Question of the Day: Do You Buy Guns ‘Off the Grid’? (In Theory)

ATF form 4473 (courtesy atf.gov)

ATF form 4473 equals federal gun registration. Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen to the information entered onto form 4473, the federal government and/or its proxies maintain a record of your name, address, ethnicity (?) and the firearms you purchase. To what end? A while back I sold a GLOCK 19 to one of our writers. The gun was stolen from her apartment. And then I got a call . . .

A bad guy used the gun in a crime. In California. The Golden State detective wanted to know if I was the original purchaser of the firearm. Yes, yes I was. So what? So if I lived in a state with a “safe storage” law I’d be looking at the loss of my gun rights. As would the writer, who was the victim of a crime.

More to the point, the incident drove home the fact that my “harmless” 4473 was a form of gun registration that enabled federal interference in my life — despite the fact that I’d purchased and sold the gun legally. It made me wish that I’d bought all my guns privately, “off the grid.” Or (legally) home-brewed a few.

Especially when I read that Hawaii is now using its mandatory firearms registration scheme to force registered marijuana users to surrender their guns. Or else? You betcha.

So, have you or (if you prefer) would you buy or make guns “off the grid”? If so, why?

As for the ATF’s often-expressed woes about having to use “archaic” paper trails to trace “crime guns”…as my childhood friend Steven King (a different one) used to say, my heart pumps p*ss for them.

comments

  1. avatar Texheim says:

    I’ve bought and sold a few in FTF transactions.

    1. avatar Shotgun Sam says:

      Nope. Never. In fact I’ve never bought a gun in my life and I don’t have the paperwork to prove it.

      1. avatar JR says:

        This guy gets it

        1. avatar Frank says:

          Agreed. In fact, all of the guns I ever had were burnt in a horrible house fire in 1975. Have not had any since then. They scare me.

  2. avatar Joe R. says:

    CA says you can’t have 80% firearms, but they can’t protect you from 100% firearms (or much of anything else).

    Here’s the good part though. They can’t protect themselves, really, either.

    The ‘grid’ is equally as vulnerable as the ‘gridded’, if not more so. That’s what 2A is all about.

  3. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

    Stopped doing private buys after a couple came up stolen when the local sheriff ran the serial for me.

  4. avatar former water walker says:

    WHY would I spout that information on a public forum?!? Nobody knows nuthin’ or everything lost at the bottom of Lake Michigan…

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      Speak into the mic komrade . . .

      1. avatar PaulD says:

        Da. Re-edukation kamp is indicated for this one, nyet?

  5. avatar Jon in CO says:

    I did a lot before the UBC laws went into effect. However dumb and whether they don’t enforce it, I still follow the law. The only thing I actively get around are the mag caps. The pot laws here are similar, everyone gets on a registry that is using “medically” and they are barred from purchases.

    1. avatar Doug in co says:

      Actually medical card holders are on a registry but that registry isn’t connected to the instacheck system. Instacheck actually denies if somebody has a duid (driving under the influence of drugs) within the last 12months which just so happens a lot of medical card holder do drive after toking up. I’d know I worked at CBI instacheck and the department that maintains the “medical” marijuana licensing for a while.

      1. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

        True. The databases aren’t cross referenced *yet*. Polis hasn’t been elected.

        Tancredo for Governor 2018

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    No.

    I want the G to know about my guns and to know that I know that they know. And it’s guys like me that keep the off-the-grid guys safer than they’d be without us.

    Everyone does his part.

  7. avatar Danny Griffin says:

    Why would you be looking at the loss of your gun rights? You sold the gun, so what does safe storage laws have to do with you when the gun was stolen from someone else?

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      That’s the (one of the many) problem(s) with “Records”, he’s the last “recorded” lawful possessor / purchaser of the fire arm.

