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Buying Guns as Gifts – Legal Concerns and Best Practices

If you are considering an upcoming firearm purchase, to gift to someone you care about, there are some legal considerations and best practices to be aware of.

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Firearm Gifts Legal Considerations

While no Federal Law prohibits you from buying a gun as a gift for someone else you should beware of Straw Purchases. A straw purchase is defined as when someone makes a purchase on behalf of someone else who may not be available, able, or qualified to make the purchase themselves. If you go into the gun store in the next few weeks and tell the sales rep behind the counter that you are buying a gun for your spouse you might give them the wrong impression and potentially put yourself in an ugly investigation. The federal law prohibits you from making a straw purchase but buying a gun to gift to someone else is not the same as a straw purchase. Watch your language in the store to ensure that you don't say anything that might give the impression you are making a straw purchase.

pistol-505268_1280Laws regarding private transfers (gifts/sales). There is a movement across the USA from various gun control groups to pass new laws that require that background checks be obtained not just for retail firearm purchases but for ALL transfers of ownership within the state including those between two private parties (Universal Background Checks).

Where this is the case, the recipient of the firearm (even in the case of a gift) must obtain a state background check before taking possession of the firearm. Most states, however, still have no regulation around the transfer of a firearm between two private parties or they may have exceptions for family members or antique firearms. This means that if you have made the purchase and want to give it to someone, you can move forward in doing so without any paperwork or additional effort.

Contact your local instructor or attorney to get clear on the laws in your area related to private transfers, licensing, and registration if any. If you are gifting a firearm to someone outside the household (a friend for example) you should make sure to keep your own documentation that includes the make, model, and the serial number of the firearm along with details about the person to whom you gave the firearm.

When Shopping For Another Person's Gun

Buying a gun for another person is a huge challenge. Any given individual has unique needs such as the size of the weapon, appropriate caliber, method of carry, etc. The obvious best practice when getting someone a gift is to get them involved in the shopping. Invite a large number of friends to go shooting with you and the intended recipient. Have them bring all their weapons and cycle your intended recipient through them all to get some feedback about what they like and don't like about different weapons. Take note regarding the shape of the frames that they tend to favor, the caliber of weapon they seem to be most comfortable with, and which firearm they tend to gravitate back to.

Ask your intended recipient questions that might give you insight about how they would use their next gun. Different questions would be appropriate depending on how novice or experienced that shooter may be and how many firearms they may already own. Here are a variety of examples.

“Of the firearms that you own today, what do you feel you are missing and why?”

“When would you see yourself actually using a firearm?”

“If you carried a weapon on your person for self-defense what method of concealed carry do you see as being most comfortable or workable for you?”

“Of all of (Insert name of friend)'s guns, which do you like the best and why?”

Just like any gift shopping, it's always a good idea to call up two or more friends of your intended recipient and ask for their feedback as well. They may have some anecdotal insights that you can't get directly from the person.

Gifting a Firearm to a Minor

Many states don't allow people under 18 to own a gun. While others require written consent from a parent or legal guardian before they can own a gun. Washington State, for example, allows individuals between 14 and 18 to possess a rifle or shotgun if they have a valid hunter’s safety certificate or are supervised by an authorized adult, whereas New York State does not have any provisions for individuals under 18 to possess firearms of any kind.

Below is a map that shows the updated age restriction by state. Hover your mouse over the state to see the details.

Map indicates states that have restrictions for the possession of long guns by minors.

Shipping Firearms

For mailing firearms, make sure to check with individual carriers – including the USPS, UPS, and FedEx. UPS states on their site that they accept packages containing firearms for transport only through licensed importers, dealers, and collectors. Though they do mention on their site how to get one of these licenses. The same is true for FedEx, and the Postal Service is on a state by state basis, but still adheres to the United States Gun Control Act of 1968 which states that with the proper licensure, transporting firearms are a-ok. However, a phone call or email correspondence may still help out with specific situations.

Best Add-Ons

Now if you are going to be getting a gun for someone this season and you really want to go the extra mile, make sure that you understand that buying a gun for someone is like buying someone an Xbox. Very thoughtful, but without controllers, not really going to get things working. Firearm accessories such as ammunition, (At least 100 rounds), a gun case, or a holster are very nice add-ons that are going to be much easier to purchase, as you can do it online without any worry of working around state laws.

So if you are looking to get a loved one a firearm or some accessories this season, know that you certainly can, but as with most things involving firearms, or the mail for that matter, there will be some extra steps that you are going to have to follow. But it may be worth it to be the cool relative when the presents are opened up.


Infographic About Buying Guns as Gifts


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