What’s the Process of Purchasing a Firearm?

Photo Credit: Liberty Safe

In this post, as someone that also sells firearms for a Lansing-based FFL, I’ll be explaining the process of purchasing a firearm as it pertains to Michigan and federal laws. It’s your responsibility, however, to research your state laws (USCCA; NRA) as they do vary from state to state for the age, possible waiting periods and firearm restrictions.

First, I’ll begin with the age requirements. To purchase a handgun (i.e. pistol, revolver and AR pistol), you must be at least 21 years to purchase from a dealer; however, it’s 18 years in Michigan and you can only purchase the handgun from a private seller (ex: friend, family, etc) once you acquire your purchase permit upon passing the background check via your sheriff’s office. For long guns (i.e. rifles and shotguns), you must be at least 18 years to purchase from either a private seller or a dealer. Now, I’m going to make this part a bit confusing. For the most part, the federal and state governments agree on what’s classified as a handgun and long gun but there are instances where they don’t agree. With that said, while some firearms might be categorized as a handgun based on how the firearm is measured – barrel and overall firearm length – at the federal level, that same firearm could also be categorized as a long gun at the state level and vice versa. Furthermore, firearms like the Mossberg 590 Shockwave, for example, are categorized as “firearms or other” due to its grip, measurements and other features (it’s not a shotgun even though it can be chambered in 12ga, 20ga or 410); therefore, you must be at least 21 years to purchase a firearm in this category.

Next, if you decide to go through a licensed dealer and have picked out the firearm(s) that you’d like to purchase, you’ll need to fill out ATF Form 4473. You must also have a valid driver’s license/state ID with your current address. If your ID is valid but the address isn’t current, you can substitute with your car registration as long as there is matching information between your ID and registration; otherwise you’ll need to get a sticker with your current address from the Secretary of State/DMV to place on the back of your ID.

When answering the questions on Form 4473, you must answer truthfully! Lying carries very steep penalties – felony charges, up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. For example, you CAN’T purchase a firearm for someone that legally can’t purchase a firearm (i.e. straw sale) but you can purchase a firearm for someone as a gift (ex: birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc) as long as they can legally own a firearm. Some advice: if you’d like to purchase a firearm for someone that can legally purchase the firearm as a legitimate gift, I recommend having them fill out the paperwork and then you pay for it when you check out at the cashier counter (less headaches involved).

What if marijuana is legal or decriminalized in my state (ex: Michigan)? To put things simply, if I have reason to believe that you may be under the influence of marijuana (or any narcotics, controlled substances, etc) or even possess a medical marijuana card, I can’t sell you a firearm, ammunition, etc because it’s still illegal federally. Also, even though alcohol is legal federally and statewide, if I have reason to believe that you might have consumed alcohol, I also can’t sell you a firearm, etc.

Once the paperwork is filled out, a background check will then be conducted via the FBI’s NICS system. Once it’s been submitted, we’ll get one of three answers: Proceed (you leave with the firearm that day as long as your state doesn’t have a waiting period), Delay (it’s not good nor bad. Just means that more research has to be done before an answer is provided) or Deny (this one is self-explanatory). Why am I being delayed/denied? Simple answer: I don’t know. That information is never provided to the dealer. You’d need to get your background check number and go through the steps with the FBI. I will say this though: if you’re background gets expunged at the state level, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s clear with the federal government as the state and feds don’t communicate very well. Your attorney should be able to provide you with the steps that is required to get your record cleared.

Michigan is one of the few states that still requires firearm registration (specifically handguns since long guns aren’t registered) so you’ll need to deliver the pistol sales record to your sheriff’s office or local police department within 10 calendar days of purchase or you could incur a fine.

What if I decide to purchase my firearm online? Can I bypass the background check and have it delivered directly to my home? Yes, you can purchase a firearm online but it must be sent to an FFL where you’ll have to pass a background check. Keep in mind that it’s going to be more cost-effective for you to simply purchase directly from your dealer. Click the video below to learn more.

What about the gun show loophole? There is no such thing as the so-called “gun show loophole.” If you’re purchasing from a dealer’s booth, you must go through the same steps as if you were buying the firearm from the store. If you’re buying from a private seller, there are still proper protocols that you must go through such as acquiring a purchase permit from your sheriff’s office if you’re going to buy a handgun.

I’m from [state] but would like to purchase a handgun while I’m in Michigan visiting. Is it legal? It is legal as long as you’re of age, your ID is valid and the firearm is legal in that state; however, the firearm must be transferred to an FFL in your state where you’ll have to go through the background check. Similar to purchasing a firearm online, It’s going to be more cost-effective for you to simply purchase the firearm from a local FFL near you because not only are you paying the price of the gun and sales taxes in Michigan but you’ll also have to pay for the shipping cost plus the other dealer’s transfer fee ($25 – $50/transfer but it varies) when you pick it up. This also applies for private sales between two different states – the firearms must be transferred via FFL.

Have questions? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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