    2. avatar Big Bill says:

      Hypothetical: you purchased the gun from a FFL. You then (legally) sold that gun to someone without going through a FFL. That gun is then stolen from the person you (legally) sold it to.
      The feds know you bought the gun, but there is no record of you selling the gun to anyone. In a “safe storage” state, that’s a problem.
      If that stolen gun is then used in a crime, that’s another problem. You have now made yourself a “person of interest” in that crime, because there’s a paper trail on that gun that ends with you. Sure, it’s legal (in most places) to sell your gun. But prosecutors like things to be simple, so they can get a conviction from juries made up of people too stupid to get out of jury duty (and a few who actually see it as their civic duty).
      You’re now a target. Will you be charged? Probably not. But your past will be gone over with the proverbial comb. Your neighbors will be asked questions about you, and your co-workers will be, too.
      I’m not saying to go through a FFL, but knowing who you’re selling to is a good thing.
      And a bill of sale can’t hurt, either.

      1. avatar epickett says:

        If you had your original purchase receipt, and the receipt from when you SOLD the gun, seems that you would be in the clear for whatever happened in the future.
        1/1/2015 – gun purchased by you(legally)
        4/15/2016 – gun sold to your friend(legally)
        5/12/2017 – gun stolen from your friend. she files a police report the next day
        5/17/2017 – gun used in crime

        Based on the timeline, even the dumbest cop could see that you’re not at fault here. If you have to worry about a ‘safe storage’ issue, again, that doesn’t concern you.
        This seems like a similar issue to selling a vehicle that later ends up in an accident. If you have the bill of sale, you can prove that it was not in your possession at the time of said accident/crime.

        1. avatar Big Bill says:

          I said, “The feds know you bought the gun, but there is no record of you selling the gun to anyone.”
          Yes, my last line said a BOS is a good idea, but far from all private sales include them.

  8. avatar LarryinTX says:

    How the dickens did you know whether you were the original purchaser of that particular gun, among millions sold? I would have had to tell that detective that I had no idea. And I would suppose that if he called you out of the blue from thousands of miles away, he already KNEW you were, was he shopping for a “lying to the fuzz” conviction, what was the purpose of the question?

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      The manufacturer maintains a record of to whom it ships guns. The FFL that receives the gun enters it into its book. The FFL keeps the original 4473. The book is a paper record that is open to inspection on demand by the ATF. So the ATF traces the gun to the FFL, and then from the FFL to the first purchaser. After that, it is up to detectives to try to find out where the gun went after that by calling the first buyer and any subsequent purchasers. Often the trail goes cold quickly, whether due to private sales or thefts.

      I have never understood the purpose of traces. All that it accomplishes is proving (in appropriate cases) that the first recorded purchaser (or any subsequent recorded purchasers, typically in UBC states like California, or resales through FFLs) was not the criminal at the end of the line.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        They *desperately* want to criminalize the subsequent transfers after the initial retail sale.

        That’s the *point* of “Universal background checks”, and they will not stop until they get them.

        Then, phase two of “Operation Disarm America” can begin…

        *Shudder*

  9. avatar Kroglikepie says:

    Nope.

    I begrudgingly follow the laws despite how morally, and constitutionally wrong they are. I just want to be left alone, but that thought is anathema to the left.

    If/when the self-annoited powers that be decide I’m a bad guy, that’s when I show them what a real first-world bad guy with engineering degrees can do.

    1. avatar BGryphon says:

      Amen.

  10. avatar James69 says:

    Yep. I feel that a valid DL and CC permit is proof enough for me. Photos of both in my phone. I have passed on a few “trades” that seemed hinky, just had that feeling and passed.

    1. avatar Hoyden says:

      Agreed. Also, buying is cheaper. Some flat brim goes all out custom Glock/AR, then the girlfriend comes home with a hot bun in the oven or blown engine on the lowered Civic. Needs as much back for the Lone Wolf, Zev, and sights. Swoop in with the cash, 45 cents on the dollar.

      1. avatar Danny Griffin says:

        Flat brim. LOL. Don’t forget to leave all the tags on like Minnie Pearl did 50 years ago.

  11. avatar Noishkel says:

    I perfer FTF given that I don’t trust any government agency. But I also don’t go out of my way to ‘get around’ this restriction and just buy guns ‘off the books’. In fact I have historically bought most of my guns via GunBroker and picked them up from a realer.

