How To Buy A Gun (Online And In Person)

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There are politicians out there who will tell you that it’s easier to buy a gun in America than it is to buy a book. I buy a fair amount of books, and I buy a fair amount of guns. I’ve yet to encounter a three day waiting period or background check while buying a copy of Hamlet, so I think our perception of how to buy a gun might need a little bit of a readjustment. 

We’ll gain a better understanding of the current laws surrounding the gun-buying process if we look at the history of how guns were bought and sold in the United States. The 1934 Federal Firearms Act was the first federal law restricting which guns Americans could own. It requires a $200 tax stamp and background check on purchases of fully-automatic guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and also suppressors. The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 created requirements for you to obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to be in the retail firearms business, and it also restricted certain people such as felons from buying a gun. 

American Laws Affect How To Buy A Gun In America

The 1968 Gun Control Act repealed and replaced most of the provisions of the 1938 Federal Firearms Act. This bill increased restrictions on who can buy a gun. Now, it was illegal for the mentally ill, users of illegal drugs, and others to buy a firearm. It also required all new guns to have serial numbers on them and tightened the rules on gun dealers. The 1986 Gun Owners Protection Act loosened some of the restrictions on gun dealers, but it also banned the manufacture of new full-auto guns for sale to individuals and placed a “sporting purposes” restriction on the importation of guns from overseas. Finally, the 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 mandated that all people buying guns at a licensed gun dealer must go through a background check and created the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in order to accomplish this. 

You would think that with all these federal laws, the process of buying a gun would not vary from state to state. And you’d be wrong. Every state in the union also has laws that affect background checks, waiting periods, gun permits, and other things that affect how to buy a gun in your state. The laws of each state also vary widely if you’re looking to buy a gun from a private individual. Some states have laws that require background checks between individuals, (aka “closing the gun show loophole”), some don’t. As such, I’m going to talk about the process of buying a gun in a gun store in a way that applies to every state in the union. 

The First Step In The Process

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The first step is obviously figuring out which gun you want to buy. If you’re buying a gun for the first time, I have a post on what makes a good first gun, as well as buying your first rifle or first handgun. Keep in mind that state laws may vary if you’re buying a pistol versus buying a rifle or a shotgun. If you have any questions about that, you can always check with the gun store employee or seek out legal advice.  

Once you’ve picked out your gun of choice at your local gun dealer, you need to fill out a Form 4473. This is a form the gun shop provides from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) that is used to record a sale to a private individual. You will need a government-issued photo ID to fill out the form. If you have a concealed carry permit for your state of residence, you should probably bring that along as well. If you are a Legal Permanent Resident of the U.S., bring your Alien Registration Card.

You will fill out your personal information, and chances are, the gun store clerk will fill out the details about what gun(s) you are buying. This is a good thing. It’s quite common for the BATFE to inspect gun stores to make sure their inventory matches what’s in their stock room. This means that the gun store employee that’s helping you has a good reason to make sure he or she is writing down everything correctly. 

Buying A Gun Online

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If you choose to buy a gun online, the process is slightly different, but the end result (a background check) is the same. If you choose to buy a gun from an online dealer, they will ship the gun to a dealer in your area, who will then run a background check on you before buy your gun. 

 

 

 

 

What’s after that? Well, that varies according to the state you live in. I had my concealed carry permit when I lived in Arizona, and in that state, it meant I could walk out with my purchase the instant the paperwork was done. Things are different when I buy a gun in Florida. A CCW permit here means that I still need to wait for my background check to come back clear, but I don’t have to endure a three day waiting period between buying a gun and legally owning it. The background check itself can also take a varying amount of time. It can be just a few seconds, or go on for hours or even days, depending on the demand for guns at that moment. Either way, until you clear your background check, you don’t get your gun, no matter what.

Don’t Buy A Gun For Someone Else

In addition to this, it’s important to understand that when you buy a gun, it is you yourself that is buying the gun. Buying a gun for someone else is called a straw purchase, and it’s a felony. If your friend or loved one is restricted from owning a gun and you buy one for them, you’re in a world of trouble. If you’re buying a gun as a gift, let them be the one to fill out the 4473. The last thing you want to do is get into trouble with the law over a gift that’s meant to protect themselves from harm. 

Buying A Gun Isn’t As Easy As You Think

This just covers the basics. I heartily suggest you talk with the employees at your local gun store to get a better understanding of how to buy a gun in your state, and if necessary, consult with an attorney for more clarity. Whichever gun you chose, make sure you do so safely, in accordance with the laws of your state. We have the right to keep and bear arms. Please do so responsibly.

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