Giving a Firearm as a Gift?

With the holiday season upon us, many of you are probably contemplating purchasing a gun for family or friends. Last year the NSSF’s Bill Brassard wrote an excellent blog post on the subject

The first thing to remember if you’re thinking about giving someone a gun is that . . . it’s a gun!  You already know that ownership of a firearm brings with it some serious legal and ethical obligations that other consumer products don’t.  So let’s look at some questions you may have about giving a firearm as a gift.

The first question you have to ask is whether the intended recipient can legally own the firearm where he or she lives.  More than 20,000 different gun laws on the books, even the kinds of firearms that law-abiding citizens can own vary from place to place; for example, juveniles (under age 18) generally speaking are precluded by law from possessing a handgun. Check out the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) website for an overview of local laws and, whatever you do, don’t forget that you can never under any circumstances transfer a firearm to someone you know — or have reasonable cause to believe — legally can’t own one.  That’s a federal felony, so be careful.


Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • Jeff Smith

    This is what I’ve always wondered: the background check form (forgive me for not knowing the proper term) doesn’t ask if you are intending to purchase the gun for someone that can not legally own a firearm, it asks if you are buying the gun for someone other than yourself. So, if I buy a firearm for my wife (who could legally own a firearm), is that act technically a felony?

    • The form 4473 is what you refer to. The first question is asking if you’re buying this for yourself as seen in the photo.
      If you intend to be 100% legal the person that gets the gift should fill out a 4473 themselves.
      I doubt I would make it known I was buying it as a gift. It’s a bit open to interpretation. With that in mind I’d get a gift certificate just to be sure.

      • Dan

        The ATF has specifically addressed gift giving, it’s legal.

        • Steven Harris

          Yes, but it remains to be seen whether the ATF promulgated its form reporting position on gifts in accordance with the law.

        • Even ATF gives different answers to that same question. Give two ATF offices a call and ask that question. I bet you get two different answers. My point is do you want to risk it?
          A couple of years ago I tried to purchase a gun for my son as a gift. The gun shop refused.

          • Dan

            Then the gun shop is either confused as to what the law is or has a straight “CYA” shop policy, and as far as the ATF is concerned, what constitutes “gift giving” and what doesn’t is spelled out very well on page four of the 4473. If you talk to someone employed by the ATF (or a gun store, or wherever for that matter) and they tell you something different than what the 4473 or ATF’s own website states then they simply don’t know what they’re talking about and probably shouldn’t be trusted with giving out any sort of legal advice.

          • My point is even though they should all know the law they don’t which leaves the door open for errors and possible prosecution. Since there is confusion it’s just safer to give a gift card.

      • Steven Harris

        See my post on this below. What you say is not correct. If A is buying a gift for B, A fills out the Form 4473 and indicates A is the actual purchaser. See the ATF instructions quoted in my piece at

        • You do that and most gun shops will not sell you the gun.I understand what you’re saying but in actual cases the gun shop has the final say. I actually called four gun shops in my area this morning and all four said no.
          It’s just not clear enough to take a chance when most stores have gift certificates for that purpose.

          • Steven Harris

            They are wrong and losing a sale. It is clear, whether or not a call to the ATF makes you wonder. (BTW – what an ATF employee says on the phone is not and cannot be relied upon to be “the law”). Whether the one getting the gift shows up at the store or not, if the person making the gift is paying for the gun with his/her own money and is gifting after the moment of purchase, the buyer is the person paying; he/she fills out Form 4473, not the one receiving the gift. You should note that Mr. Abramski, whose case is now before the Supreme Court, to be argued early next year, was advised (incorrectly) by several FFLs to complete the transaction as he did. He was convicted, and his conviction has so far been affirmed on appeal.

          • gunslinger

            i read the piece, and Mr. Abramski, i believe, was in the wrong. he specifically took money from his uncle to purchase a firearm. the form specifically forbids this.

            now if he bought the gun wit his own money, then gifted to his uncle, i.e. he didn’t get any money from him. he would be in the clear because he was the actual buyer. and the form never says anything about “late payment” or anything of the fact. i.e. on MrA’s next bday, his uncle gave him a gift of cash equal to the price of the gun. so what’s the statute of limitations on “money transfers” for a gift gun?

            still, i can see why the LGS may not be willing to sell a “gift gun” a $500-$1000 sale is not worth the feds coming in to investigate. your LGS MMV. as a forinstatnce, i was at my LGC picking up some stuff i bought online, when a guy walks in, saying he wants to get a shotgun for his wife. he was looking, picked one out, filled out a 4473, and walked out the door with his new shotty. I was at another LGS and a similar thing happened, and they refused the sale. go figure. see the number of forum posts about people rejected (most notably in my mind was an ARF post about a guy trying to get a home defense gun for his wife, and wally world pretty much had him arrested)

          • It should be interesting when the case is heard by the supreme court.

      • Steven Harris

        Also, note what you depict is not the current Form 4473. It appears to be the 2001 version.