    But that said, I’d be quite happy to be able to start just making nothing but make my own guns. From 80% lowers or just from scratch. But that’s mostly because I really enjoying the act of building my own equipment to my own specs.

  12. avatar Bryce says:

    Wow this article is full of inaccuracies…..

    1) a 4473 is not a registry of any kind. It checks your name against a “prohibited persons” list. If your name is on it, you don’t buy. Oh and by the way, this is all done by computer, not an agent on the other end of a computer. The firearm information is not given to the search (unless you purchase 2 handguns in a 5 day period – different topic for a different day).

    For those thinking about a delay; you are delayed when your name or social is close to a name or social on the list. Then your information is sent to an actual person for review. Still no firearm information given.

    2) The ATF/LEO trace firearms from the manufacturer. In states that do not have a registry of any kind (local or state level), they call the manuf and find out which distributor it went to, then from distributor to the dealer, then the dealer has to provide the 4473. Then to the person it was sold to and so on and so on.

    If the 4473 was a gun registry, why go to the manufacturer at all? Why not just knock on your door? If they had a registry, they’d use it.

    Not a fan of the NICS. It’s an incredibly flawed system. But keep your conspiracies to yourself.

    1. avatar Eric in Oregon says:

      If they can trace it from a gun to a person then it’s de facto a registry.

      1. avatar Lordhat says:

        Not to mention, they didn’t trace you through your 4473; they traced you through the FFL’s A&D records.

        1. avatar Joe R. says:

          They traced you through the NICS check phone call, coinciding with the dtg of the 4473.

          The FFL is required to keep those 4473s and to surrender them to the ATF&E if they ever go out of business.

    2. avatar Jim Joneston says:

      Your response is full of inaccuracies:

      1) a 4473 is not a registry of any kind. It checks your name against a “prohibited persons” list. If your name is on it, you don’t buy. Oh and by the way, this is all done by computer, not an agent on the other end of a computer. The firearm information is not given to the search (unless you purchase 2 handguns in a 5 day period – different topic for a different day).

      Form 4473 DOES NOT check anything against any list. The NICS check is what does that. The whole post was not talking about the NICS check..but the form 4473. That form has ALL the firearm info plus your info. In a very real way the 4473 is a form a registration. Instead of it being in the hands of the govt the govt just makes the FFL hold the forms. And if the FFL goes out of business then the BATF gets all those forms send back to them to store. They were actually in the process of putting those all in a searchable electronic database when they were caught and had their hands slapped for doing so. So yes, the GOVT does know all the information about every gun bought from an FFL…it just takes them the old fashioned way to get to that info(Phone calls and going through them by hand). Now once a person sells the gun they got from the FFL to someone else in a private sale then that trail ends.
      Of course..this is the BIG argument against the laws being pushed to run all private sales through FFLs, etc. The only way to ensure that these are being done is to be able to track them and the only way to track them is though a database.

    3. avatar Noishkel says:

      A conspiracy theory you say?

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gun-dealers-will-have-to-report-multiple-semiautomatic-rifle-sales/2011/07/11/gIQAy3SI9H_story.html

      Of course this is just one somewhat isolated example of such backdoor registration. And yes, I do understand that this is not a direct gun registry. But the fact is is that the US Federal government does have the ability to walk into any FFL and anytime time to ‘request’ all of their books. Books they have to keep on file for decades even after a gun dealer shuts down. It is a form of registration by any other name. It just also happens to be the crappiest most ineffective form of registration they can manage.

    4. avatar Big Bill says:

      I have stood by the dealer when he makes the NICS call. I have heard what he says. Multiple times.
      The firearm make, model and serial number(s) are indeed part of that NICS check.
      Does that comprise a registry? The answer is yes, it does. It’s just one the feds aren’t allowed to use. Yet.
      Others have covered how a trace is done when they have the gun in hand.

