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Gun buying for the paranoid…

NOTE: This article does not yet reflect the measure WA 594 impacts that were voted into place in the 11/2014 election. I will update it shortly to reflect those changes.

Jump: [ Federal Govt ] | [ State Govt ] | [ WA State Pistol Database ]

Published: 02.28.2009 19:31
Modified: 05.12.2012 18:32

I get a lot of questions around the whole “gun buying” process. Many people, rightfully so, are very concerned about the government knowing what guns they have and don’t want to register firearms as they feel their second amendment rights are being violated.

I’m going to explain here how it works, so maybe that will help put your mind a bit at ease if these are issues that concern you. If they aren’t, well just consider it free knowledge.

For this discussion I am speaking strictly about firearms that fall within the National Firearms Act and are not considered Class 3 Dealer weapons (for example full automatics). I’m not a Class 3 Dealer, so I won’t speak to that here.

Also note that currently Gun Shows have their own unique set of rules, which tend to be much more liberal. In most cases at a Gun Show you will have little hassle.


Federal Government

From a Federal stand point its important to note that Handguns (pistols/revolvers) and Long-guns (rifles/shotguns) are treated somewhat differently. Although you fill out the same paperwork for either type of firearm, there are some different laws (thanks to the 1993 Brady Act) that are in play.

When it comes to long-guns its pretty simple. If you as a buyer walk into any gun shop in America, in person and purchase a long-gun of any type there is A) no waiting period and B) you can walk out of that shop and take it home across state lines (and if you aren’t sure about transportation laws, leave it unloaded, in its case and in the trunk).

When it comes to hand-guns its not, of course, so simple. It is illegal for a dealer to sell a handgun to a resident of another state, without transferring the handgun through a local dealer in the buyers state. More painful for the buyer…great for us dealers! If you live in Oregon and purchase a handgun from a washington dealer (even if you walk into the shop) the dealer must transfer that handgun to a dealer in Oregon where you can pick it up. In this case the dealer in Oregon is responsible for the back ground check and transferring of the gun. This dealer will most likely charge you a transfer fee. Big chain stores have it easy as they can have you just pick up the gun at their store in another state.

Now when dealing with online purchasing, its not quite such a big deal since you have to use a dealer to ship a firearm anyway. This only gets annoying when purchasing at a store.

Remember these are federal rules…states can over-ride this, but thats the next section.

At this point you are buying a gun of some sort, regardless of who does the transfer. From a Federal standpoint as long as you are buying under 10 firearms at once you merely fill out a multipage document called a Form 4473 (Firearm Transaction Record).

Here’s some things to note about Form 4473. This form is not sent to any government agency, its actually kept on file by the local dealer. While this form contains the make/model/serial # of the weapon, plus all your personal information, it is not mailed out anywhere. The dealer will use this form to run your back ground check via the FBI NICS system.. However, the background check does not contain any of the following information: A) what you bought or its serial # (only if it was a long-gun or handgun) and B) whether you actually purchased the firearm and left with it. As far as the Federal government knows a background check was run on you and thats about it. They don’t have any record of what you did or did not purchase.

The only way the feds really ever see that data is in the event of a weapon being used in a crime. They will trace the weapons serial # through the system by asking for dealer record books and 4473 forms to show who last owned the weapon. They can only do this by checking with each dealer the gun was transferred through individually until they find the last non-dealer the weapon went to. So mind at ease here, its highly unlikely the government will know what weapons you have and how many.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE. Now re-read that last paragraph. What you should be getting out of that is…”Hey! If I give or sell one of my weapons to someone else I better document it!”. You are right. Many states offer person-person transfer forms which officially document the transfer of a firearm to another individual. (if you are in Washington I can provide you this form). Its not a required form but should your firearm end up shooting some poor sap later down the road, the gun trace doesn’t stop at you. Another method is to fill out an official sales receipt signed by both parties (even if you are giving it away). On the same token if a weapon is stolen, report it to the police immediately

NOTE ADDED 4.14.2009 It should also be noted that per Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 25.9(b)(1),(2), and (3), the NICS (feds) must destroy all purchaser identifying information on allowed transactions within 24 hours of the FFL being notified of the transactions proceed status. What does that mean? What it means is that once the Firearms Dealer (such as EagleFirearms) completes your background check and its successful the NICS (FBI) must destroy all data in regards to the transaction with 24 hours. So after 24 hours there is no record of your purchase within federal systems at all. The only record is the form 4473 you fill out at the dealer, who keeps that. The downside to this is that just because you passed a background check today, doesn’t mean you will the next time. Any changes or mis-identifications during a background check can cause it to fail and because of the above law, there’s no records that you previously passed your check. To prevent this the VAF was initiated. You can read about it on the VAF web site if you are interested.

