A question (well, a few) form Colby:

Just ran across your site tonight, and looks like you all are doing a bang-up job. I’m very pro-2nd Amendment, but have only recently started purchasing guns myself. Hoping you pros could give a little insight here to a new enthusiast. My friends and I are all planning to go to our first gun show in a few days and had the same worry about used guns . . .

My understanding of gun show laws is that while you have to show documentation that you live in the state in which you are buying the gun, that’s all the documentation required when buying from another individual. After that, you hand them the cash and they hand you a gun. End of transaction. While I can appreciate the need for privacy some gun owners feel, I worry about what the guns might have been used for previously.

Say, for instance, that a gun’s first owner uses it in a murder, then sells it to buyer #2. I buy it from buyer #2 some years after the crime, and buyer #2 has no idea, so feels no need to make any record of the transaction. Some time later, for some unrelated reason, if my gun was ever examined by the police and found to be the original murder weapon I would obviously want to be able to prove that I wasn’t in possession of the weapon until years after it was involved in a crime. (I realize that this whole situation in fanciful and that possessing a weapon used in a crime isn’t near enough to get any kind of jury verdict unless there’s plenty of other evidence, but just chalk it up to being paranoid)

Is there some kind of way to document the date that I bought it? I mean technically I know that I could get the two of us to write out some kind of receipt and get it notarized, but I doubt a seller would be willing to leave the show and do that, and I assume (maybe wrongly) that there isn’t a notary at these type of events.

Is there anything I can do to protect myself from situations like this? And if there is, is there also some way I could do so unilaterally without the assistance of the seller (though I realize that a seller who wouldn’t be willing to do something might be a red flag to buy a gun from someone else instead)?

65 Responses to Question of the Day: Do You Worry About Your Used Gun’s Previous Owners?

  1. Probably not too terribly helpful to you, but I arranged my purchases through armslist.com, and I kept the entire email exchange leading up to the actual transaction; there is no documentation of the actual exchange of cash for firearm. Probably not binding, but hopefully enough to cast reasonable doubt that I am the perpetrator of a previous crime using that firearm.

    IMO, better than having “registered” the gun through an FFL.

    • How likely would the aforementioned gun be implicated in a crime? If the serial # of the gun was not recorded somehow in the investigation, what’s the chance of putting the gun and the crime scene together?

      A far more likely scenario is if I sell my Federally Registered firearm (yes, form 4473 IS a Federal gun registry) to someone who commits a crime, runs away leaving the gun at the scene (happens a lot), they then trace the gun back to ME. I get swatted, ALL of my guns get confiscated (not to mention my computers and anything else their little evil hearts desire)….

      If you’re selling your Federally registered 4473 gun, get a bill of sale land put a copy in a safe deposit box. Even if you sell it to a CCW guy, you never know who he’ll sell it to.

    • Hi folks! A number of the posts below get into details of how the authors go about covering their butts when selling a firearm in a private sale. Please look at the BATF website FAQs regarding what one must do to satisfy federal law. IF YOU SELL A HANDGUN TO A NON-RESIDENT OF YOUR STATE YOU HAVE JUST BROKEN A FEDERAL LAW. Let me clarify, you cannot sell a handgun to someone in a private sale unless they live in your state. You need to see their Drivers License. I make out a Bill of Sale which I photocopy with their license in the lower corner. I also include the statement “Purchaser attests to not being a current or past felon or having a mental defect.” You must ask the buyer if they are a legally qualified to purchase a gun and this proves you asked. I am no lawyer but it appears the seller is the one who is breaking the federal law when selling a handgun to a non-resident. The buyer does not commit a crime until they transport the handgun back home at which time they have committed “importing”.

    • Keep a Firearms Record book of your own; listing date, name of person from whom purchased, firearm with description including caliber,etc. Especially true for WHEN you sell a firearm; first, to CYA if the other party who sold the gun kept records, and second particularly for SELLING, record the date and have purchaser’s name/State and driver license number, plus the birth date of party you sell a firearm to (i.e. proving that your shotgun or rifle was sold ONLY to person age 18 and above, handguns to age 21 and older) AND proving your firearm transaction was ONLY to a person who resides in YOUR STATE of official residence.

