Giving a gun as a gift? Here's what you need to know

xmas-gunIt’s that time of year again. As one who preaches the faith, so to speak, I will occasionally give a gun as a present. Doing so can be a bit of a hassle. At the very least, you have to consider how you are procuring the firearm, how you are transporting it, and the legal status of the whoever is receiving the gift.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the lobby arm for the gun makers and retailers, brought up the topic just before Thanksgiving.

NSSF spokesman Bill Brassard wrote, “The first question you have to ask is whether the intended recipient can legally own the firearm where he or she lives.” Understanding the answer can be tricky, but it will keep the recipient (and you, too) from a potentially felonious gift exchange.  The NSSF article points to the ATF’s page as a reference.  While the ATF’s page isn’t the most user-friendly, it is authoritative.  The ATF’s page of frequently answered firearms transfer questions is also useful.

But there’s more to the equation

Let’s assume that the person to whom you intend to give the firearm can legally own it.  Check that one off the list.  The next question seems to trouble a lot of people.  Can you legally obtain a firearm you intend to immediately give away?  Of course!  But there is an oddly specific question on ATF form 4473, which you will have to answer if you are buying the gift from an FFL.

The answer to this question should, of course, be "yes." If not, you aren't buying the gun.

The answer to this question should, of course, be “yes.” If not, you aren’t buying the gun.

“Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?”  The language is restrictive, and while that solves problems (mostly concerning straw purchases), it creates issues, too.

As a review writer, I’ve filled out more than 50 of these forms this year. I don’t buy the firearms. I’m not a the actual buyer. I don’t get to keep them.  I assume responsibility for the gun, take possession of the gun, but the gun remains on the books of the manufacturer. Yet the guns are (however temporarily) transferred to me, so I’m covered.  I pay my fees. My FFL runs the paperwork through the system. I’m approved, etc.

If you are giving the firearm as a gift, you are still the actual buyer. You’re in the clear there. This differs from a straw purchase, where you are also the actual buyer (or legal buyer, who then resells the gun to someone who can’t buy it).

That’s why the ATF has added the additional language in the warning about “acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person.” Regarding straw purchases, form 4473 is clear. You can’t acquire a firearm “on behalf” of another person.

Is there a better gift for a Boy Scout? (Image credit: Ruger)

Is there a better gift for a Boy Scout? (Photo credit: Ruger)

That would seem to preclude buying a firearm you intend to gift, too. If you step into a gun store, find the perfect Ruger 10/22 for your nephew who has just earned his Eagle Scout rank, and you buy it for him, are you acquiring a firearm for another person?  Yes.  But maybe not “on behalf” of another person.

On behalf implies you are standing in for another. As far as straw purchases go, you stand in for someone. You are the original buyer, yet you have no intent to own the gun. Your intent is to act as the agent. It is this intent that matters in straw purchase prosecutions.

With gifts, the intent is much less dubious. You are the actual buyer. You are, in a way, buying the gun for another person, but not because they can’t legally own the gun.

The most surefire way to handle giving guns is to call on the services of an FFL. Some states even require it.  Have an FFL run the paperwork and background checks can keep all involved in the clear. And it is a good chance to get to the old brick-and-mortar store, and introduce complete novices to some of the wonders of gun culture.

Brassard post points out another absolute. “Remember, you can never transfer a firearm directly to another person who is a resident of a different state. In that case, you must transfer the firearm through a licensed dealer in the state where the person receiving the gift resides.”

Getting them the gift

Traveling with these guns can be a bit tricky. Know the laws where you are going. Interstate travel is sometimes very easy, especially in states who honor each other’s concealed carry permits. Lock up unloaded guns, lock those in hard-sided cases, carry them separated from their ammo and tucked away in the trunk, etc.  If you are flying, check the rules and regs for each individual airline.

Mailing guns can also get tricky. I can ship long guns to residents of my state from my local post office. If I’m mailing a handgun, I have to use a common carrier (like UPS or FedEx), but not my post office.

Some FedEx and UPS storefronts won’t ship firearms. My closest FedEx center is almost two hours away. I have a UPS distribution center about half an hour away (which is only open for two hours each day) and they will handle firearms shipments. Know the shipping regulations, and how to reference them, as your carriers may not.

In the end

After all is said and done, there is one more thing to consider. After you’ve purchased the gun legally, transported it legally, and transferred it appropriately, you need to consider education and safety.  Giving a gun as a gift will, in most circumstances, be the first just the beginning of your obligation to the new gun owner.

Check out the post at the NSSF Blog, and look at the resources the NSSF has to offer. They’ve got great ideas, and lots to share.

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