NOTE ADDED 8.17.2011 “All FFLs shall retain each Form 4473 and 4473(LV) for a period not less than 20 years from the date of sale or disposition of the firearms. Forms 4473 obtained by FFLs where the NICS check was initiated, but the sale, delivery, or transfer of the firearm was not completed must be
retained for a period of not less than 5 years.” When a dealer goes out of business all of his valid form 4473 records are sent to the ATF.

Okay so what we see from the Federal side is that your gun sale is relatively still anonymous outside of you and your dealer.

Oh, but then there’s the state…


State Government

Now with the states, your mileage will vary about…50 different ways. All states do things differently. Here I’m going to speak to Washington and Oregon. Some states are real nasty some just ignore a lot of it. I’ve posted all the official State Laws here, so feel free to read your own state. Also if you really aren’t sure of something, call your local sheriffs office and ask. It’s their job to get you the right information and I’ve been quite successful in both Washington and Oregon just asking the Sheriff for clarification on gun laws.

NOTE ADDED 10.31.2011: With all due respect to our national police forces in every state, city and county please do not assume that because an Officer gave you an answer about Gun laws that it is accurate. Patrol officers have a lot of things they need to know but every detail about the gun laws is not a huge part of that. They know what they need to, to do their job. I’m not saying they won’t know your answer but often times don’t have enough detail around gun laws which can be very “gray”. Your best bet is to talk to the Sheriffs office, a lawyer, the FBI or the ATF. I’m also happy to track down your answer if I can, just ask!”. I know you are asking “don’t they have to know all of the laws?” No not necessarily. Its the prosecuting attorneys job to know all the Laws. Gun Laws can be very gray and detailed.

Let’s start with long-guns, because just like the Federal side, these are easy. In the state of Washington the dealer has no paperwork or documentation necessary for tracking or recording of any long-gun sale. The dealer merely has to deal with the Federal 4473 forms. In Oregon its about the same, however the state of Oregon requires that dealers do their background checking via a local state agency rather than the NICS used by the Federal Government. This is really asinine because all the people at the state agency do is run the exact same background check by calling NICS that every other dealer does elsewhere in the country. Oh and Oregon charges the dealer for this “feature”.

With handguns in Oregon, its pretty much the same as above. Handguns in Washington are a definitely a bit more of a pain. When you purchase a handgun in the state of Washington you are required by the dealer to fill out a special state form that contains quite a bit of information, most of which is a duplicate of what you already put on the Federal 4473 form. Just extra writing for you and your dealer. This document will contain the description of the weapon down to barrel size, caliber and serial #. The dealer must then, prepare yourself for Oregon type redundancy, send one of the triplicate forms to the local sheriff, who must than waste your tax dollars running the exact same check the dealer previously ran for background. He than contacts the dealer with a “okay or not okay” to transfer and mails the form back to the dealer. Genius.

Lastly after the transfer of the handgun occurs the dealer keeps the master copy of the state handgun record in his files, however he is required to immediately send the 3rd copy of the triplicate to the state licensing agency in Olympia Washington. So yes, the state of Washington does have a record of every handgun you purchase in the state if it comes legally from a dealer.

If you are buying a handgun in the store, you have a waiting period thanks to the Brady Act anyway so this delayed time with the Sheriff is un-noticed. If you are transferring a handgun or bought from a dealer who had to order it for you, you do have to wait a few extra days for this step.

CLARIFICATION ADDED 10.31.2011: In the above paragraph the reason for the last sentence is because the State form can not be mailed into the Sheriff until the serial # of the firearm is obtained and confirmed. So the sheriff form can not be sent in until the gun arrives at the dealer, you then have the 3 days to wait for the Sheriff. Your Brady waiting period may already be up because you were waiting on shipping, so this could be on top of that. My experience in Washington Clark County is that the Sheriff’s office here is awesome and often gets back to me immediately. I’ve been very impressed with them. Your county may vary.

