Giving a Gun as a Gift This Year? Here’s How to Do it Right (and Legally)

Semiautomatic Pistol Packed gun gift


Yes, we’re getting down to the wire. And while lots of people may have all of their shopping finished, you’d be amazed at how much buying happens in the last few days before Christmas. 

If you’re gifting a gun this year — and if not, why aren’t you? — the NSSF has put together this helpful guide to help you do it right and comply with the laws involved . . .

The holidays are just around the corner. As hunters, shooters collectors or just plain plinkers, it’s a natural instinct to want to share our enjoyment of firearms with others. What better way to do that than to make a gift of 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 … it’s a gun! You already know that ownership of a firearm brings with it some serious legal and ethical obligations that other consumer products don’t. So let’s look at some questions you may have about giving a firearm as a gift.

gun store handgun

Some states require you to transfer gift guns through a federal firearms licensee (Image: Bigstock)

Buying a Gun as a Gift

The first question you have to ask is whether the intended recipient can legally own the 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. Check out the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) website for an overview of local laws.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that 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.

There’s no federal law that prohibits a gift of a firearm to a relative or friend who lives in your home state. Abramski v. United States, a recent Supreme Court decision involving a “straw purchase” of a firearm, did not change the law regarding firearms as gifts.

The following 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 firearms 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 the 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 firearms retailer. Because of all of that . . .

Gift Card


Consider a Gift Card

The 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 a retailer and giving it to Dad as his present.

That way he’ll get exactly the 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.

united parcel service UPS truck delivery


Shipping a Firearm

You can only ship a handgun by common carrier (but not U.S. mail) and a long gun by U.S. mail or common carrier to a federally licensed retailer (FFL)…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.

Handgun Still In A Box Under A Christmas Tree


Giving a Gun as a Gift

What if you want to give “Old Betsy,” your favorite old deer rifle, to your son or daughter as a Christmas (or college graduation) gift? Again, in most states, there’s no law that says you can’t, but some states require even inter-family transfers to go through a licensed retailer.

Remember, you can never transfer a firearm directly to another person who is a resident of a different state. In that case, you must transfer the firearm through a licensed retailer in the state where the person receiving the gift resides.

Using a gift certificate from a firearms retailer near where the recipient lives might be a good solution. Pre-1898 antique firearms are generally exempt from the retailer requirement. Be safe and check with your retailer or local law enforcement before you hand over your prized possession.

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 have with their fellow enthusiasts.

So enjoy the holidays and do it right!


  1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    This was a decent article except for one important omission: when you are purchasing a firearm that you honestly intend to give as a gift to a family member or friend, do you answer “yes” or “no” on ATF from 4473 question 11.a. ???

    Here is what I see on page 4 of 6 of the ATF’s from 4473:

    … if Mr. Brown buys the firearm with his own money to give to Mr. Black as a gift (with no service or tangible thing of value provided by Mr. Black), Mr. Brown is the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm and should answer “YES” to question 11.a

    Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and the above is not legal advice.

    1. avatar Patrick says:

      You should answer yes, you are actual buyer. Because you made the decision to purchase it, and they are not requesting that you purchase it for them, it’s not a straw purchase.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      ” you are purchasing a firearm”

      You wrote the answer to your question.

      You are not purchasing it for them. You are purchasing it for you, to give to them. That’s not a straw purchase.

    3. avatar Dyspeptic Skeptic says:

      Does good sex count as a tangible thing of value? Asking for a friend.

      1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        That would all depend on whether or not said “sex” involves a prostitute or one’s significant other. Not much for prostitutes in Wyoming though, at least attractive ones.

  2. avatar Texican says:

    I believe you can gift a handgun to someone under 21 in Texas and they can carry it in their vehicle 24/7. And if they’re 18-20 they can purchase a handgun from a private party as well. Remind me again…Which other rights are you denied between the ages of 18 and 21?

  3. avatar Porkchop says:

    Well, I’m not quite at the firearm-giving stage yet, but I bought my 10 year-old grandson a classic for Christmas — a Red Ryder BB gun! He’s also getting all of the accoutrements: RR Starter Kit targets etc.) and the Shooting Gallery Target Box. Our local range allows BB guns, so this should be a great introduction for him.

    1. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

      I see in my crystal ball a Rossi single shot .22lr/.410 combo under the tree in 1 year!

    2. avatar neiowa says:

      Well set an AR and equipment aside for the lad.

    3. avatar Geoff "Bah, Humbug!" PR says:

      About that Red Ryder – The sights are beyond horrid.

      You need to do some shooting with it first to see how far off the sights are, and if you can make them usable. The 15 year or so old one I have the sights are way off kilter and welded to the barrel-tube. ZERO adjustable.

