Giving a Gun as a Gift

Guide your customers down the right — and legal — path if they insist on purchasing a firearm as a gift for a loved one this holiday season.

Giving a Gun as a Gift

istock photo

With gift-buying season upon us, it’s natural for gun owners who enjoy target shooting, hunting, collecting or just plain plinking to want to share their enjoyment of firearms with others. What better way to do that than to gift a firearm to a family member, close friend or relative? You’re going to have customers coming into your shop all season long looking to buy a firearm for a spouse or other loved one. Make sure you’re giving them accurate advice on the best way to do this legally.

The first thing to remember when thinking about giving someone a gun is that ownership of a firearm brings with it some serious responsibilities and legal obligations that other consumer products don’t. 

Consider a Gift Card

The Bureau of Alcohol. Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recommends that if you want to give someone a new firearm, rather than going to a gun store, buying it on your own and giving it to, say, your father, consider instead purchasing a gift certificate from that retailer and giving it to Dad as his present. That way he’ll get the exact gun he wants, and there’s no question about who is “the actual buyer of the firearm,” which of course is a question any purchaser must certify on the Federal Form 4473 at the time of purchase. Consider using a gift certificate from a firearms retailer near where the recipient lives.

Buying a Gun as a Gift

Let’s assume, however, a customer does not want to give a gift card because they want to give the gun itself or give “Old Betsy,” their favorite old deer rifle, to their son or daughter and they want to see the joy on their face when they unwrap their present. The first question you then must ask is whether the intended recipient can legally own a firearm at all. Remember, you can never under any circumstances transfer a firearm to someone you know — or have reasonable cause to believe — legally can’t own one. That’s a federal felony, so be careful. Pre-January 1, 1899, antique firearms are generally exempt, but advise your shopper to be safe and check with local law enforcement before they hand over their prized possession.

The next question is whether the person can own the gifted firearm where he or she lives. With more than 20,000 different gun laws on the books, even the kinds of firearms that law-abiding citizens can own vary from place to place; for example, juveniles (under age 18), generally speaking, are precluded by law from possessing a handgun, and some states restrict certain types of firearms and magazine sizes. As a retailer, you already know the laws in your area, but check out the ATF website for an overview of local laws or contact your state’s attorney general’s office if you need a refresher, and refer buyers there if they have questions.

It is legal to purchase a firearm from a licensed firearm retailer that you intend to give as a gift. There’s no law that prohibits a gift of a firearm to a relative or friend who lives in your home state. However, whether a customer purchases a new firearm or wants to gift a gun they already own, keep in mind that some states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington State) and the District of Columbia require them to transfer a firearm through a local licensed firearm retailer 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 know the law of your state.

If the person they want to give the gift of a firearm to does not reside in the same state as the giver, then under federal law, they have to ship the firearm to a licensed firearm retailer in the state where the recipient lives who can transfer the firearm after a background check.

Giving a Gun as a Gift

As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when making a gift of firearm to ensure it is done properly. Using a gift certificate from a firearm retailer near where the gift recipient lives might be the best solution in order to avoid legal pitfalls and state law variations.

It’s often an emotional moment when a treasured family heirloom is passed down to the next generation. These moments are part of what our cherished enjoyment of firearms is all about and represent that unique bond that sportsmen and sportswomen have with their fellow enthusiasts.

So, enjoy the holidays and do it right!


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