By: Teresa Mull

This week’s edition of “ask the expert” comes from a reader who asked, “What must I do legally to sell a handgun to a friend?”

James Bardwell, in-house attorney for the National Association for Gun Rights, explains what people must do when making a private firearms transaction:

“The answer to this question varies greatly from state to state. In terms of federal law, there are no steps or requirements you must make. Federal law prohibits you from selling or transferring a handgun to someone who is under 18 years of age (with certain exceptions), or to someone who resides in a state different from your own, or to someone who is prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms.

“However, you have no obligation to affirmatively make sure someone fits into all those categories. You cannot do the sale or transfer if you know the buyer falls into any of those categories. If you already know the buyer to be prohibited from possessing firearms, or if the buyer tells you he is from a different state, or is a felon, then you cannot legally make the sale or transfer.

“In a number of states (Colorado, California, and Florida, for example), so-called private sales, or sales of a firearm by someone not licensed as a dealer, are regulated. Some states require all such transfers be made through a licensed dealer. Both the buyer and seller go to a licensed dealer, and that person facilitates a background check on the buyer.

“Even if state law does not require that all private sales go through a dealer, persons can choose to take this step if they feel more comfortable that a background check occurs before the transfer. Some states (North Carolina, Michigan, Iowa, and New York, for example) require a permit to purchase a handgun, whether the purchase is from a private person or a dealer. Any such state rules will be on top of the federal rules.”

Teresa Mull is editor of Gunpowder Magazine. Contact her at