Are my guns registered when I buy them?
I have been asked this question or a form of it too many times to count. A customer comes in and picks out a handgun or a long gun, fills out the paperwork, passes the background check, pays for their new or used gun, then as they’re walking out the door they ask if they need to register their new purchase or if we have already registered it in their name. Well the short answer is “Virginia doesn’t have firearms registration, so you are all set”. This is actually the norm throughout most of the USA, as a matter of fact federal law actually prohibits the government from using the background check system (NICS) to create a national firearms registry. However, if you live in one of the following states, some of your firearms may need to be registered: California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York require certain types of firearms to be registered. Hawaii and Washington, DC (not a state) require all firearms to be registered. If you live in one of these states, or God forbid Washington, DC, check your local laws and speak to your local firearms dealers to determine what firearms need to be registered and what the process is.
Keep in mind this does not apply to machine guns, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, suppressors, or an any other weapon (AOW). All of these NFA (National Firearms Act), firearms/ devices are required to be registered by Federal Law.
I bought a gun in a private sale, can I take it to a dealer and put it in my name?
If you live in a state where private firearms sales are legal (like Virginia) you and the person you are buying the gun from can go down to a local gun dealer and have the firearm transferred from the seller to the buyer. There will usually be a fee for this service, fees vary and can be as low as $10.00 and as high as $75.00 (maybe higher), full disclosure we charge $25.00. Keep in mind that this is a paper transaction only, and there is no information sent to the government stating that the gun is now out of the sellers name, and in the buyers name. This is also something that needs to be done before the sale takes place, the gun dealer needs information from the seller so they can properly record who they received the gun from.
If guns are not registered, how do the police find the owners of guns used in crimes?
Simple, since the Gun Control Act of 1968 the ATF form 4473 has been required to be filled out for every firearms purchase. This form has the buyers name, address, and other identifying information on it. It also has the make, model, serial number, type, and caliber of the firearms that were purchased. FFL’s (Federal Firearms Licensee’s) are required to keep this form for 20 years or until they go out of business, whichever comes first. After 20 years or going out of business the forms are sent to the ATF for storage. The ATF has millions of these paper forms in their possession and that number continues to grow.
When a gun turns up in a crime the local police or agency that recovers the firearm contacts the ATF to conduct a serial number trace. The local police or agency gives the ATF the make model and serial number of the gun. The ATF then contacts the manufacturer if they are still in business (if not the ATF has their records already) and gives them the information on the firearm. The manufacturer goes through their records (that are required to be up to date and complete by law) and identifies the date the gun was sold and who they sold it to. Most likely they sold it to a firearms distributor or dealer, so now the ATF contacts the distributor or the dealer with the information they received from the manufacturer. Now the distributor or dealer is tasked to go through their records (again required by law) to identify where the gun is. If the dealer sold the gun to another dealer, the ATF will then contact that dealer for the information on the gun. If the dealer sold it to a non-dealer (a customer), they will then have to fax or email copies of the form 4473 that was filled out by the customer to the ATF.
Now the ATF has the information of the original buyer, but this doesn’t mean that the trace stops there. Sometimes the original buyer sold the gun to a dealer, or in a private sale. Now if that person kept records or remembers who they sold the gun to, the process continues and they start contacting the next group of dealers or private buyers.
Does this process work? Yes it does, but at the same time the ATF sometimes hits a wall when they can’t contact the next person in line. Say someone sold a gun at a gun show and they do not remember or do not have records of the person or dealer they sold the gun to. This type of dead end is what gun control advocates use to push for universal background checks, which is just one step closer to full firearms registration.
A quick story about the strangest gun trace I know about:
Back in 2010 a homegrown want to be Islamic terrorist named Yonathan Melaku, shot at several military buildings in Northern VA, including the Pentagon and the Marine Corps Museum. He was arrested at Arlington National Cemetery with spray paint and bomb making materials. For some reason he admitted to shooting the buildings in Northern VA. The agency he told this too wanted to recover the handgun for evidence but he no longer had it. Turns out he put the handgun on consignment at a local gun dealer in Northern VA. The handgun was purchased, and a form 4473 was filled out by the buyer, and he passed a background check and took possession of the gun. A week or two go by and the buyer of the gun decides to trade the gun for another gun to a private individual from Virginia. There is no paperwork filled out or background check done because it is a private transaction between two Virginia residents which is legal in Virginia. The new owner of the gun decides he doesn’t want it and trades it to another private individual and Virginia resident for another gun, again there is no paperwork or background check for this transaction. The “new new” owner of the gun decides to sell it to another private individual and Virginia resident in a private sale, so there is no paperwork or background check again. Over the course of these private transactions, the gun went from Northern VA, a few miles outside of Washington, DC to South of Petersburg VA.
The agency looking for the gun, went to the dealer that sold it the first time and acquired the first buyers information from the form 4473. They contacted the first buyer, which led them to the second buyer, which led them to the third buyer, which led them to the fourth and final buyer of the gun. The gun was recovered and submitted into evidence. Yonathan Melaku, agreed to a 25 year prison sentence, after pleading guilty to several charges. The story didn’t get a lot of press coverage for whatever reason. Probably because no one was hurt, and the press didn’t want to talk up a homegrown Islamic terrorist during the Obama administration.
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