      • cambeul41

        If I read it correctly, the question is, Äre you the actual buyer of the firearm….” It does not ask if you are buying it for yourself. If it is your money, you are the buyer. On the otherhand, if someone gave you the money to make the ourchase for them, you are not the actual buyer.

    • ATF is particularly touchy these days about straw purchases. The rule we abide by is that you cannot purchase a firearm for another person; you can only purchase a firearm for yourself.

      Yes, ATF Q&A B14 does acknowledge that it’s their position that a parent may give a firearm as a gift to a son or daughter, but it’s just not worth raising red flags by talking about it when filling out the 4473. When you buy, by for yourself only. What you decide to do with it afterwards is your responsibility and your business. Just be safe and responsible.

  • Jeremy Star

    Save yourself the headache. Gift cards all the way.

  • Lance

    So pls Steve give us some firearm Christmas gifts pls.

  • Chatterbot

    Linkie no workie.

  • Brandon

    I remember reading some forum post by some guy who wanted to give Mosin Nagants as gifts to the guys in his wedding. I think the other users told him it would be too risky to do without running afoul of some sort of gun trafficking law.

  • Steven Harris

    One must also determine who should fill out the ATF form and who is the “actual” purchaser. This is not always easily answered, and has nothing to do with whether the person to receive the gift is a disqualified person. You take the advice of the FFL at your own risk. The Supreme Court may explain all of this in a case to be decided next year. See:

    • That’s the problem so many people who own gun shops don’t fully understand it as well as our own agencies who are charged with enforcing the law.
      I hope they get it straightened out. I think what proves the point is how many times they have changed the 4473 form in the last couple of years.

  • William Baker

    I’ve had this conversation with many sheriff deputies over the years, and gun store clerks. The 4473 makes it so you can’t buy the gun unless you are the person for whom the gun is for. Yet it is legal to gift a gun. So in order to buy the gun you often are required to commit a crime and answer that question inappropriately. The other option is pay for the gun somewhere and have it shipped to a ffl near the recipient so that they fill out the 4473.

    • That’s what I’ve run into as well. About two weeks ago a gun shop owner I know told a buyer (while I was there) to do just what you said ship it to an FFL near the person being gifted and they fill out the 4473.

    • Cymond

      You’re basically right, but there are still ways to give guns. You can’t buy a gun for someone else, but you can give someone one of your own guns. I can give my cousin my old 10/22 (or I could if lived in another state), but I can’t buy a band-new 10/22 for her.

      Hypothetically, you could buy yourself a gun, put it in the back of your closet for while (6 months? a year?), and then decide to give it as a gift in a completely unrelated move.

      It’s bending the rules, and the legality depends entirely on your intent. If you truly bought it for yourself and then later decided to give it as a gift, it should be legal. If you secretly intended it as a gift all along, then it’s probably illegal.

      • Steven Harris

        “If you secretly intended it as a gift all along, then it’s probably illegal.” It is not, your statement is incorrect. The secret “gifter” is the actual buyer for Form 4473. No issue whatsoever.

        • Cymond

          Yeah, but most gun shops won’t do that (they worry that the person filling out the 4473 is a straw purchaser for the person with the money), and it means taking the recipient to the gun store. Surprise and wrapping paper are a big part of the gift-giving tradition for a lot of people. If I’m giving a gift, I’d much rather put it under the tree wrapped in shiny paper.

          “If you secretly intended it as a gift all along…” I was referring to the act of filling out the 4473 as if you were the purchaser when you really are purchasing it for someone else as a gift.

          • Steven Harris

            If you are purchasing a firearm for someone else to be gifted in the future, using your money, YOU ARE THE PURCHASER AND YOU COMPLETE FORM 4473 AS THE ACTUAL BUYER. It does not matter what the gun store owner/salesman thinks. It also does not matter whether you give the gift that day or sometime later under the tree.

          • Steven Harris

            And BTW, I think if you bring the person to whom the gift is to be made into the gun store that creates the nonexistent problem with clerks who have not read the instructions for Form 4473, Question 11.

    • Steven Harris

      A person buying a firearm to later give as a gift is not committing a crime when they complete the ATF Form 4473 reflecting they are the actual buyer. That is what the instructions to the form (attached to the form) require. Deputies and gun store clerks who have told you otherwise are wrong.

      • Katie

        Just to back up Steven, the ATF Form 4473 specifically states in the instructions for question 11.a. (Actual Buyer question):
        “ACTUAL TRANSFEREE/BUYER EXAMPLE: Mr. Smith asks Mr. Jones to purchase a firearm for Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith gives Mr. Jones money for the firearm. Mr. Jones is NOT THE ACTUAL TRANSFEREE/BUYER of the firearm and must answer “NO” to question 11.a. The licensee may not transfer the firearm to Mr. Jones. HOWEVER, if Mr. Brown goes to buy a firearm with his own money to give to Mr. Black as a present, Mr. Brown is the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm and should answer “YES” to question 11.a.”. What is confusing about that? True gifting is legal, no question, as long as the recipient of the gift is legally allowed to own the gun.