How to Safely (and Legally) Buy a Firearm from a Private Citizen

Last year, a Florida man named Brown Dimas was looking to purchase a firearm. So, he did what many folks do and looked at a gun classifieds website called FloridaGunTrader.

After purchasing a gun from a man named John Michael, Dimas called the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and asked them to check the serial number on the firearm. When the Florida deputies ran the serial number, they discovered the gun had been reported stolen in Tennessee.

In other words, Dimas was in possession of a stolen firearm. That’s pretty serious. As Dimas told local media outlets, “I could’ve been riding home and got pulled over and went to jail because I had that firearm on me, even if I had just purchased it.”

Dimas is incredibly lucky he contacted the sheriff’s office and was not stopped by police with the gun. Since he did the right thing and called the police himself, there were no criminal charges for having a stolen firearm.

That being said, he did have to turn over the gun and he is out the $500 he paid John Michael. Not surprisingly, after this incident no one—including the sheriff’s office—was able to get a hold of Mr. Michael.

Many gun owners prefer to purchase guns through private sales for a number of reasons. This is exactly what I do—I’ve bought a number of guns from private sellers. If you decide to go the secondhand route, it is your responsibility to make sure you do so legally.

The first thing you need to do when considering buying a firearm from a private party is make sure it’s legal to do so in your state.

For example, California requires all private sales to be conducted through a federal firearms licensed (FFL) dealer. Even if you are selling a gun to your best friend, both of you need to go to an FFL dealer together for them to process the transaction. So, make sure you know the laws in your state.

Next, no matter what state you live in, you can only buy a firearm from or sell a firearm to a private party if they live in the same state.

Since I live in Utah, I cannot sell a firearm to a family member who lives in Nevada. If I want to sell my out-of-state relative a firearm, we both need to use an FFL dealer—one in each state.

Basically, I need to send the firearm from a licensed dealer in Utah to another licensed dealer in Nevada. (Keep in mind FFL dealers will typically charge you a transfer fee, usually between $20–$50.)

Now, let’s say you’ve found a firearm that you are interested in purchasing from a gun classifieds website in your state. Once you and the seller have agreed on a price and you are ready to make the purchase, ask them for the serial number on the gun. Anyone who is legally selling a firearm should have no problem giving you this information.

Once you have the serial number, call your local police department and ask if they are able to run the serial number through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This is a law enforcement database where all stolen firearms are supposed to be logged.

This is how the Lee County sheriff’s office was able to tell Mr. Dimas that the gun he purchased was stolen. Most police departments will run the serial number through NCIC as a courtesy. They should be able to tell you right away if the gun you want to purchase was reported stolen.

After you determine the gun is not stolen, set up a time and place to meet the seller. I recommend choosing a parking lot or area where there is a lot of traffic. You want to conduct the sale in a public place. In addition, I suggest noting the license plate number on their vehicle in case you need to help police identify them at a later date.

When meeting with a potential buyer (or if you’re the seller), bring along a bill of sale to fill out. You can find a sample bill of sale online. Be sure to include the make, model, caliber and the full names and addresses of both parties involved.

Last, the most important thing to remember when buying, or selling, a used firearm is that if it sounds like too good of a deal, do not go through with it. If someone is selling a gun for $100 that normally sells for $500, it could be a sign that it’s stolen.

Likewise, if someone offers you $800 for a firearm you only paid $300 for, it could be a sign that person cannot legally buy a gun so they are willing to overpay.

Either way, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Defender Outdoors Shield

Jason Hanson

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and New York Times bestselling author. After graduating from Radford University, Hanson joined the Arlington County Police Force. Not long thereafter, Jason set his sights on the Central Intelligence Agency. Once accepted into the CIA, he made a name for himself and received the CIA’s Exceptional Performance Award twice; once in 2005 and again in 2008. After over six years with the CIA, Hanson left to start a family and founded Spy Escape & Evasion with the goal of teaching men and women how to be safe using secrets and methods honed from years with the intelligence community. Then in 2014, Jason won a deal on the ABC hit show Shark Tank. Jason then authored his first New York Time Bestseller, Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life, and began expanding his spy instructing company by opening the 320-acre Spy Ranch. To get a free copy of his book or learn more about his training programs, visit www.SpyEscape.com.

Do you buy or sell guns privately or through a dealer? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

2 Comments On This Article

  1. What about selling or giving to a family member who lives in a different state than you. Additionally, if a person dies and wills certain guns to family or non-family members. How should these firearms be legally transferred to these individuals? Thanks for publishing the article and it answers several questions that I have considered such as purchasing a firearm at a sporting goods store and selling it to an out of state son. Must go through a licensed FFL dealer.

  2. I see all kinds of problems here with government involvement. Just because the gun was reported stolen doesn’t mean it was actually stolen. There are a lot of nasty people in the world but not near as nasty as the government when it comes to guns. The government should not know anything about my involvement with a gun. It should be unlawful for any government official to say anything to any law abiding citizen concerning any firearm.

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