      It would be kinda cruel to give him a gun he won’t be able to hit the target with accurately, and may frustrate him enough he gives up on it.

      Are there any entry-level BB guns out there with adjustable sights, unlike that Red Ryder?

      1. avatar Happy Gunsel says:

        They sell scope rails for the Daisy Red Ryder on, I believe around $12. I put a nice red dot on my classic (new) 2019 Red Ryder using the rail.

  4. avatar former water walker says:

    Usually my sons get me some lame article of clothing or a knife. I told them all I want is an easily available Cabelas gift certificate. It probably won’t help! A couple years ago I got my wife a revolver but since she has the BS ILLinois FOID transferring it is pointless. She doesn’t carry it. I know a guy got in deep dudu buying a gun for his elderly father but the husband/wife thing is “usually” exempt.

  5. avatar anonymous says:

    Based on the look of that wrapped up gun in the first image it looks like someone is getting a Tokarev this year.

    Also, here’s this.

    1. avatar cmac890 says:

      Honestly, the way I wrap things, that could be a new Schwinn bicycle, and it would look about the same.

      1. avatar anonymous says:

        I don’t even bother to wrap the gifts that I give I just throw them into one of those festive gift bags.

    2. avatar Plinker says:

      That Tokarov was last Christmas from my Son. Ammo was tough to find locally, but a dealer in OK had great prices and availability.

  6. avatar James Campbell says:

    The easiest process, just did it yesterday on a Steyr AUG for my son.
    1) Found the firearms he’s been looking for on GB
    2) Had him purchase it with HIS GB account.
    3) PayPaled him the amount, with shipping fee.
    Guns are hardly a purchase that has to be handled like a child’s gift, where them knowing would ruin their reaction when receiving it.
    Today my son said he feels like a kid on Christmas Eve, knowing the AUG is in transit to his FFL.

    1. avatar James Campbell says:

      I wonder how Gusty, Berp, Cames Jambell, and JCFanClub purchase gift firearms. asked NOBODY…….EVER!
      Because they are all a bunch of anti-2nd A trolls who live in the basements of their mommies, who never allowed them to play with Nerd guns as children, because “guns are bad”.

      1. avatar Derp says:

        You are a true shit spackled muppet fart.

        Oh, and no one cares how a crash test dummy procures his imaginary guns, goob.

        1. avatar James Campbell says:

          Wrong AGAIN shitstain!
          Can be verified on GB, item ad #841496584, seller is BirminghamPistol in Trussville, AL, purchase price of $2699.
          See, my life (just as my username) is for real, unlike little pussnuts such as yourself.
          Go suck another bad of dicks you loser.

        2. avatar James Campbell says:

          Your a pathetic loser that even your own mother can’t stand DERP.
          Learn it, know it, LIVE it, shitstain.

        3. avatar James Campbell says:

          Nothing witty response Derp? Did you have to go upstairs and get a hug from mommies bucause I blew up your TTAG line of BS? Now everyone can see you for what you are now DERP/Cames Jampbell/Gusty/JCFanClub/CrashTestDummy.
          Your house if cards has fallen Bitch.

        4. avatar Merle 0 says:

          Derp, You know what’s really sad? Getting so butthurt by someone you troll them for weeks. That’s a pretty epic level of butthurt snowflake. Your feelings are so fragile and mind so weak.

        5. avatar Merle O says:

          Hi Derp upon further reflection, you’re right. James Campbell is a mental midget who deserves heckling. I was just angry this morning because my same sex lover denied me again. Oh well there’s always tomorrow ;-)!

      2. avatar I Haz A Question says:

        Here in CA, I will never buy a gun, and will never put my name on any related form even if it’s involved with giving a gift of a gun. Because that means putting yourself into the CADOJ’s database, and our wonderful A.G. Becerra open exulted in a press conference that he’s proud of our state’s ability to track down people who become prohibited persons due to changes in law, and he can confiscate their guns.

        Note I didn’t say the affected persons committed any crimes…I said because the law (line in the sand) changed, making previously innocent people into enemies of the State by the stroke of a pen.

        No way.

        1. avatar John2 says:

          I’m right alongside you on that. Will never buy another gun in this state, nor will I ever buy ammunition here.

        2. avatar James Campbell says:

          Smart move.
          This is one of the reasons I reside in Texas.

    2. avatar Merle 0 says:

      You bought your son a Styr AUG for Christmas!?

      Dad of the year right there.