      1. avatar JD says:

        I don’t know what state your in but Florida only sends info on you. Gun type and serial number are not reported on the NCIS call. Only time the ATF gets that is when you buy more than one handgun in a week.

  13. avatar Charles d Kiser says:

    If I was asked the same question by a Detective out of state the first thing I would have to say is “Let me check my receipts and get back to you. I’m not sure if I bought this gun new or used”

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      ““Let me check my receipts and get back to you. I’m not sure if I bought this gun new or used””

      IF MORE PEOPLE’S RESPONSE JUMPED TO THE ‘END STATE’ OF THE ARGUMENT, THE ARGUMENT WOULD HAPPEN WAAAAAY LESS OFTEN.

      How long do you want the FING stupid argument and trouble to press on. Never discount your possible need to go “Armageddon for everyone”.

      Your better response would be:
      Let me check with my ordinance delivery people, maybe I can call in an airstrike on your POS before you hang up the phone.

      1. avatar Mr Lizard says:

        Ya seriously, hang up as soon old Dick Tracy starts talking trash. Also if the person who purchased the gun in a private sale reported it stolen, then end of story, double piss off.

      2. avatar Blkojo says:

        Ordnance. I know…..spell-check.

  14. avatar Ironhead says:

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

  15. avatar WI Patriot says:

    “Question of the Day: Do You Buy Guns ‘Off the Grid’? (In Theory)”

    Uhhh…

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      Or google “dark web” https://youtu.be/YuOBzWF0Aws

  16. avatar Adam S. says:

    It’s a registry, or more accurately, the source data for the registry (registries). There’s nothing conspiracy-theory about it.

    The only problem I have with any “background check” scheme is the inclusion of serial numbers and product information. If the scheme’s true purpose is to determine eligibility, no serial numbers would be necessary.

  17. avatar ozzallos says:

    I know a lot of people who try to buy off the grid… Then go out and use their credit card and buy ammunition. It’s funny how some of the people here think that a motivated government is going to stop at your word that all your guns disappeared in a boating accident.

    1. avatar Wild West says:

      Cash is king

    2. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

      I’ve left huge credit card records of firearms, ammunition, parts, and even an evil slidefire before CNN knew about them. I can still pretty much count on not being the very first random person they try to confiscate from.

      I can hide anything given a few hours.

      If they start trying to coerce or torture gun owners to get the truth, I will consider that a clear cut violation of 2nd and 4th amendment of the constitution they swore an oath to uphold. I know I’ll be far from alone, and owning firearms is only one of MANY things that makes me dangerous when cornered.

      We live in the sticks and I’ve got a nice 580k backhoe ready to dig fresh holes. Come and get some, f*****s.

  18. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    So your childhood friend is NOT a US congressman from Iowa’s 4th district?

    That kind of actually sounds like something he’d say.

  19. avatar Rokurota says:

    I’ve done a ton of FTF sales and buys — perfectly legal in Virginia and beneficial when shipping a handgun requires UPS overnight charges or FFL fees. To a person, all my sellers and purchasers have been great people. We often end up talking guns, shooting, hunting, whatever. I’ve only cancelled one sale when the man claimed he’d just moved into the state and didn’t yet have ID. He understood.

    1. avatar Gman says:

      Concur. Vaguntrader.com is a great resource. 99.99% require good guy papers, usually CHP and DL. I have never had a questionable transaction, ever.

  20. avatar Jross says:

    My state did away with FTF sales without going to an FFL so I don’t anymore. But I used to.

    It’s a pitty. It only makes sense to keep cheaper guns you won’t use now since it’s impossible to get people to buy them when they can have new for slightly more.

    I have a pistol I bought from a buddy with a pregnant gf and he needed the cash years ago. Gave him an an open inventation to buy it back at any time and left it in my safe. Lost touch with him and now I want to make room. It’s a good solid gun. It’s no hi point. I’d price it in the 300 range when they go for the 400 range new. But with the extra cost of FFL people will then pay a little more for a brand new one.

    I’ve seen a drop off of lower priced guns on armslist since the new law was passed.