      NOTE: Private citizen’s NOT in the business of selling firearms do NOT need to keep any records. (you NEED a FFL license if you are buying/selling on regular basis- Feds have nailed folks in Florida Gun Shows for being in the firearms business without the FFL) Party’s objecting to birth date, I’ve had a buyer put their finger over the actual DAY on driver license, allowing me to see only month and year- enough to establish buyer’s AGE, and seeing Driver license (at least the LAST six digits of, buyer covering first part of DL #) is compliance with Federal Law. Had a Major City Police Department inquire on a handgun, asking for name of buyer for a Taurus revolver, trying to add a felony charge to man arrested with gun in vehicle he claimed wasn’t ‘his’. When I stated all I had was date sold and man had a Florida Driver license ,, having no name or number (did note selling at Tampa Fairgrounds gun show) the officer (a Lieutenant who traced firearms ENTIRE Police Department) said no name and not all of license wouldn’t help the detectives) asked WHY bother with Driver License? When I told him to prove compliance with Fed Law, he did NOT know about the statute. Faxed him a copy. No issues for this reviewer.

      BUT: another friend who WORKED on a pistol at friend’s gunsmith shop who logged the pistol IN/OUT for the repair with his name, has been queried by FBI for more than TEN YEARS about said gun in case he remembered/ found any records not mentioned originally- an FBI agent was killed with the gun and they really wanted that perp.

      Gun traced to you and used in a crime; you really will find your life easier if you have minimum records required to show it WAS NOT you who did the deed with said firearm. Considering how MANY guns are involved over past four decades, surprised it hasn’t happened more often. FYI- buying TWO handguns in one week, even to own consecutive serial numbered pair of cowboy revolvers- IS a big deal, remember to be polite when called as they are just doing their job. Remember that Free Info is always worth at least what you paid for it. davzway

  2. Yes, I worry about my used guns’ previous owners. I worry that they’re sad and lonely without their little friends. I’d like to reach out to the previous owners to let them know that their former pals are being kept well-fed, clean and safe, but it’s so hard to contact people once they’re in witness protection.

    • You have way to much compassion for the previous owner.

      My first concern is that my new friend is well cared for.

  3. First, don’t listen to the left in anything about guns. It will get you arrested.

    In my state, NC, even though a very pro 2a state you can’t just legally say “hi guy I don’t know, I will buy your gun.” You must either posses a concealed carry permit OR have a valid purchase permit from your sheriff’s office (this must be given to the guy from whom you purchase).

    That all being said, if I am living in one of the slave states no way in hell am I buying a gun that I do not know the history of.

    • Sorry, but if you’re required to have a permit to purchase a firearm, you already live in a slave state. In free states, you can buy a gun from a guy you don’t know without needing permission from any government official.

      • NC isn’t perfect by any means, but it is better than you might expect considering NC had more than a century of democrats controlling both houses of the legislature up to the 2010 elections. We now have even bigger R majorities in both houses and an R Governor.

      • It is more for the peace of mind for the seller to be sure that the buyer has at least gone through the background check (when a seller asks for your concealed permit before selling you a firearm.). Its to cover their own behind. If you want to sell a gun, requiring the buyer to show a concealed pistol license and driver’s license isn’t a bad idea…

    • Thank God I live in a free state where I can meet a guy in a parking lot, hand him the money or gun and get the gun or money from him. No permission slip from the government needed.

  4. use a firearm bill of sale which you can print out yourself.

    it should be available at most guntrader sites

  5. You aren’t going to find many private sellers worth your time at most gun shows these days. Used prices are almost as bad as new prices, so why buy used when I can pay $50 more and get brand new?

    • Unfortunately most used prices around me are the same or higher than new. Then tack on $50 more for just being in MA.

  6. If you’re really worried, just go thru a dealer. Gunshows (at least around here) have very few private sellers.

    • What? Very few private sellers??? Impossible!! 40% of all guns sales happen at gun shows with no background checks!! Really, I heard it on the news.

      😉

  7. I live in California. With the exception of family pass downs all gun transactions have to go thru an ffl. If you’re doing things legally here you will have a record of when you took control of the gun.

  8. you’ll be fine. there is media created perception and there is reality. Just use a little common sense and you won’t run into any trouble.

  9. You can maintain your own records detailing what you bought, when you bought it, where you bought, the serial number, and the amount paid. if you have a consistent and accurate list for your whole collection, you have a much better basis for establishing ownership and when you established it. You might even want to record who went with you to the show so you can remember if anything corroboration is needed.

    Living in a slave state with a FOID card, I keep a receipt with my FOID and the seller’s FOID recorded for any private purchases (the seller will likely want to do the same).

    *WHATEVER* you do, make sure you know the laws for your state!

    As an example, here in IL, even private purchases require the 24/72 hour waiting period. Aside from the fact that the seller has a FOID and a gun to sell, you don’t really know who the seller is so follow the rules – whatever they may be – so you don’t get nicked for something stupid.

