In the United States, it is legal for private collectors to buy and sell firearms. However, they may only sell guns to buyers who reside in the same state and if they sell firearms as a business, they must be licensed. Potential criminal risks arise for private collectors/unlicensed firearms sellers under two circumstances: they sell an excessive amount of guns or they sell to someone who is prohibited from purchasing a gun under federal law.
Excessive Amounts of Gun Sales
Under federal law, a person is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms if he/she 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. If someone meets this definition, they must become licensed or risk federal investigation or charges.
However, federal law excludes those who “make 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” from the license requirement. Some of these sellers come under criminal investigation if federal law enforcement agents believe that they have sold an excessive amount of guns.
There is no legal definition of what is an excessive amount of firearm sales and an experienced federal criminal defense attorney can assist clients in demonstrating that the sales were part of a collection, not for business or profit. They can also provide invaluable assistance if a private seller suspects they have shifted into the business of selling firearms. The attorney can determine if their client is under investigation for selling guns without a license and help them acquire the appropriate licenses to legally conduct their sales.
Sales to Prohibited Buyers
Private gun collectors can also run afoul of federal law by selling firearms to individuals who are prohibited from purchasing and owning them. Generally, private sellers do not need to conduct background checks on their buyers since they are not licensed and therefore do not have access to the necessary data bases. However, they can still be charged with a felony if they know or have a reasonable belief that the buyer was prohibited from purchasing a gun. These buyers include:
- Convicted Felons
- Illegal Aliens
If a private collector sells a gun to someone in this category, however unknowing, they may find themselves facing federal charges or coming under investigation. In addition, government agents may attempt to set up the seller by sending in a buyer who meets one of these categories to assess the seller’s activities.
A knowledgeable and experienced federal criminal defense attorney can represent these sellers against any charges or investigation. It is critical that the gun collector contact the attorney as soon as they learn that they are under investigation or that they have been charged with a felony.
Ben Stechschulte is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has represented numerous clients on federal gun-related charges. He can help clients obtain necessary licenses, address federal investigation activities, or prepare the best defense possible against filed charges.