It is completely legal in both states to transfer a firearm of any legal type person to person without dealer involvement. You just can’t ship it to the person, it must be delivered or picked up (there are some exceptions to this rule for long-guns as long as you are shipping in-state (both parties live in same state). I do highly recommend filling out a state person-person transfer form if you are the person selling or giving up the weapon, just to cover your own ass.

Well I hope I’ve cleared some things up for people. If you have any questions drop us a note, we’d be happy to help out where we can. Or even talk to your local Sheriff. Don’t ask the policeman you saw on the street or who pulled you over, many patrolmen do not need to know some of these more in depth laws and may not have accurate answers. You can also contact the FBI or ATF with your questions. I’ve found them to actually be quite helpful. Its in their best interest to keep you informed.


Washington State Pistol Transfer Form Information

If you live in Washington state you should be familiar with or will be if you buy a pistol, a triplicate form (blue, yellow, pink) that you are required to fill out upon purchase or transfer of a new pistol. If you have your Concealed Weapons permit (CPL) you can fill out this document and pick up your gun with no delay or waiting. If you do not have a CPL, this form must be filled out in advance and there is a 4-5 day wait before the firearm can be transferred. The reason for this is that the blue copy is sent into the county sheriffs office where a state background check is run against the buyer. Even if you order your gun online the time you wait for shipping will not count against your wait period, because the blue form can not be mailed into the sheriff prior to confirming the pistols serial #, make/model and markings. Long of the short…get your CPL.

I had an interesting conversation recently with a fellow who asked a lot of great questions about what the state actually does with all this data. You aren’t required to register handguns in Washington, yet they collect this form and keep the data…seems like the same thing. The big questions revolved around the data’s availability to the public, which is frightening.

I’d like to thank the folks at the WA DOL Firearms Division for their quick and helpful responses via email. I was very impressed at that. Their contact information is on our contact page if you want to talk to them.

Questions and answers below:

  1. Is [the information on the pistol transfer form] made available to the public either online or if they call in for it. Is it excluded from public disclosure?

    This information is NOT available via public disclosure, we are only allowed to release this information, by formal request, to law enforcement agencies, the individual themselves, or to a requester that has obtained a subpoena duces Tecum signed by a judge.

  2. If I purchase a pistol and become registered do I have the right to view this information to determine if it is accurate?

    A person can request information in the firearms database about themselves (only). There is a specific form that must be filled out and a formal request process that must be followed, to ensure that the information is being released to only the individual whose record information is being requested. That form is only available by contacting us. Once we the formal request process is completed we will provide a document that lists the handgun purchase history for that individual, which is mailed directly to that person.

  3. Also how long does the state keep these records?

    The hard copy of the handgun transfer form is destroyed after 6 years, just like the Dealer’s copy. However, the information in our database is never destroyed.

    I hope that this information helps, but please let me know if you have any other questions.

6 Comments

  1. […] Gun Buying for the Paranoid | Eagle Firearms It is illegal for a dealer to sell a handgun to a resident of another state, without transferring […]

  2. […] Gun Buying for the Paranoid | Eagle FirearmsFeb 28, 2009 … It is illegal for a dealer to sell a handgun to a resident of another state, without transferring the handgun through a local dealer in the buyers … […]

  3. […] Eagle Firearms does a good job at explaining what the law concerning Form 4473 entails: […]

  4. […] Eagle Firearms does a good job at explaining what the law concerning Form 4473 entails: Here’s some things to note about Form 4473. This form is not sent to any government agency, its actually kept on file by the local dealer. While this form contains the make/model/serial # of the weapon, plus all your personal information, it is not mailed out anywhere. The dealer will use this form to run your back ground check via the FBI NICS system.. However, the background check does not contain any of the following information: A) what you bought or its serial # (only if it was a long-gun or handgun) and B) whether you actually purchased the firearm and left with it. As far as the Federal government knows a background check was run on you and thats about it. They don’t have any record of what you did or did not purchase. […]

  5. […] the state of Washington. So I will be updating the Gun Laws in Wa post on this site as well as the Gun Buying for the Paranoid in hopes to help shed some light on […]

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