    Chris

  10. I bought my G19 on armslist, that glock was made in early 2000’s its been at least through 5 owners, by the looks of it it’s a workhorse, but anyways when you buying a used weapon trust your instincts if you don’t feel wright about it don’t buy it, oh and make sure it have serial numbers.

  11. 1) Get a full Bill of Sale. Look at the other person’s ID and the write down the other person’s name, address, driver’s license number, etc. Both parties sign off (buyer/seller), date the paperwork, note the make, model, and serial number. Keep the paperwork.

    2) Exchange the above information through email (when appropriate) and keep records. If at a gun show send emails to each others cell phones.

    The only gun that I have bought from a private party is a Marlin 39A 22 caliber lever-action made in 1947 that came with a Weaver Scope made in 1947. I’m curious to know the gun’s history and I’m not concerned about how it was used. Yes, I am taking offers.

    • Ditto on #1. Even if I know the person and/or decide to
      run a NCIS check I still get a bill of sale and personal info.
      It’s definitely CYA. It provides cover if the weapon ever
      was used in a crime. You get a way to recoup your losses
      and it helps the police to track down where it came from.

  12. Colby, your concerns should not be dismissed out of hand. Yes, we all here believe (or most of us do, anyhow) in unrestricted private sales of guns and oppose legislation to encumber that. That confers on you the liberty to be more cautious about your transaction than the next fellow. If that’s your disposition, go for it and ignore people who tell you you’re being paranoid.

    You can bring with you two copies of a bill of sale, record the serial number and have the seller sign the bills of sale. You can ask for his or her ID and address. You can do whatever you feel is reasonable, and if the seller doesn’t like it, s/he can walk away. You can walk away. It’s your transaction, so transact as you please — within the laws of your state.

    And I agree gun show bargains aren’t what they used to be: http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/10/daniel-zimmerman/saving-the-big-bucks-guide-to-buying-used-guns/

  13. Feel the same way about this old Crown Vic I bought, the rear seat smelled strange, there was a dent in the trunk where somebodies head might have bounced off, and the horn sounds oddly like a fart.

    Keeps me up at night wondering what might have happened in that used car.

  14. Get a receipt. If you are really concerned you can go over to a Notary and do a form about taking ownership with the receipt given. If you are really uncertain you can take it to the police yourself and do a check on the gun.

    Thanks
    Robert

  15. If this concerns you greatly – after leaving the show – contact your local PD to run a criminal check on the weapon – or prior to even attending inquire of them as to what cost if any is needed for you to bring it in and have them run a check on the serial number. Most local PDs more than happy to oblige. Also – do keep transaction records for yourself – detailing SERIAL #s/caliber/identifying photos in case of fire or theft and reporting to insurance or PD afterward to again cover yourself in event it lands in bad hands prior to or after your ownership…

    • Worry? No. Show interest? Yes and yes. It’s called due diligence.

      Do you do a title search when buying a house? Yes. Do you pull CarFax? Should. I had a friend who got a deal on a Mustang. It turned out to be stolen, and 5-0 hauled it away.

    • if it is a ny loe, i would be concerned. i would first ask how many innocent people have been shot with it.

      • Yes for Russian surplus. My guns may have some bodies on them but I doubt any would be investigated in this country.

        • Exactly. If WWII rifles were considered murder weapons my 1891/30 would probably be sitting in police lockup somewhere.

          At least for a few days until an officer can make room in his personal gun safe for it.

  16. I always do a FTF through a FFL on used guns. It’s not required for long arms where I live but I want a legal break between the gun’s last owner and me.

  17. I’d be more concerned about subtle mechanical defects I hadn’t noticed in the firearm than that someone was trying to get rid of a murder weapon by selling it amongst witnesses. Even with your once-removed scenario, someone would have to do that first.

  18. I’d be more concerned about headspace than provenance. I make sure anything I buy used has proper headspace before I fire it.

  19. I have Bought a few guns in a private sale, I have always Asked for (and gotten) a Signed bill of sale with the Sellers name, Foid Card Number (I live in IL), Serial, and Date of sale. We both sign a copy, and we each get one. I have never had anyone say no. If they did i just would not complete the sale.

  20. That police check of the S/N would be useful before handing over the cash. If the gun had been stolen previously, and then discovered by the police, your “new” gun would be returned to the original owner, and you’d have to collect your money from the guy that sold it to you.

