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Gun Buying Guide


Gun Buying Guide © Flickr user Magic Robot
I frequently hear from people who want to know how to go about buying a gun. If you are new to gun ownership or gun collecting, you may not know more than what you’ve seen on television. Unfortunately, this information is not always accurate. Even when it is, the information may not be applicable to every state. In any case, here are the things you need to know about buying a gun. If you have a question I haven’t covered, please email me and I will do my best to answer your question.

Who can buy a gun?:

According to federal law an individual may purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun) at age 18 and a handgun at age 21, as long as the purchaser is not any of the following:
  • Anyone currently under indictment for a crime punishable by more than a year in prison
  • Anyone who has been previously convicted of such a crime
  • A fugitive
  • User of any controlled substance
  • Anyone who has been committed to a mental institution or deemed mentally defective
  • An illegal alien
  • Anyone who has been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Anyone who has renounced his or her U.S. citizenship
  • Anyone who currently has a restraining order against him or her from an intimate partner or child of said partner
  • Anyone who has been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor

Do I need a license to own a gun?:

Federal law does not require any sort of licensing to own a gun. In most states and municipalities, a license is not required to own a gun but is required to carry a gun on your person.

Where can I buy a gun?:

The short answer is pretty much anywhere. If you are new to the gun buying process, I recommend buying a gun locally as it is easier and requires fewer steps. Depending upon the type of gun you want, you can buy a gun at a gun shop, gun show, pawn shop, shooting range, sporting goods store, or even Walmart. When possible, I would suggest trying a shooting range first. Not only will there be plenty of knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions, you may also be able to try out the gun on the range before buying it.

You can also purchase a gun from an individual but if you do, be sure to document the sale carefully for your records.

How do I buy a gun?:

If you are buying a gun from a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer (FFL), they will collect the necessary paperwork from you and run the required background check. Unless you are buying a gun from an individual, you will almost certainly be buying it from an FFL. All of the above recommended places to buy a gun are FFLs.

Federal law does not require you to undergo a background check when purchasing a gun from an individual, nor does it require individuals to notify them of a private gun sale. However, the seller is still prohibited from selling a gun to anyone who is otherwise prohibited from buying a gun by federal law.

Can I buy a machine gun?:

You can purchase a machine gun that was built before 1986. Because of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA), a private citizen cannot own an assault weapon manufactured during or after that year.

Do I have to register my guns?:

Federal law does not require registering a gun unless it is what is known as an NFA weapon. Such weapons include machine guns, short-barreled rifles, silencers, grenades, and a few others.

When buying a gun from an FFL, of course, there is a record of the sale filed with the ATF.

What about local laws?:

Gun owners and collectors have to consider local laws in addition to federal gun laws. You can check the gun laws in your state here or contact a nearby gun range or gun shop for resources on local laws.
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