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
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.
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.