It is absolutely legal to give a gun as a present, but it might be tricky depending on where you reside and where the recipient of the gift lives. Many gun shops provide gift certificates that can be presented in lieu of a firearm. This is a much simpler manner of donating a handgun, and it may be the best alternative. However, if you want to donate a real handgun, maybe a family relic, and a gift card would not suffice, follow these requirements to lawfully transfer the firearm.
Can I Give A Gun As A Gift?
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) suggests that if you want to give someone a new firearm, instead of going to a gun store and buying it on your own and giving it to, say, your father, consider purchasing a gift certificate from that retailer and giving it to dad as a present. That way, he’ll obtain the precise pistol he wants, and there won’t be any confusion about who is “the real buyer of the handgun,” as every purchaser must declare on the Federal Form 4473 at the time of purchase.
Giving a Gun as a Gift
But suppose you don’t want to give a gift card because you want to give your son or daughter “Old Betsy,” your favorite old deer rifle, or you want to witness the delight on their face when they unwrap your present. The first thing to ask is if the intended receiver is legally allowed to acquire a handgun at all. Remember, you should never, ever give a handgun to someone you know — or have reasonable grounds to think — cannot lawfully hold one.That is a federal offense, so proceed with caution. Antique weapons manufactured before January 1, 1899 are normally exempt, but be cautious and verify with your retailer or local law police before handing over your beloved possession.
The second consideration is whether the individual is allowed to keep the gifted firearm where he or she resides. With over 20,000 different gun laws in effect, even the types of firearms that law-abiding citizens can own vary by state; for example, juveniles (those under the age of 18) are generally prohibited by law from possessing a handgun, and some states restrict certain types of firearms and magazine sizes. For an overview of local regulations, see the ATF website or contact your state’s attorney general’s office.
It is lawful to buy a weapon from a licensed firearm merchant for the purpose of gifting it. There is no rule that forbids you from giving a handgun to a family or acquaintance who resides in your home state. However, whether you buy a new firearm or want to give someone a gun you already own, keep in mind that some states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington State) and the District of Columbia require you to transfer a firearm through a local licensed firearm retailer so that an instant background check can be performed to ensure the recipient is not legally prohibited from owning the gun.
A background check is required in Maryland and Pennsylvania for a private-party firearm transfer. There are certain exceptions, so double-check your state’s laws or contact your local weapon merchant.
If the person you intend to donate a firearm to does not live in the same state as you, federal law requires you to send the handgun to a licensed firearm merchant in the recipient’s state, who will transfer the firearm following a background check.
The Most Effective Way to Give a Gun
Be aware that an FFL dealer has the right to refuse to sell you a gun for pretty much any reason—if the dealer suspects you’re buying a gun on behalf of someone else or the entire situation just feels “off,” the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives (AFT) gives the dealer the right to say no, even if you pass the background check. If you’re unfamiliar with gun buying and don’t know what you’re doing, being uncomfortable or shifty will set off the dealer’s red flag detector. Simply inform the associate behind the gun counter of the situation.
If you just say, “Hey, I’m purchasing a gun as a present, but I’ve never done this before,” the seller can walk you through the procedure.
Although it is permissible to buy a gun as a present for a non-prohibited individual, if you prefer not to deal with the legalities or are uncomfortable purchasing a gun that isn’t right for you, the best alternative is to give a gift card to your local gun store and allow the giftee choose their own handgun.
You can even negotiate with the dealer to pay for the gun but have it held at the store until the recipient comes in, fills out the form 4473, and gets ownership of it.
I understand. Handing someone an envelope with a gift card or a photograph of their new handgun is not nearly as exciting as watching their expression when they unwrap a new gun. However, it may be the simplest option, as it alleviates any qualms about donating a gun to someone else.
Finally, the NSSF reminds us that “ownership of a handgun has certain important duties and legal obligations that other consumer items do not.” If you give a firearm as a gift, be sure the receiver understands basic gun safety.
Shipment of a Firearm
A handgun may only be shipped by common carrier (not US mail) and a long gun can only be shipped by US mail or common carrier to a federally licensed store, not to a non-licensed individual in another state. Federal law compels you to declare that your delivery contains an unloaded handgun to all carriers. To be safe, always check with your carrier ahead of time regarding its weapons shipment policies.
Although you can legally give a handgun as a present, you cannot legally buy a gun for someone else. What is the distinction? When you offer a present, you pay for it yourself and expect nothing in return. On the other hand, it is a criminal if someone pays you to procure a gun for them. If they provide you the money to make the purchase or sell you anything of value in exchange for purchasing the gun for them, you have engaged in a straw man transaction (or straw purchase). Purchases of straws are a felony under both federal and state law.
The ATF has launched a campaign dubbed “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” to educate would-be purchasers about the rules when purchasing a firearm for someone else. An example of a prohibited straw purchase might be:
Your neighbor is aware that you are headed to the shooting range. He wants you to select a “nice rifle” for his child for Christmas, despite the fact that he knows nothing about weapons. He hands you $500 and instructs you to bring home whatever you like for his son.
There would be no problem if the neighbor went to the gun store and bought the rifle, then gave it to his kid as a present. However, if you buy the pistol using your neighbor’s money and give it to him as a present, you have engaged in a straw man transaction and are both vulnerable to up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.