      1. avatar James Campbell says:

        It’s actually a Birthday/Christmas gift.
        He’s been watching prices and availability of the NATO spec (PMag M3/M-60 drum mag capable, yeah 60RD mags for the fan club, NOW, CLUTCH THOSE PEARLS AND FALL ON YOUR FAINTING COUCHES), 20″ barrel, 3x Swarovski, and black.
        They are never discounted, so I decided it was time to pull the trigger.
        His younger brother got a Diamondback DB-10 last Christmas (AR-10 in 7.62×51). They are both honest and hard working men, and deserve the fruits of their labors, and their law abiding lifestyles.

        1. avatar James Campbell says:

          My gift to myself was a 1900 DWM American Eagle Luger, early production, s/N of 76** put it right after the US Cavalry Trials Gun. All original +95% bluing/strawing/barrel.
          Picked it up last month, a display gun in the man cave.

        2. avatar Crash Test Dummy says:

          I reply to my self because I’m very mentally stable. My past as an aerospace engineer proves it. MAGA for 1000 years!

      2. avatar James Campbell says:

        Hi Derp, using the CTD account I see, it must be because I scraped your nuts off my boots on the front porch yesterday after responding to your comments above.
        Your responses get thinner and thinner with each passing day. I look forward to your next feeble comment. Thanks again, JC

        Oh, one more thing, how did you go about gifting firearms this year? Everyone on TTAG is REALLY interested in knowing.
        That was a topic shift to reverse your “one dimensional” offensive reply move. You need to learn some other tactics.

        1. avatar James Campbell says:

          No Edit button, added to above post.
          Oh, that’s right, you live in an extremely anti-gun state, so you just get to sit on the sideline and WATCH while Patriotic Americans enjoy their 2nd A Rights.
          Well, enjoy yourself as you watch, and be careful you don’t get too many splinters in your ass from the bench. That could be dangerous at your next circular salad toss with the FanClub, don’t want to poke another members eye out.
          Take care now, JC out.

    3. avatar Super Frustrated in VA says:

      Always wanted an AUG, would you adopt me? Had a chance to get one for $1500 during the first ban. All I had to have was the signature of my boss stating that I was LEO. He would not sign it unless I agreed to leave it at the department. Said since I was not paying sales tax it had to be used at the department….that was not what the paperwork stated, he just did not want me to have one. Such a shame.

      1. avatar James Campbell says:

        Hahaha, two boys are enough.
        That’s too bad he pulled the “dept property” BS on you. I wonder if he was following orders that came down the COCommand from the Mayors office (and possibly above).
        The AUG is a fun gun to shoot after a trigger swap.

  7. avatar Ralph says:

    I’m buying a gun with my own money to give to myself. So I am the actual buyer. However, since I asked myself for it and I am going to pay myself back, I’m also not the actual buyer.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Skeptic says:

      Bro, what happens if you forget to pay yourself back?

      1. avatar Dave G. says:

        Maybe he sics a collection agency on to himself? (I just couldn’t resist.)

  8. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    My older brother is a resident of Boston, MA and has no license so instead I am giving him a polymer 80 ar lower to avoid all the problems and plus I think he will enjoy building it.

    He can build it and keep it in a free state until he decides to leave.

    I wanted to gift him a black powder revolver but apparently when loaded those are regulated firearms in Boston. With that attitude from lawmakers, they should be damn glad that the redcoats aren’t running roughshod through the state.

    1. avatar Nigel the expat says:

      They are the redcoats…

  9. avatar Docduracoat says:

    Here in Florida, the only way an 18 to 21 year old can legally own a gun is to be gifted it.
    So if you have relatives here in that age range give a gift of freedom!

  10. avatar Arc says:

    Finish out an 80% lower, flesh it out with the toppings, no paperwork hassles.

  11. avatar John Galt says:

    Author sure seems to delight in cooperating with .gov registration.

    And then again, there is the fifth amendment.

  12. avatar Wally1 says:

    It is getting to the point that the “Rule of law” means less and less to honest, decent citizens. When the law is trampled on and twisted represent a political agenda by the current Dem’s in the congress, “My esteemed colleague” means nothing more than, “this prick here”! Citizens are fed up and new laws mean nothing. I am starting to see this on a regular basis. Make all the laws they want and it means less and less. Who is going to enforce this crap to their peril. .

  13. avatar Possum says:

    He’ll of a good job of wrapping those socks, I’d have guessed gunm for sure

  14. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    “Remember, you can never transfer a firearm directly to another person who is a resident of a different state.”

    Wrong. I myself was the executor of a deceased relative’s estate, and under Federal law, disbursements under estate bequests are expressly exempt. I lawfully shipped those guns to the beneficiaries without needing to go through an FFL.

    Yes, that’s a rare circumstance, but an exemption nonetheless. The author of the article doesn’t know what he’s talking about by making a blanket statement like that.