  21. avatar Vic Nighthorse says:

    I am too lazy to buy them “off the grid”. I suspect that I should use an 80% lower for my next build. I might be to lazy to do it that way even though I have access to a full machine shop with a Bridgeport.

  22. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Whaaaa? You can do that.?

    Lmao

  23. avatar Jester says:

    Dilly! Dilly!

  24. avatar Wild West says:

    If I’d did, they would have been lost with any other firearms I was ever associated with whil duck hunting in a bog. And I always answer surveys on the subject with complete semi-honesty as well.

    Guns,l? What guns?

  25. avatar Scott says:

    I went magnet fishing once and got a few guns that people keep tragically losing in boating accidents.

  26. avatar Mark N. says:

    California has a UBC system that applies to all “firearms” sales. Further, not only do you fill out a 4473, California requires a Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) that includes your information and the details of the purchase, including make, model, caliber and serial number of the gun purchased. (Long guns used to be exempt from the identification requirement, but that was added in 2013.) California says it does not have a “gun registry,” but it does have computerized DROS forms. A recently passed bill will require retroactive registration of all pre-1968 (I think its 1968 when the law went into effect) handguns and all pre-2013 long guns. the law also requires unserialized firearms to be engraved with a state issued serial number prior to registration. Pre-1898 firearms that do not fire modern ammo may be exempt, but not the rest. The only unregulated firearms are black powder.

    I have a professional license that I could lose if convicted of a firearms offense. Then I would lose everything, even if prison was avoided. So all of my firearms are on the grid except for my collection of black powder firearms.

  27. avatar Alan Esworthy says:

    Yes, I buy buns off the bakery cooling grid so that they’re still warm when I get them home.

  28. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

    Ok Robert follow me here buddy… Perhaps your friend gave the detective the serial number of the stolen gun. Ok still there? Good. Ok so the gun turns up at the crime scene. The evidence tech or whoever takes it back to the evidence locker and runs the serial number. BING! up pops your friend’s police report. Now somewhere in that report or at some other point your friend tells the police where she got the gun (you), where she works (TTAG or TTAC), so they search your name in connection with those and find your contact details. They contact you to make sure she hadn’t stolen the gun from you. They literally have no clue if you are the original owner just that you sold it to some chick that had it stolen. 4473s are only kept for I think 3-5 years and then destroyed by the FFL.

    Alternatively they might have just asked the manufacturer and supplied the serial number. Your name and contact info popped up in the warranty database for the maker as being the owner of the gun.

    1. avatar ATFAgentBob says:

      CORRECTION: FFL must maintain the 4473 on file for 20 years. Had to go reread the manual.
      https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/atf-national-firearms-act-handbook-chapter-12/download

  29. avatar billy-bob says:

    Nope. Occasionally drag the bottom of ponds with a big magnet though.

  30. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

    Sucks that to legally take possession of my grandfather’s guns he left me I’d have had to undergo a background check. Sucks worse the canoe tipped over when I was cleaning out his cabin on the lake.

  31. avatar FedUp says:

    So, Robert, did your writer get her gun back, or are the Californicators still holding it for evidence, or did they do her the favor of destroying it for her?

  32. avatar MarkPA says:

    The whole subject of “off-the-grid” guns is going to turn our present system of NICS+4473 up-side-down. Within the next 5 – 10 years assembling guns from unregulated parts plus an 80% -> 100% receiver will become commonplace. Beyond that point, things will change.

    The cheapest source of guns will be burglary. That won’t change.

    Increased regulation such as UBC will choke-off the supply of systematic straw-buying.

    Traffickers will realize that they can complete an 80% -> 100% receiver for less effort and risk than running a team of straw-buyers. Thereupon, the traffickers will either:

    A. buy parts kits to complete a 100% receiver into a functional gun; OR,
    B. have their straw-buyers buy new or used guns from FFLs

    In either case, the parts (from kits or from stripping guns bought from FFLs) will be re-assembled into complete guns on the 100% receivers. The model will be “laundering” legal gun-parts onto illegally manufactured 100% receivers. (The distinction here is that a legal hobbyist “makes” a couple of receivers for his personal use; a manufacturer produces hundreds of instances for purposes of sale. A gun manufacturer who fails to obtain an FFL and file paperwork is illegal.)

