intact by following it.  Fail to do so, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself for the consequences.  It’s up to you.

Posted in: General