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Gifting a Firearm: Do’s and Don’ts

Gifting a Firearm: Do’s and Don’ts


You want to make your gun girl have the greatest joy over the holidays! If you’re wanting to give her a firearm, there are some factors to consider. First and foremost, when thinking about gifting a firearm you must know without a doubt that that person is legally and morally able to assume the inherent responsibilities and obligations of firearms ownership. This article offers some dos and don’ts to help you with your gift giving.

Consider a Gift Certificate

The best way to avoid any legal pitfalls within state and federal law is to purchase a gift certificate from a firearm retailer in the lucky recipient’s area.  A gift certificate gives her some wiggle room to pick out exactly the make and model she wants while staying within a price point you are comfortable with, but also puts the responsibility of completing the required 4473 application on the recipient. The form required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has a specific question asking if the gun is a gift, which can complicate the process. By having the recipient fill out the form, it removes any question about who is “the actual buyer of the firearm.” 

Gifting vs Straw Purchasing

A straw purchase typically involves one person buying a gun for someone else, usually because the other person cannot pass a background check or does not want a record of the purchase in their name. This is illegal.

It is legal to purchase a firearm as a gift for another, if you are actually buying the firearm for yourself to gift to another. The ATF states that you are the actual purchaser or transferee if you are legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party.

Know the Law

If you have a firearm in your collection that you would like to pass on to a family member or friend via private transfer, the first thing you must know is if the recipient can legally own a firearm at all. It is against the law to facilitate a private transfer of a firearm to a person you know or have reason to suspect may not be able to legally own or be in possession of a firearm. This action comes with a federal penalty. 

If the person you want to give a firearm to from your personal collection does not reside in the same state as you, then under federal law you have to ship the firearm to a licensed firearm retailer (FFL) in the state where the recipient lives and who can transfer the firearm with and form 4473 background check. 

Be sure of the legal age to own or be in possession of firearms.  Depending on the state the recipient resides in, legal ownership begins at 18 years old for long guns and 21 years old for handguns. Possession of handguns and ammunition are another matter all together. Check the laws of the State to be sure.

Know what types of guns and accessories are legal in the recipient’s home state.  Resources on the ATF website have an overview of local laws or contact the state’s attorney general’s office for a detailed list of prohibited firearms and accessories.

There’s no law that prohibits a gift of a firearm to a relative or friend who lives in your home state; however, whether you purchase a new firearm or want to gift a gun you already own, keep in mind that some states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington) and the District of Columbia require you to transfer a firearm through a local licensed firearm retailer (FFL) so an instant background check will be performed to make sure the recipient is not legally prohibited from owning the gun. Maryland and Pennsylvania require a background check for a private-party transfer of a handgun. There are exceptions, so it’s important to carefully check the law of your state or ask your local firearm retailer.  On the form 4473 to transfer a gun via an FFL, if you check “no” to question 21a you will come to a hard stop on the application process.  Your intention at the time of purpose/transfer must be clear, carefully thought out, and legal.  

Antique firearms made prior to January 1, 1899, are usually exempt from the above requirements, but it never hurts to check with a trusted firearms dealer and/or local law enforcement.  

Shipping a Firearm

You can only ship a handgun by common carrier (not U.S. Mail) and a long gun by U.S. Mail or common carrier to a federally licensed retailer (FFL), but not to a non-licensed individual in another state. This scenario is most common when you are not transferring ownership but sending it in for repair or modification, etc.   With all carriers, federal law requires you to declare that your package contains an unloaded firearm. To be safe, always consult your carrier in advance about its regulations for shipping firearms.

Bottom Line

It is a special moment for firearms enthusiasts to pass down an heirloom, enable a right of passage for the next generation, share a bond of sportsmanship, and feel the power of self-defense and reliance.  For whatever reason that you bestow a firearm as a gift, please make sure you have done your due diligence for your legal protection and the success of the recipient going forward.

About Julianna Crowder

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