Rob Pincus

Questions About Private Gun Sales

Rob Pincus
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Duration:   5  mins

Private gun sales: good or bad? Should you be worried about buying a gun privately from someone you don’t know, or selling a gun privately to someone you don’t know? These are reasonable questions for a responsible gun owner.

Anti-Gun Propaganda

The idea that private gun sales are somehow automatically bad has been perpetuated by those with an anti-gun agenda. Many people who don’t understand how firearms ownership works may think you’re doing something wrong if you buy or sell a firearm without going through a licensed dealer.

Legal Private Gun Sales

In some areas there are laws against private gun sales, but in the majority of the United States, there are circumstances under which it is legal for you to transfer a firearm to someone else, either as a gift or a sale. They don’t have to do a background check or be registered with a dealer. You don’t have to let anyone know except that person. It’s like buying any other personally owned property, whether it’s defensive gear or not.

You do have a moral and ethical obligation to know where that firearm ends up or where it came from. This is not always a legal issue. (And if it is illegal where you live to do private gun sales, don’t do it.)


What if you are considering legally selling a firearm to — or buying one from — someone you don’t know? What reasonable precautions should you take?

  • Get some idea who the person is. Get a copy of their driver’s license, perhaps by taking a picture of it with your smartphone. If the person refuses, this is a red flag.
  • Ask to see the seller’s concealed carry permit.
  • Get a bill of sale signed by both parties, including the price.
  • Back out of the sale if the other party says anything like, “Let’s not let anyone know about this sale.”
  • Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

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    2 Responses to “Questions About Private Gun Sales”

    1. David

      Saying that it is a "red flag" if a buyer doesn't want the seller to take a picture of their ID is misguided. With identity theft at an all-time high, it is irresponsible to let your ID (ID = identification after all) out of your personal control. What assurances do you have that the person taking the picture of your ID will safeguard it appropriately? Especially if this requirement is sprung on the buyer at the time of sale, this would be a deal killer for me and the vast majority of security and privacy conscious people I know.

    2. Gary Boham

      Keep a written record of every gun you buy or sell, including photocopies of buyer or seller's ID, store receipts, even written notes based on memory (I've bought shotguns at yard sales). You can do a spreadsheet or just a list on your computer, but print out a hard copy periodically, and store the hard copy somewhere -- NOT the gun safe. If your guns are stolen or damaged by fire or flood, this copy can help you report the serial numbers to the police or make the insurance claim. I know a retired LE officer who was contacted twice by the FBI over a 30 year period because he was the original purchaser of guns they had recovered. In both cases, it was only because he had the written records that he was able to tell them who he sold the guns to (he didn't actually remember either gun). I also urge my students to have the paperwork for private sales handled by a FFL dealer -- Most will do the sale for $20-30, and you're off the hook if the Feds OK the purchase. Here in Minnesota it is a gross misdemeanor to sell a pistol or 'assault weapon' to someone who you know is prohibited from owning or possessing, and it becomes a felony if they use the gun to commit an crime of violence within one year after the purchase.

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