|Two enterprising young men gloat over their purchases at a gun "buy back"|
It is also true that guns bought at retail from an Federal Firearms License dealer are recorded on a form 4473 and in their bound book, making a link from that gun with that serial number to the person who bought it. This creates the possibility of making a gun registry out of those records when they are turned in to the BATFE, as required by law, when the dealer goes out of business. There are prophylactic measures built into the law to prevent this.
There is a legislative ban on creating a gun registry, passed as part of the Gun Owners Protection Act of 1986:
No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established. Nothing in this section expands or restricts the Secretary’s  authority to inquire into the disposition of any firearm in the course of a criminal investigation.While such verbiage is useful, I do not think we should depend on it as the only protection against creation of a gun registry. First, because numerous administrations have shown a blatant disregard for the rule of law (Eric holder and Fast and Furious, anyone), and because the verbiage itself contains some pretty big loopholes that could be exploited by an administration that supports the UN small arms treaty, for example.
As a matter of international cooperation, all the information collected by 4473s, bound books, firearms traces, and records of two or more handguns sold within a week to the same person, could all be turned over to say, the Canadian government. I have no information to indicate that the Canadian government has created a U.S. gun registry, but they are not bound by U.S. law. The fact that they are in the process of dismantling their own gun registry, because it was an abysmal policy failure, is heartening. The fact that the current administration hired the same firm to create the Obamacare software, is not.
I have heard from people crossing the Canadian border, that somehow the Canadians knew that they were a gun owner or had a Concealed Carry Weapons permit, and were subject to greater scrutiny than other people. This is merely hearsay, but it does not sound implausible. I recall talking to a Canadian government official, at some conference that I was at, where he implied that Canada had access to U.S. federal gun records. Vague memories such as this prove little. Perhaps alert readers can add to this woefully inadequate information.
There are a couple of other prophylactic measures in the law to prevent the formation of an effective gun registry. One is that there is no legal requirement for individuals to report lost or stolen guns. Because of this, there is legal reason to doubt whether someone who bought a gun a few years ago, still has it. It could have been lost or stolen, and it is not yet required that it be reported to the police. Many states are attempting to eliminate this prophylactic measure in the law. Legislation has passed in the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well as some cities in California. You can see the problem. Not only are you subject to a penalty after already suffering a financial loss, but if you claim a "boating accident", and did not report it within the required time period, you are under legal risk. I have not seen any evidence that these laws reduce crime. They do, however, put a box around your freedoms by creating a legal requirement that shuts off an area of possible doubt about the ownership of guns that you have purchased.
The third, and most effective, prophylactic measure to prevent a gun registry, is the private sales mechanism. Private sales are not required to go through an FFL by federal law, but again, there are a few states that have banned them. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia, require that private sales have a background check done before each sale, effectively making the "private" sales public. Pennsylvania and Maryland require background checks for pistols, and a number of other states have various requirements for permits to purchase that may or may not require that information about the firearm be entered into a government database. 80% of the states do not regulate private sales of firearms, though many of those prohibit the knowing sale to felons or minors.
Justice Scalia suggested that the federal government has no authority to regulate private sales under the second amendment. In D.C. v. Heller he said that the second amendment did not limit "... laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." He could have easily have written "sales" instead of "commercial sales", but did not, strongly suggesting that regulation of private sales is off the table.
Some states have moved to create prophylactic measures against the creation of gun registries. Arizona has made the collection of data from private firearms illegal, and has made the creation of local registry lists illegal.
The government has no business in knowing who has guns and who doesn't, just as the government has no business knowing what is in your medical records, or who is sleeping at your residence.
There is no legitimate government purpose that is advanced by this knowledge. Registration is almost never used to solve violent crimes, but it does consume enormous resources that could be used to solve crimes. History is full of abuses of this knowledge on both the mass and personal scales.
The infamous Department of Justice memo by Greg Ridgeway "Summary of Select Firearm Violence Prevention Strategies" acknowledges the ineffectiveness of background checks and other regulatory proposals without a universal gun registration system.
