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Is it Legal to Buy or Sell a Gun Privately?

With political candidates pushing for universal background checks and pro-gun activists fighting back, concerned about personal freedoms, the topic of gun possession and ownership in America seems ever-present. The regulation of private gun sales has become a hot topic of late. But many do not know what a private gun sale is and whether or not it is legal. 

Understanding Gun Sales

Simply put, a private gun sale happens when someone who is not a licensed gun dealer sells a gun to someone. Generally, private gun sales and/or transfers require a dealer background check. This requirement became effective January 2, 2020. Moreover, you generally cannot purchase a gun online. Not surprisingly, gun laws can be complicated as there are 50 states that are enforcing just as many different sets of gun laws. This does not even account for federal firearms regulations. As a result, what is perfectly legal in one place may be completely illegal in another. 

Federal Gun Laws

Federal law serves as a floor — a minimum, if you will — and no state is allowed to have less stringent laws. Under federal law, a licensed gun dealer who sells a gun to someone must first conduct a background check on the potential buyer. This background check is required no matter where the sale happens — at a gun show, inside a gun store, or on the side of the road. If the seller has a federal firearms license (“FFL”) then the seller must first conduct a background check. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”), there were approximately 135,000 licensed gun dealers in the United States in 2017. Anyone else who is selling firearms is conducting a private transaction. 

So, if a gun show attendee wants to sell a gun, they can do so without needing to conduct a background check, according to federal law. And, a private gun sale could become illegal if the buyer falls into a category that prohibits purchasing a firearm under federal law — such as a convicted felon or an out-of-state resident. But, because a private seller is not under any obligation to ask, he or she is not breaking federal law as long as a gun is not knowingly being sold to a prohibited person.

State Gun Laws

According to the Giffords Center, 21 states as well as the District of Columbia currently have laws that are more stringent than federal gun laws. Some states have universal background check requirements, mandating background checks on every single gun sale — even those between private parties. Other states only require background checks on all handgun sales but do not place additional requirements beyond federal law for shotgun and rifle sales. 

So, in short, it may be legal to purchase or sell a gun privately depending on state law. If you have other legal questions, or have been hurt in an accident in Nevada contact H&P Law

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