Selling a gun is a serious undertaking that requires knowledge of the laws and regulations governing the process. Depending on the state you’re in, selling a gun incorrectly can come with serious legal consequences. As such, to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, it is essential to understand how to sell a gun legally in the United States.
This article will provide a broad overview of selling a gun legally and provide helpful tips on selling online, selling to an FFL, and conducting private sales.
How to Sell a Gun Legally
When it comes to selling a gun legally, the first step is to determine which state laws apply. In general, the state laws of the buyer’s residence governs the sale of the firearm. For this reason, it’s important to either sell to someone who lives in your own state, or become familiar with the state laws of whoever you’re wanting to sell your firearm to.
You’ll notice as you read through this article that that’s a common theme: look up your state’s laws about selling a gun. The federal government has surprisingly little to say about private sales and transfers of firearms, and as long as you’re not knowingly selling to a prohibited person then you won’t break any federal laws when selling your gun.
In States That Require a Background Check for Private Sales
While state laws land from one end of the spectrum to the other, they broadly fall into two categories: laws that require the same level of scrutiny over private sales as commercial sales, and laws that don’t.
In states that require a background check for private sales, the buyer must complete an approved background check form before taking possession of the firearm. The seller may also need to complete the appropriate paperwork and submit it to the state or local law enforcement agency for processing.
Depending on the state, this process can take several days to complete. After the background check is successfully completed, then the seller can transfer ownership of the firearm to the buyer. This process is usually required to be facilitated by a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) and they usually end up handling all of the paperwork for a fee.
Either the buyer or seller can pay the fee, and it just becomes part of the negotiated price for the firearm. In some jurisdictions, the buyer may be required to acquire a weapons permit before being able to go through the purchase.
In States That Don’t Require a Background Check for Private Sales
In states that don’t require a background check for private sales, buyers and sellers can transfer ownership without going through any formal process. However, it is still important that the buyer is legally allowed to possess firearms. In some states, the seller can be held accountable if they sell a firearm to a prohibited person. Therefore, it would be best to keep in mind that if your buyer falls under the following categories of ineligibility, you probably shouldn’t sell it to them:
- If the buyer has been convicted in a court of a crime that they can be imprisoned for for a period time exceeding one year.
- If the buyer is a fugitive from justice.
- If the buyer illegally uses or is addicted to a controlled substance, according to the definition in Controlled Substances Act, section 102.
- If a judge considers the buyer to be mentally defective, or was committed to a mental institution.
- If the buyer is an illegal alien.
- If the buyer has been dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
- If they buyer has given up their citizenship in the United States.
- If the buyer has a restraining order against them preventing them from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or said partner’s child.
- If they have committed and been convicted of domestic violence or a misdemeanour crime.
It is also important to note that some states may have additional restrictions on whom you can sell or transfer firearms too, so be sure to familiarize yourself with those rules as well.
This is a topic that the federal government does have a lot to say about. Anytime you want to sell or transfer ownership of an NFA item, the buyer or recipient of the item has to go through the same application & tax stamp process that they would if they were buying a new one on their own.
There are no real shortcuts to this process, which is one of the reasons why putting a suppressor in an NFA trust can be a good move.
Tips to Sell Your Gun Online
When selling online, it is important to follow certain precautions in order to ensure safe and legal transactions.
- First, always ask for proof of age before selling any firearm online, unless you are selling through an online broker that does those checks for you.
- Be sure that all documents are properly filled out and stored securely.
- Additionally, make sure that you have verified all information regarding your buyer prior to shipping or transferring possession of your gun.
- Finally, use reputable sites like Guns America or GunBroker when listing your firearm for sale online so you can be sure you are dealing with legitimate buyers who are abiding by all applicable laws.
The specific conditions under which a seller can be considered culpable for selling a firearm to a prohibited person are somewhat gray, which is another reason why I would advise you to use an intermediary like GunBroker even though they’ll take a cut of the sale.
Selling to an FFL
If you choose to sell your firearm to an FFL (federal firearms license) holder such as a gun store or pawn shop, they will handle all necessary paperwork and make it very easy on you as the seller. It’s much faster and easier to sell a gun to a store who intends to resell it than it is find a private buyer on the open market.
It can also be much less stressful. I tend to be nervous about that sort of thing, so for me it’s sometimes worth getting much less for my gun just to be confident that the sale is never going to come back to bite me. Your mileage may vary, but don’t expect to get anywhere near the same amount of cash for your gun if you want to sell to an FFL.
Conducting a Private Sale
When you sell directly to a private buyer, you can get as much money for your gun as an FFL would get after buying it from you. This means you can get a lot more of the money back that you spent on it originally, but it also puts more of a burden on you to do your due diligence.
Conducting a private sale requires extra precaution as there may not be additional background checks being performed on either party involved in the transaction. As such, it is important for both parties involved in the transaction to verify each other’s identity prior to exchanging any money or firearms.
From the buyer’s perspective, you don’t know exactly how the seller came to possess the firearm that they are selling you. If the firearm was stolen, used in a crime, or has something else illegal about it, you could be landing yourself in some serious hot water if you buy a gun in a dark alley from a stranger, even if the process itself isn’t illegal.
Is Online Better than In-Person?
When deciding whether online or in-person sales are better, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. A private sale conducted online still has to be shipped to an FFL for a background check to be conducted, so it can be a little more expensive and troublesome to sell a gun online.
At the same time, selling online opens you up to a much wider market to people who may be willing to pay more for the gun that you’re selling.
For your first gun, I would definitely recommend trying to sell in-person. Once you’re a little more familiar with the process, it might make sense to branch out, but again, I tend to be nervous about that sort of thing.
Which State Laws Govern the Sale?
When a firearm is being purchased in a private transaction, the state laws of the state the buyer lives in take precedence. So if a guy in North Dakota wants to sell a firearm to a guy in Idaho, then Idaho state law would govern the transaction. This is important to know because state laws are the major variable in all of this – federal law doesn’t change from state to state.
Yes, direct selling of firearms is legal in most states within the United States provided that all applicable laws are followed when doing so. However, please note that not all states allow direct selling of firearms between individuals so please check your local state laws before attempting any type of transaction involving firearms within your state’s borders.
No, there is no separate license required for owning or purchasing a revolver in most states within the United States. I’ve never heard of a revolver-specific license and would be quite surprised to hear of one’s existence.
As I mentioned near the beginning, most states fall into one of two categories: they have the same legal requirements of private sales that they do for commercial sales, or they do not. The specific process you have to follow will depend on the state you live in, but this article should at least give you a good starting point to continue doing your research.
If there’s anything I got wrong in this article I’m more than happy to be corrected. I obviously don’t live in all 50 states, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I got some of the minutiae wrong. Every state in the union provides a way for someone to sell a firearm they no longer want to own, so no matter where you live, you’ll have an option available to you.