A gun can be the perfect gift for someone who will both appreciate the gesture and ultimately be a responsible owner. There are however, a few things you need to know before you run off to your nearest dealer to make that purchase.
When it comes to buying or ‘giving’ firearms to others, I would hope that most people would apply at least a minimum level of common sense to whatever arrangements that they make. There are obviously going to be protocols and laws that would need to be considered, in addition to the suitability of the recipient for gun ownership. These are definitely areas where you don’t want to make assumptions.
What the Law Says
The laws around legally giving or selling a gun are pretty straight-forward, but they can be a little confusing if you don’t pay attention. Below is a quick overview:
ALWAYS be fully aware of, and compliant with, all Federal, State and local laws as they relate to the purchase, gifting and transfer of guns. Do your homework. No excuses here.
There is no Federal law that prohibits you from buying a gun as a gift for a friend or family member, but there are conditions. The intended recipient of the gift must be legally able to own the firearm (ie. not a prohibited individual) and you must follow the requirements for the legal transfer to another party. The rules vary by State with regard to background checks, required paperwork and other various exceptions, so be sure to know the protocols. The same would apply for the gifting of a gun you may already own, or a ‘shared’ family gun if an individual moves out of the household with the gun and it is not registered in their name. You can also speak with an attorney to gain better clarification. Best to be 100% clear on all of this.
Further restrictions will apply when dealing with minors. Again, this will vary by State.
No matter if the gun is a new purchase or a hand-me-down gift, you are legally required to make the transfer via an FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee) if the recipient lives in another State. This must take place regardless of the private transfer laws in either of the respective States, as this would now become a federal matter.
You cannot purchase a gun on behalf of another individual, even if they are legally entitled to own it. This is often referred to as a straw purchase and it is entirely illegal. This is where some of the confusion can come into play. You can purchase a gun and give it to someone as a gift, but you cannot simply buy one for another individual, especially if you have some knowledge that they would not be able to pass a background check. It may seem like this is just a case of semantics when it comes to the nature of the transaction, but the checks-&-balances of the process make sense overall.
Making the Right Choice
If you’re comfortable that you have the legal end of things covered for your purchase, another consideration will be to make sure that the gun is suitable for the intended recipient. Like any present, you’ll want to make sure that the fit is just right. Comfort level, performance and safety are all things to be aware of.
Ideally, you will have a clear sense of the type, style, size and caliber of the gun that will be best for the individual. This is a little easier for a current gun owner, especially if you shoot together. In these cases you can discretely gather info on their preferences or wish-list firearms. For first-timers, you could have them try out some of yours or perhaps a variety of rentals at the range. You could also ask friends or family what their thoughts are.
Although it takes the surprise out of it, there’s always the option of having the person get directly involved in the purchase so that you’re 100% sure. Alternatively, you could go the gift card or dealer pre-pay route. This also gets you off-the-hook for having to do any paperwork. The recipient can simply make their choice and then handle the forms and background check routine themselves. This certainly takes the guesswork out of it.
Other Things to Consider
Legal transfer? Check.
Right gun? Check.
Now comes a potentially uncomfortable subject. Is the recipient of the gift a good candidate to be a responsible gun owner? Are there any volatile elements or influences within their household that might make gun ownership a bad idea? This can be a tough call. If there are clear signs of instability, substance abuse, domestic violence or serious irresponsibility, then you may want to think twice. Apply some common sense and listen to your gut.
Ensure that the gift of a gun will be generally accepted within the recipient household. For first-time owners, it may be wise to check that you’re on the same page with spouses etc.
For new gun owners, it may be a good idea to offer a package of lessons along with the gun. It’s a nice added bonus and can provide some peace-of-mind all around.
Be aware that an FFL dealer doesn’t have to sell to you if they get the impression that you may be purchasing a gun on behalf of someone else. Even if you pass the background check yourself, you have to be very clear as to the nature of the transaction. If this is new to you, simply tell them that you’re buying the gun as a gift and you would like some help with the process. They’ll be happy to assist.
Purchasing guns as gifts can be a fairly straight-forward routine if you take the time to understand the laws in your area and to follow the right steps.
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