  21. That police check of the Serial Number would be useful before handing over the cash. If the gun had been stolen previously, and that was discovered by the police after the purchase, your “new” gun would be returned to the original owner, and you’d have to collect your money from the guy that sold it to you.

  22. Notary is unnecessary. Having a dated receipt is sufficient to prove date of possession. Any criminal prosecution would have to prove that you were lying. Getting the receipt signed by the seller might help, but probably not necessary.

    • Depends. What a notary does is certify that the signature is real, either because the notary knows the person and saw them sign it, or checked ID and saw them sign it.

      A notary prevents someone from later saying: “That’s not my signature, it’s a forgery.” No more, no less.

  23. If you have time to worry about things utterly beyond your control, please consult with me. I can suggest plenty; plus I work relatively cheap!

  24. What a bunch of sniveling weenies!

    All I do in my state is hand over the cash and bring the gun home. There is no requirement to have, or to see, any documentation of any kind. Similarly there are no questions I am required to ask or words I am required to speak.

    • Sorry Carl, you have to do a few things to satisfy federal law as explained by BATF’s website. WHEN SELLING A HANDGUN YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST MAKE SURE THE BUYER IS A RESIDENT OF YOUR STATE. Also, you are required to make sure the buyer is at least 18 years old and to inquire if the buyer is legally able to purchase a firearm. I simply ask “ARE YOU A FELON OR DO YOU HAVE A MENTAL DEFECT?”. If the buyer says no, has proof of having reached majority, has sufficient cash, and in the case of a handgun is a resident of my state, he or she is good to go. I fill out a Bill of Sale which includes the felon/mental question, sign it, and have the buyer sign it. Then I copy it with their DL in the corner. Many states have additional requirements.

  25. Ever since I sold a glock 23 that I shot under water I try to avoid buying used. You never know what kind of stupid crap the previous owner pulled withy the weapon.

  26. I worry about that bit of rust next to the front sight, and whether or not this asshole knew what oil was, but that’s about it.

    Va state police recommends drawing up a bill of sale, but it is not required.

  27. I’ve got a friend who has a Revolver that had a “States Evidence” tag on it, when he bought it at a Pawn shop.
    I wouldn’t care if my gun killed someone

    • Just so long as it’s a solved crime. Oh, wait – it’s not a pile of slag. Seems a reasonable concern, but easily mitigated.

    • You should. Guns do that. They rob stores and steal cars, too. If your gun starts showing an interest in the local bank, take notice.

  28. I’d be more worried about whether the gun was properly maintained by the previous owners, including the seller.

  29. In Kansas, one simpy makes up a bill of sale, both parties sign it and write down a numerical identifier – DL or sate ID number is good.

    One needn’t find a notary; the signature establishes sufficient provenance.

    While the preceding is not required, it is a good idea.

    Ask an attorney, though; your state may vary.

  30. The question itself has me concerned.
    Why would a person be worried about purchasing a firearm that’d been used in a crime and traceable through balistics? Unless that person was conerned that he was going to be using an already marked weapon for his crimes.
    OK, really- I’d not waste a moment worrying about such things, at least in my neck of the woods. If there’s been a gun crime committed, it was probably 500 miles south of my neighbor’s and my position.

  31. Vast majority of sellers at a gun show, from my experience, are FFLs.

    What Gun Show Loophole?

    Consider too that unless someone wrote down the serial number of the gun that shot them during the commission of a crime, in the unlikely scenario of obtaining a weapon that had previously been used in a murder, I would say that the chances of tying the weapon to the crime are next to nil, seeing as some ammo (hollow point, critical defense) would deform upon impact, some may be un-recovered from crime scene, and if a few years had passed between crime and ballistics test (if it ever came to that), the extra time to shoot more ammo through a barrel may change the outcome of a ballistics test to where you may not be able to tie a crime to a gun, assuming that the reason to conduct such a test would ever arise (too many factors).

    No reason to worry about buying a weapon at a gun show. Gives you a chance to examine many types and models of guns from many FFLs, and it’s so easy to walk away from a table if you don’t like the seller.

  32. In Bama, you can transact in state relatively unhindered by Uncle Sam. I document the serial number, name, and drivers license number of the person I’m dealing with and have them sign a bill of sale. You can also ask dispatch to send a cop out to check if the firearm has been reported stolen (I’ve never felt the need, but always ask if they [seller] minds). Buying used guns only makes sense to me if the gun is no longer produced in the configuration you want, comes with accessories you desire, or the seller is motivated. I just got an xd9 sc brand new $50 below sticker with 300 rounds .22lr (gold).

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