I’m opposed to universal background checks, but I won’t do business with a stranger without a 4473 and stolen firearms check because I’d rather police myself than have someone do it for me. Context is everything. In full disclosure, I work in the firearms business. I’m in my seventh year as a gun dealer and my company ships more than 10,000 firearms per year. Most transactions are dealer-to-dealer transfers and I receive all kinds of correspondence from the ATF regarding changes and focuses on firearms laws . . .
Additionally, my company’s FFL license is under a corporate name, so I am not required to log my personal firearms under the FFL and my personal purchases and sales are performed like any other non-dealer. Finally, I do as much continuing education through the ATF and the commercial branch of the National Shooting Sports Foundation as I can in order to remain compliant with the Feds. I must do this so my company stays in business. I’m also a “gun guy” and come from a “gun family”. My mother, father, sister, brother in law, and I all have our carry permits and shoot frequently. My girlfriend is taking the steps necessary to apply for her permit soon. Magazines and ammo are safe bets at Christmas time.
I elect to require a 4473 when buying, selling, and trading guns for a couple of very good reasons. First, I don’t want to sell a gun to someone who shouldn’t legally have one. Violence is real. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and we have all walked amongst monsters and probably didn’t know it. While it would be foolish to assume that all of America’s violent citizens have faced some type of conviction for their crimes, at least some of them have and that disqualifies them from owning a firearm. I don’t know what that guy looks like. He could be the smiling 50 year old in chinos and a Polo. He could be the black man in his work uniform. He could be anybody. On the flipside, the man in the motorcycle club vest with tattoos and giant piercings could have a cleaner record than my own. I don’t know. A NICS check can help determine that. Not prove. Help. I don’t feel the least bit guilty keeping a gun out of a violent person’s hands.
Beyond my own moral convictions, I want to minimize my legal exposure should the gun that I sold be used in the commission of a crime. I would imagine the legal process would be expensive and overall a pain in the ass whether a background check was required or not. I’d rather take my chances with a 4473 as a backer, however. By requiring buyers to fill out a 4473 in my personal transactions, I’m doing my best to absolve myself of whatever happens with that firearm after it leaves my hands.
Again, I don’t know what a bad guy looks like and I’d rather be a neutral party rather than a qualifying party. After all, the only legal requirement that we have is the presumption that the person we’re selling a gun is legally allowed to own one. What does that guy look like? Again, your guess is as good as mine. Should that firearm be used to commit a crime, I could honestly say that I took verified, documented precautions to keep that gun out of the hands of a bad guy.
Finally, I hate a thief. I hate losing money and I have deep empathy for folks who are the victims of gun theft. My family has experienced gun theft. My uncle still looks for a 6E Ithaca that was stolen more than 30 years ago. It will turn up eventually. Maybe he’ll get it back. The good news for victims of firearms theft is the ATF keeps a stolen firearms database if you file a police report noting your stolen guns and you can provide serial number information. KEEP SERIAL NUMBER RECORDS. If you walk away with anything from this article, walk away knowing how important it is to catalog your firearms collection. Nobody can help you when you don’t know your guns’ serial numbers.
When buying or selling a firearm and a dealer is involved, dealers can request a serial number check to make sure that the gun that she’s buying, selling, or shipping is legit. Here’s the kicker: as much as the ATF says they care about recovering stolen firearms, they discourage “curiosity checks” and will ban a dealer from accessing the stolen firearms database if they believe that the dealer is using the database to check firearms that aren’t in their immediate possession. In layman’s terms, the ATF requires that the gun be on-site and in the hands of the dealer before they can run the serial number. The reason being is the ATF will ask local law enforcement to visit the dealer and collect the stolen firearm in order to return it to its rightful owner.
This process is not without some collateral damage. Most notably, the person who brought in the gun is going to face some questions and no matter what happens, he’s out a gun whether he knew the gun was stolen or not. As a buyer, if the seller already has his money, the buyer is probably out of luck. I don’t want to buy a gun, pay for it, find that it’s stolen, and not have my gun or my money. In order to protect myself, I require that all guns go through a dealer and I’ll pay more for the shipping dealer to run the serial once its logged into his bound book. If the gun is stolen, the police scoop it up and I keep my money. If the seller is unwilling to do this, I’m not interested in buying the gun. No hard feelings, I just don’t think the sale is going to work out. I don’t think this is unreasonable on either side of the transaction.
So, those are my reasons for personally requiring a background check before buying or selling a gun, even if it’s a private transaction. I want to sleep well at night. I want to cover my ass. I don’t want to deal in stolen goods. However, I don’t think it should be some blanket law. There are too many variables and there are WAY too many instances where a required background check is unnecessary and intrusive. If I want to sell my brother in law a shotgun in my garage, I should be able to scrawl out a bill of sale, collect the cash, and call it a day. But when dealing with strangers, I’d rather be safer than sorry.