Here’s the Right Way to Give Someone a Firearm as a Gift

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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?

The first thing to remember if you’re 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. So, let’s look at some questions you may have about giving a firearm as a gift.

Consider Giving a Gift Card

Christmas 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 is a question any purchaser must certify on the Federal Form 4473 at the time of purchase.

Buying a Gun as a Gift

Let’s assume, however, you do not want to give a gift card because you want to give “Old Betsy,” your favorite old deer rifle, to your son or daughter or you 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 be safe and check with your retailer or local law enforcement before you hand over your prized possession.

vintage gun ad christmas

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. Check out the ATF website for an overview of local laws or contact your state’s attorney general’s office.

It’s 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 you purchase a new firearm or want to gift a gun you 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 you 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 carefully check the law of your state or ask your local firearm retailer.

If the person you want to give the gift of a firearm to does not reside in the same state as you, then under federal law you 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.

Shipping a Firearm

You can only ship a handgun by common carrier (but not through the U.S. mail) and a long gun by U.S. mail or common carrier to a federally licensed retailer, but not to a non-licensed individual in another state.

With all carriers, federal law requires you to declare that your package contains an unloaded firearm. To be safe, always consult your carrier in advance about its regulations for shipping firearms.

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 you do it 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!


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. Let’s not hold hands with backdoor Gun Control and fixate on firearms when the problem is the criminal misuse of firearms, bricks, bats, knives, vehicles, matches, etc. Anyone who thinks someone who could criminally misuse a firearm will not criminally misuse anything they can get their hands on better think again.

    With recent shootings at a Wal-Mart and college Jim Crow Gun Control knee jerk democRat joe and his ilk are on the march not coming after criminals but coming after your rights.

  2. So much bogus bs over crossing state lines.

    I own it. I drive to my nephew’s home with it. I leave his home without it. Mission accomplished. No common carriers, no US Mail, no FFL, nothing.

    Any law that interferes with transferring personal property to family members is an unjust law. A law that interferes with transferring personal property to a friend is also unjust, but maybe somewhat less so.

    • You are correct. I checked with an attorney on this. You can personally deliver the firearm to somebody else in another state as long as they can legally possess it in their state and no background check is required. I had a dealer confirm this as well.. If you ship it, then it has to go to a dealer and the recipient has to pass a background check to pick it up.

  3. “The Bureau of Alcohol. Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) recommends” = irrelevant BS to be ignore”

    “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” = UnConstitutional (as confirmed by Bruen).

  4. Easy to ship an AR. Break it down into upper and lower. Ship each part separately. Neither part looks long enough to be a rifle.

  5. Nope
    I never give a gunm as a gift or a card that could possibly be used to purchase a gunm.
    Gunms make good people do bad things. If Jesus would have had a gunm only lord knows what would have happened.

    • “If Jesus would have had a gun…“

      Who needs a lousy 9mm mouse gun when you control the lightning bolts and wind?


  6. I just wrap it up pretty and nice with a bow and give it to them, with an ownership ‘bill of sale’ on which it is annotated “No money exchanged, No purchase made by person receiving firearm, This is a gift.”

    perfectly legal and proper, unless you live in a state in which that is prohibited.

      • The National Shooting Sports Foundation can KISS MY A$$!
        You don’t hear the National Automotive Association saying, “The first thing to remember if you’re thinking about giving someone a car is that ownership of an automobile brings with it some serious responsibilities a”. If I’m giving a car I already know if that person can drive and is responsible. The same goes for a firearm. I’m not just wandering down the street and handing them out like party favors.
        People like Mr. Larry Keane need a good kick right between the pockets. I’m betting Larry and Wayne are close like two fat men in a phone booth.

  7. I think I prefer the old fashioned “You’re five years old, boy, now this here gun is yours, don’t do anything stupid.”

  8. I am still going to keep giving my son and father guns as presents. I know they are not prohibited, I know that the guns are legal where they live since its the same state as me. Plus if they do not want us to do that, its all the reason I need to do it!


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