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In the US, four in 10 households have a member who owns a gun. Some 72 million individuals also report being gun owners. All in all, there are an estimated 393 million guns owned by the nation’s people.
If you’re one of these folks and you’re thinking of selling a gun, you can’t simply take the cash and hand the firearm over. There are federal and state laws that you might have to meet to transfer gun ownership. These rules bar selling or transferring guns to certain “prohibited” individuals.
On that note, we created this guide on how to transfer gun ownership, the legal and safe way. Read on to discover the steps you need to take to ensure the successful transfer to another person.
Make Sure the Recipient Can Lawfully Own a Gun
The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits certain people from owning a gun. These include people who served more than a year in prison, “illegal aliens,” and fugitives. It’s also illegal for anyone with a domestic violence misdemeanor charge to own a gun.
Moreover, the law bars most people younger than 18 years of old from handgun ownership. However, age restrictions vary by state though, with some having a 21-year-old mandate. For example, California allows the transfer of any firearm to people over the age of 21 years old.
With that said, never transfer a gun to someone you know or have reasonable cause to believe cannot own one. Otherwise, you’d have broken a federal law, which is punishable as a felony crime.
Interstate Gun Ownership Transfer Through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL)
Federal firearms licensees are individuals licensed to engage in firearms-related transactions. Such transactions include the intrastate and interstate sales and transfers of guns. FFLs help to ensure that only people allowed to possess guns can gain access to them.
As of January 2021, there are 131,952 active federal firearms licenses in the US.
Enlisting a licensee is mandatory for the interstate transfer of gun ownership. In this case, you, the current firearm owner, transfer the firearm to the FFL in the state the recipient lives in. You’d need to fill out Section A of the Firearms Transaction Record, ATF Form 4473.
The FFL uses the gun ownership transfer form to facilitate the transfer to the recipient. The person you’re transferring the firearm to then needs to fill out Section B of the form. The licensee then takes care of all the legal procedures for the transfer.
Part of the FFL’s job is to carry out a background check on the recipient. This ensures that the person you’re transferring the gun to can legally acquire it. This is mandatory for interstate transfers, even if you’re sure the recipient can possess a gun by law.
What About Intrastate Gun Ownership Transfers?
In many states, you can skip the FFL so long as the recipient lives in the same state you do and bought the firearm from. Suppose you live in Florida, bought a gun in the Sunshine State, and now want to gift it to another Floridian. In this case, you can hand them the firearm, and that’s it.
However, some states, like California and New York, still require FFL involvement. In these states, you need to transfer the firearm ownership through a local FFL. The local licensed firearms retailer then performs a background check on the recipient.
In Maryland, all transferees of long guns now require background checks, too. This means that private transfers (such as sales) now also need the involvement of an FFL. The licensee needs to run a federal background check for the transfer to occur.
Pennsylvania is another state where handgun ownership sales and transfers require background checks. So, to transfer gun ownership between family members, you’d still need to go to an FFL. You, the current owner, and the recipient need to go to the licensed dealer’s place of business.
What if You Need to Transfer Gun Ownership After Death?
Some states require heirs to meet eligibility criteria before they can inherit firearms. For example, Connecticut law requires authorization before inheritors can receive a firearm. Otherwise, they need to surrender the gun to the authorities.
The same federal laws on “prohibited persons” apply to those who inherit firearms, too. If it’s unlawful for the heirs to carry or own a gun, then they can’t inherit them either.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 also prohibits transfers of some firearms. These apply to non-registered guns regulated under the NFA. Some examples are fully automatic weapons, short-barreled shotguns and rifles, and silencers.
So, if an owner passes away and leaves behind any of these unregistered guns, an heir can’t acquire them. Estate executors who discover these firearms must contact the local ATF office. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives then classifies them as “abandoned.”
For firearms not covered by the NFA, transfers are best done with an FFL entity. The licensee can help in filling out the transfer of gun ownership paperwork. As always, the recipient (the inheritor) undergoes a background check.
Such lengthy probate procedures are usually avoidable with a gun trust. With this legal document, gun owners can name multiple trustees and firearm co-owners. So, even in their passing, the other named persons in the trust can still keep legal ownership of the firearm.
Stay on the Law’s Good Side When Transferring Gun Ownership
There you have it, the ultimate guide on how to transfer gun ownership in the US. Always remember that you need a Federal Firearms License bearer for interstate transfers. In fact, you should involve an FFL holder even for intrastate transfers.
That way, you can make sure that it’s legal for the recipients to receive the gun you wish to sell or gift to them.
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