A Texas man recently pleads guilty to unlicensed firearms dealing, the charge of which stemmed from assembling and selling a rifle to a man that later used the rifle in a mass shooting. The rifle was purchased from the dealer three years prior to the fatal shooting of seven people in Odessa, Texas. This case appears to answer at least one aspect of when a Federal Firearms License (FFL) is required when selling guns, but where does the line stop? What are some stop-gap measures gun lovers can take? Let’s explore.
ARE YOU A FIREARMS DEALER?
For quite some time, I held the mindset that I’d never sell a gun, only collect. However, since I haven’t planted a money tree, I’ve had to sell a gun or two to fund another adventure to explore a different aspect of firearms. In most of the United States, this style of selling guns without an FFL is completely legal and reasonable. It becomes a little stickier when people sell multiple guns a year, but some people have larger collections than I do, so what’s the magic number? Well, there isn’t one.
The following is from the ATF’s Frequently Asked Questions, of which the resulting answer is taken directly from the U.S. penal code:
At what point should I obtain a Federal firearms license (FFL)? How do I obtain a
Dealer in firearms — a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms (18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(21)(C)).
In another ATF publication, our situation becomes a bit more dire and muddled:
Courts have identified several factors relevant to determining on which side of that line your activities may fall, including: whether you represent yourself as a dealer in firearms; whether you are repetitively buying and selling firearms; the circumstances under which you are selling firearms; and whether you are looking to make a profit. Note that while quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold, or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors were also present.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND PROTECTIONS YOU CAN TAKE
Despite this lack of concreteness between the written law and case law, most aspects of occasionally selling a firearm from your collection should be fine. However, taking care in how you word your sale or advertisement would be prudent as you don’t want to come across as someone who regularly sells, or sells solely for profit. In the case of face-to-face transactions, you can further protect yourself by requiring to see someone’s permit to carry or permit to acquire firearms if your state has such documentation. As much as we don’t like having to ask the government for permission to exercise our rights, it’s a tool we can use to cover ourselves if the gun we’re selling should turn up in a crime scene later.
In the aforementioned case, Marcus Braziel had an unlicensed business assembling guns for people, including Seth Aaron Ator in 2016. During the 2019 mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, 27 people were shot, seven of which were killed by Ator using his AR-15 rifle. As for cases like Mr. Braziel’s, in which you may be assembling AR-15’s (or other models) for people, one way to protect yourself could be to have the buyer purchase the lower receiver (the component that’s the legal “firearm”) from a licensed dealer or another legal method.
What do you think about the topic of when a Firearms License is required when selling your guns? What protections do you take when selling a piece from your collections?