  15. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

    Also note that many FFLs, especially box stores, are ignorant of laws.

    I had a couple of box store gun counter guys tell me that I couldn’t buy a gun as a gift for my wife. It is clearly legal under both federal law, referenced in the article, and PA law where transfers of handguns between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and spouses are exempt from the requirement to use an FFL.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Skeptic says:

      I’ve watched them tell people that before. I agree it’s not against the law. However, they’re scared to death of getting nailed for a straw purchase.

      When I bought a couple of guns for gifts lately I just tell them yes, uh huh, when they ask me if I’m the purchasing the gun for me.

  16. avatar Jr says:

    I (in Pennsylvania) wanted to get my father (in NY state of all places) a specific handgun for Christmas last year so here’s how I handled it:

    I called an FFL near him to explain the situation to make sure they would be okay with holding it a while.
    I paid for the gun online and shipped it to that FFL for them to hold.
    On Christmas day I gave him one of my old gun boxes with a cut out picture of his new gun inside, along with the FFL info.
    Since its NY, he then had to put in his application to buy the gun and once approved he picked it up, filling out his own 4473.

  17. avatar J Alfred Lemire says:

    How do you leave a fire arm to someone in your will.

  18. avatar Stuck in New Jersey among hoplophobes says:

    “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.”

    But what if you’re in a rabidly anti-gun, hoplophobic state where all the carriers refuses to ship guns because “guns are icky and scary”? The only solution seems to be to not declare what’s in the package, because if you declare what’s in it, they refuse to ship it.
    Finally, I wised up and stopped declaring what was in the packages I was shipping.
    If I follow all the regulations and declare what’s in the package, they refuse to ship it, because people hate guns here in New Jersey! It’s kind of like the pharmacists who refuse to fill orders for emergency contraception on moral grounds, except here in NJ they refuse to ship guns on “moral grounds” but make up some phony regulation that doesn’t exist, so there’s no way to argue with them.

    Two local examples here in NJ:
    1) Shipping long guns (rifles): Our local Post Office refuses to ship long guns, even though postal regulations say they can. The local Post Office chooses to interpret the manual their own way and chooses to believe that they’re not allowed to ship long guns. They’re wrong, clearly, but I knew that arguing with them would get me nowhere, so I took my long gun package to the Fed-Ex hub instead.

    2) Our local Fed-Ex hub (huge, centralized Fed-Ex facility) is rated to handle all types of goods, INCLUDING dangerous goods, ammunition, guns, explosives, etc.
    However, one clerk there refused to ship a small box of ammunition that I brought to the Fed-Ex hub yourself, even though (as always), I’d packaged and marked it in accordance with all regulations for shipping ammunition (double-boxed, labeled “ORM-D, etc.). I told them I’d shipped it before at that exact same Fed-Ex hub with no problems, but this clerk claimed you have to set up an appointment for them to go to your house and pick up the ammunition, rather than bringing it yourself to the Fed-Ex hub that is rated to handle dangerous goods. I think that’s bogus, ins’t it?

    After a couple incidents like these, I finally wised up and stopped declaring what was in the packages I was shipping! I still label the ammunition with “ORM-D” or the newer labels that replaced “ORM-D”, but I don’t tell the clerk what’s inside when shipping guns or ammo. I can’t, because if I declare it, nobody in New Jersey will agree to ship it, so what choice do I have?
    Now I’m just worried that if the package gets lost or stolen, the insurance won’t pay because I didn’t declare it. Are there other legal risks?

    I also tried getting my FFL to ship long guns for me, but apparently they shipped them the most expensive way, which cost me about $125 for shipping each gun, plus a $25 transfer fee, when it should have cost only $30 for shipping. Shipping two rifles cost me about $300 when going through my FFL dealer!

    What choice do I have? Is it risky to ship by Fed-Ex without declaring what’s in the package?
    They’ll probably refuse to ship it if I tell them, because New Jerseyans hate guns!

    1. avatar James Campbell says:

      Have you tried to go to one of the shipping offices adjacent one of the NJ airports? Like Atlantic City or Newark.
      I had some issues trying to ship my WC/92G Brig Tac back to Wilson Combat last year, the local shipping offices wouldn’t TOUCH the package when the heard it was a firearm. Had to run to the D/FW airport shipping office, bam, good to go.

  19. avatar James Campbell says:

    If you have multiple personalities (each with a different TTAG username) and one personality (say… DERP, for example) purchases the firearm, then one of the other personalities (say…Cames Jampbell, for example) actually goes the the FFL to fill out the 4473 and pick-up the gun, is that a straw purchase.
    Asking for the mental defective salad tossing league dimwits that go by JCFanClub.

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