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.
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 and, 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 that 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 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.
If you're planning on giving a new gun, a gift certificate from a local retailer can get the job done without the risk of creating a straw purchase situation.
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 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.
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, 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.
What if you want to give "Old Betsy," your favorite old deer rifle, to your son or daughter as a 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!