How to Transfer Ownership of a Gun: State by State
Gun laws can be complex and confusing. There are federal regulations, state regulations, and even sometimes local regulations with which you have to contend. As a result, it can be tricky to navigate them all if you want to sell or transfer ownership of your gun.
Transferring refers to the act of legally moving ownership of a gun from one person to another, and comes with it’s own set up of rules to consider. Not to worry: We've put together a guide to help with legally transferring your firearms wherever you live.
The Ever-Important Disclaimer and a Word About Gun Laws
There are two important points to address before we go further: politics and legality.
No, we're not getting political. But by nature, gun law discussion involves different state and federal legislation that some people feel very strongly about. This information is meant to be educational, and no assertions are being made about these laws one way or another. The purpose here is to inform people as to the laws and regulations involving the transfer of guns.
Which brings up the next point: legality. This article is not meant to provide legal advice. If you need that, contact an attorney. The goal here is to clear up confusion and provide plain-English specifics on the requirements for firearms transfer. The information provided here is as up-to-date and accurate as possible at the time of writing, but you should always do your due diligence and make sure nothing has changed since this information was published. New gun laws are passing all the time, and being unaware can land you in trouble.
Federal Regulations Regarding Gun Ownership Transfer
Firearms transfers are federally regulated, and the agency in charge of that regulation is the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives. Or, as it's more commonly known: the ATF.
It's the ATF's job to interpret and carry out the enforcement of all federal regulations regarding firearms. ATF rules apply to the entire United States, and for transfers, they're surprisingly clear and easy to follow.
According to the ATF, any unlicensed person (meaning not a Federal Firearms Licensee) may transfer a firearm to another unlicensed person residing in the same state as long as that person is not barred from owning a firearm.
What this means is that it's perfectly legal under federal law to transfer your gun to another person without any extra steps as long as they are allowed to own a firearm. There is no federal requirement for having a license to do so, and you don't need to fill out any paperwork. As long as you're both residents of the same state, your transaction is essentially unrestricted. Conducting a background check is encouraged but not required.
However, if the person you're transferring the gun to lives in another state, you must have a license or an FFL to do the transfer. Additionally, the transfer itself must go to another FFL; it can't go directly to the person. Typically what happens is that you take the gun to a licensed dealer who transfers it to a licensed dealer in the other state. The recipient comes to the dealer in their home state and fills out the appropriate ATF forms and gets a background check.
State Regulations Regarding Gun Ownership Transfer
While person-to-person transfers of gun ownership within the same state don't come with any paperwork requirements from the federal government, the same isn't true of gun laws at the state level.
Below is a listing, by state, of the state regulations pertaining to the private sale or transfer of guns. Any additional requirements listed are in addition to federal rules, which means you must follow them when transferring gun ownership within the state in question. If your state is not listed here, no additional state requirements are necessary.
Alaska requires that second-hand sellers, such as pawnbrokers, maintain transaction records, but this requirement does not exist for private sales.
California requires that all sales be conducted by an FFL; there can be no private transfers of gun ownership.
Colorado requires that the seller must arrange for an FFL to conduct a background check.
Connecticut requires that handgun transfers are authorized by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP). This authorization is subject to the results of a background check.
Connecticut also requires that long guns be transferred by an FFL and that FFL must perform a background check.
Connecticut requires a permit for all guns, and this permit must be obtained before the background check is performed.
Delaware requires all sales to be performed by an FFL and the private sellers must be present at the FFL's place of business when the sale occurs.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia requires that the seller arrange for an FFL to conduct a background check, and there is a 10-day waiting period on all firearm sales. All firearms must also be registered with the D.C. Metro police.
Florida doesn't have any additional requirements for private sales, but county governments have been granted the authority to require background checks and a three- to five-day waiting period for private firearms transfers.
Hawaii requires a permit, and there is a 14-day waiting period for all firearms purchases.
Illinois requires a permit to purchase a gun. Additionally, all sales must be recorded, and those records maintained for 10 years. There is also a 24-hour waiting period requirement for all long gun purchases and a 72-hour waiting period for all handgun purchases, regardless of whether it's a private sale.
Iowa requires a permit for all firearm purchases.
Maine requires that a buyer must sign, in the presence of the seller, an acknowledgment of having received Maine's basic firearms safety brochure.
Maryland requires using an FFL or local law enforcement agency to perform all sales of handguns and "assault weapons."
Massachusetts requires a record be kept of the transaction and filed with the state department of Criminal Justice Information Services.
Michigan requires that a license or concealed carry permit be obtained in order to purchase a handgun.
Minnesota requires that all sales of handguns and tactical style weapons be recorded with the local police department, and the police department must conduct a background check. Additionally, the seller is held criminally liable if the firearm is used within one year of the transfer in the commission of a violent felony if it's found that person was not allowed to have that weapon.
Nebraska requires a permit for all firearms purchases.
New Jersey requires a license or permit for all firearms purchases.
New York requires a background check for all firearms sales. All sellers must also maintain records for all firearms sales, and a permit is required to purchase a handgun.
North Carolina requires a permit for handgun sales.
Oregon requires all firearms sales to be done by an FFL.
Pennsylvania requires the sales of all handguns, short barreled rifles, and shotguns be done at an FFL or county sheriff's office.
Rhode Island requires background checks for all firearm sales, and records must be maintained.
Tennessee doesn't allow firearm sales to an intoxicated person.
Texas does not allow firearms sales to an intoxicated person.
Washington requires all firearms sales to be done by an FFL.
Each state listed does have some additional regulatory language that mimics the federal regulations regarding transfer to felons, minors, and those with mental health reasons for not being allowed firearms. Those were not individually listed because they're the same as the federal regulations in that transfers to those people are prohibited. Those laws simply provide for additional state penalties along with the federal ones.
Keep in mind that laws are always changing. If you have any questions, contact a local FFL, lawyer, or even state and local police to get some clarification. Trying to make sure you stay legal and protect yourself during a transfer may seem daunting if you don't have all the information you need. With this guide, you should be able to better navigate the confusion and begin with a good foundation for what you need to do to transfer your firearms legally.