    If this all sounds too complicated for criminal minds, they will simply smuggle foreign-made guns into the US via South America.

    Bottom line, as the gun-controllers succeed in choking-off the leakage of legal guns into the black market, a new supply change will take-up the slack. The ATF and police will be back at the same problem familiar today: enforcing felon-in-posession. If they won’t prosecute felon-in-posession of a gun manufactured and retailed legally today, why would they prosecute felon-in-posession of a gun manufactured illegally (or smuggled)?

    Law-abiding gun owners will, nevertheless, be left with onerous regulations burdening their exercise of 2A rights. To what point? If criminals source their guns from burglary, smuggling and illegal manufacturing why continue to enforce laws on peaceable law-abiding gun owners?

    We need to communicate to our Congress-critters and fellow voters the futility of trying to control guns by controlling law-abiding gun-owners. To whatever extent it succeeds (fewer guns leaking into the black market) it will fail because traffickers will exploit alternative sources that are far more difficult to control.

    1. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      Furthermore, if criminals are already going to be in the illegal arms trade (importing or manufacturing, not stealing), they will be trading NFA arms.

  33. avatar Chip in Florida says:

    “.. Do You Buy Guns ‘Off the Grid’? (In Theory)”

    Who? Me? No, I don’t buy guns. They are dangerous.

    I used to have guns but there was this tragic boating accident last year… me and a buddy lost our entire collections.

    But my usual response to any question along these lines is who’s asking and why?

  34. avatar Anonymous says:

    I don’t give a shit about the form 4473. If I wanted an of the grid gun I’d just grab one of my many 80% lowers and make one. WTF are they going to do about that? Nothing.

  35. avatar K. D'Afee says:

    80%, and that’s all I got to say about that….

  36. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

    I definitely sell off the grid. Any paperwork, like a notarized bill of sale, that I keep on it can wait until a jury is impaneled.

  37. avatar johnny108 says:

    “Would you like to implicate yourself in a felony in our comments section?”

    Did you think before posting this, or was this one of those 3am drunk “good idea at the time” posts?

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      “Would you like to implicate yourself in a felony in our comments section?”
      Did you think before posting this, or was this one of those 3am drunk “good idea at the time” posts?

      In case you were actually wondering, it’s not a felony for me to sell any of my guns “off the grid” as long as I have a reasonable idea that the person I sell to isn’t a criminal. (There are a few other restrictions, such as the buyer must be a resident of the same state, IIRC)
      Parochialism is easily avoided with a little thought.
      Or, if that’s not your problem, ignorance is also easily avoided.

      1. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

        “as long as I have a reasonable idea that the person I sell to isn’t a criminal.” – It’s actually less of a burden than that. You just have to not have reason to believe they are a criminal. The language in the federal statute is “knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person” is a prohibited person.

        So, if someone reeks of pot, you have “reasonable cause to believe that such a person” “is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)),” and it is unlawful to transfer a firearm to them.

  38. avatar Docduracoat says:

    I do not get Hawaii trying to confiscate legally owned guns from people with marijuana cards
    Federal law only prohibits them from buying a gun from an FFL
    There is no prohibition on marijuana users owning guns
    Just like a legitimate pain patient can have a prescription for opiates and still own guns

    1. avatar TX_Lawyer says:

      While I’m not aware of a law prohibiting users from “owning” a firearm, it is unlawful for them to “possess” guns or ammo.

      “It shall be unlawful for any person … who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 802)) … to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.” 18 U.S.C 922 (g).

  39. avatar Mack Bolan says:

    Never talk to cops. It really is that simple.

    1. avatar JS says:

      Yep, the less you say the better. You dont need to say anything. And I sure as hell am not answering a gd phone call question. Man up.

  40. avatar kap says:

    been there done that

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