I recently read where an instructor suggested that if his students were to sell a gun, that they go to an FFL to conduct the transaction, even if it were not required by law. This destroys most of the preventive effect of a private sale in preventing a gun registry. The government now has access to records that show who has the firearm, and where it came from.
The opposite is necessary to maximize the protective effect of private sales. If you do not create a paper trail for guns that you buy privately or sell privately, they are effectively off of any registry. This is already likely the case for a majority of the guns in the United States. If you buy or sell privately, keep the major advantage of a private sale. Keep it private.
Over many decades, I have bought and sold hundreds of guns privately. When I had an FFL for a dozen years, I carefully kept the required records. One of the reasons that I gave up the FFL was that the record keeping was becoming onerous, and was filled with possibilities for innocently ensnaring yourself in a felony.
This does not require that you eliminate buying guns from dealers. Far from it. Someone has to make the initial purchase in order to take the guns from the official market where they are "registered" and place them into the free market, where they are not. I have no qualms about selling a gun that I purchased from a dealer as long as it is an occasional sale, rather than a regular event. Buying or selling a dozen or less guns in a year is unlikely to be construed as operating a business, especially if you do not make any significant money in the process.
Buying and selling a gun should be no more regulated than buying or selling a book, a toaster, a computer, a set of steak knives, or power tools. Perhaps I should add cooking utensils, such as pressure cookers.
I have lived in a country that had such freedom. It was the United States before 1968.
This does not mean that you must buy and sell from people that you do not trust. Use your "spidey sense", listen to your intuition, follow your instincts. If you want to be sure that you are selling to a person who is a resident of your state, ask to see the state drivers license, with the name covered by a finger. That way you have done due diligence to prevent an illegal sale and prevented the transmission of information necessary for registration purposes.
Some people imply that "background checks" are a public good. They are not. They are the precursor of a registry, which is effective confiscation, a great evil. This was made clear when senators refused to vote for a background check system that was designed to be private and make a registry impossible. It was voted down this year.
I am sure some meek people do such things out of overblown fears of "liability" and excessive belief in the omniscience of the state. Everyone must make their own evaluations of risk. The risk in private sales seems quite small to me, compared to the risk of actively opposing a tyrannical state. The first may even help prevent the second, by reminding would be rulers that citizens preserve the spirit and will of resistance.
Knowing that you have guns that are not on some gun registry helps to preserve that spirit of resistance. In any case, it is considerable fun. Here are some ways to buy guns privately.
At your club. Very often people will list guns for sale on a notice of a bulletin board. It is unlikely that a club would have criminal members, but you know your club and members better than I do.
At garage sales or flea markets. These are excellent places to get an occasional deal. I purchased a Tranter .442 rimfire at a flea market in Yuma. Of course, there is no ammunition available! The ammunition was only made for a couple of years near the American Civil War. (OK, that was just bragging!) Still deals can be found.
At gun buy backs. In states where private sales are legal, these can be a bonanza! Fortunately, they are becoming quite rare in those states, because the private sales create a image directly opposite of what the organizers desire.
Trades between friends and relatives. Maybe you both walk away with guns that have no official connection to you.
Ads on armslist, the newspapers, advertiser papers... I have bought quite a few guns this way, but they tend to go fast! Free market guns tend to bring a premium. This is often made up by a lack of tax, transfer fee, and shipping.
People that know you are a "gun person" and just want to get rid of a gun. Sometimes, they will even just give it to you to get rid of it (this is rare).
A person on another forum suggested that a "private sale only" gun show might be popular. It could be worth a try, and is certainly out of the ordinary, as most gun show sellers are 95% FFL dealers at the present. I remember when dealers were not allowed to sell at gun shows.
Do I really need to say "Deal in Cash"? Using a credit card or a check has many of the drawbacks of using an FFL. I have dealt in cash for many years, and find it to be very handy.
The more people who make private sales and trades without records, the more impossible it is for the government to create a credible gun registry. That is a very good thing, and needs to be encouraged.
©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch