There is quite a bit of confusion surrounding gun registration in the United States. When someone purchases a gun, is it registered to the buyer? And is all the information is stored in a database somewhere? In other words, are guns registered when you buy them?
Generally speaking, there is no system, database, or registry for most American gun owners that tie us to any firearms we own. The Brady Act is the law that created the background check system. The law states that authorities must destroy the records of each background check within 24 hours.
The Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA):
FOPA is a United States federal law that revised many of the Gun Control Act of 1968 provisions.
As such, FOPA makes it illegal for the national government or any state in the country to keep any database or registry that ties firearms directly to their owner. The exact wording of the provision is as follows:
No such rule or regulation prescribed [by the Attorney General] after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary's authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.
A few things here are worth noting.
- First, notice the use of the word “after” in the first sentence. Any law that existed before passing FOPA that required guns to be registered can still exist and is enforceable.
- Second, don't forget that just because the law says something is illegal doesn't mean someone isn't doing it or that a loophole doesn't exist. For example, in New York City, the NYPD has a record of the manufacturer, model, serial number, and caliber of every firearm (handgun and long arms too). You need to have a registration certificate on your person for every long arm in addition to needing a “Permit to Possess Rifles or Shotguns In New York City” (which are limited to 5 rounds, among other restrictions). Other municipalities also have a track record of ignoring the Federal Firearm Owner's Protection Act.
Local Jurisdictions that Register Guns:
States that Require Registration of All Firearms
- District of Columbia
States that Require Registration of Handguns
- New York
States that Require New Residents to Report Their Firearms
- Maryland (handguns and assault weapons)
States that Require Registration of Pre-Ban “Assault Weapons” and/or 50 Caliber Rifles
- New Jersey
- New York
Despite FOPA, There Are Some Limited Government Gun Databases
In addition to the local authorities who may disregard the local law, we also know that the ATF keeps at least 5 databases of specific firearms and their owners to include:
- Multiple Sale Reports. Over 460,000 (as of 2003) Multiple Sales reports (ATF F 3310.4 – a registration record with specific firearms and owner name and address – increasing by about 140,000 per year). Reported as 4.2 million records in 2010.
- Suspect Guns. All guns suspected of being used for criminal purposes but not recovered by law enforcement. This database includes (ATF's examples), individuals purchasing large quantities of firearms, and dealers with improper record keeping. May consist of guns observed by law enforcement in an estate, at a gun show, or elsewhere. In 2010, ATF reported 34,807 guns.
- Traced Guns. Over 4 million detail records from all traces since inception. This registration record includes the personal information of the first retail purchaser and the identity of the selling dealer.
- Out of Business Records. Data is manually collected from paper Out-of-Business records (or input from computer records) and entered into the trace system by ATF. These are registration records that include name and address, make, model, serial, and caliber of the firearm(s), and data from the 4473 form – in digital or image format. In March 2010, ATF reported receiving several hundred million records since 1968.
- Theft Guns. Firearms reported as stolen to ATF. This database contained 330,000 records in 2010. It includes only thefts from licensed dealers and interstate carriers (optional). The database does not interface to the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) theft database, which keeps reports of the majority of stolen, lost, and missing firearms.
Consider the National Firearms Act (NFA):
To learn more about these ATF registries, listen to CCW Podcast Episode 12, The Government’s Secret Gun Owner Database.
It is also worth noting that notwithstanding FOPA, the National Firearms Act, enacted in 1934, does require that certain types of firearms be registered. The database records firearms not commonly owned or acquired by average gun owners like fully automatic firearms and short barrel rifles and shotguns. However, any firearm not explicitly mentioned in Title II of the NFA should not by Federal law be part of any registry tied to a gun owner.
Part of the anti-gun agenda is to enact so-called “universal background checks.” The law is a precursor to follow-up with national gun registration. One cannot exist without the other. Anyone selling one is also going to push for the other.