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A Citizen`s
Guide to
Federal
Firearms
Laws

A summary of federal

restrictions on the purchase,

sale, possession, and transportation

of firearms and ammunition.


Caution: Firearm laws are subject to frequent change and court interpretation. This summary is not intended as legal advice or restatement of law. This summary does not include state or local laws, ordinances or regulations. For any particular situation, a licensed local attorney must be consulted for an accurate interpretation.

Under federal law supported by the National Rifle Association, the use of a firearm in a violent or drug-trafficking crime is punishable by a mandatory prison sentence of up to 20 years. A second conviction, if the firearm is a machine gun or is equipped with a silencer, brings life imprisonment without release. Violating firearms laws should lead to very real punishment for violent criminals, but the laws first must be enforced.

Ineligible Persons

The following classes of people are ineligible to possess, receive, ship, or transport firearms or ammunition:

  • Those convicted of crimes punishable by imprisonment for over one year, except state misdemeanors punishable by two years or less.
  • Fugitives from justice.
  • Unlawful users of certain depressant, narcotic, or stimulant drugs.
  • Those adjudicated as mental defectives or incompetents or those committed to any mental institution.
  • Illegal aliens.
  • Citizens who have renounced their citizenship.
  • Those persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.
  • Persons less than 18 years of age for the purchase of a shotgun or rifle.
  • Persons less than 21 years of age for the purchase of a firearm that is other than a shotgun or rifle.
  • Persons subject to a court order that restrains such persons from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner.
  • Persons convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Persons under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year are ineligible to receive, transport, or ship any firearm or ammunition. Under limited conditions, relief from disability may be obtained from the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, or through a pardon, expungement, restoration of rights, or setting aside of a conviction.

Acquiring Firearms

The following restrictions apply to firearms acquired through purchase, trade, receipt of gifts, or by other means.

From Dealers

Provided that federal law and the laws of both the dealer`s and purchaser`s states and localities are complied with:

  • An individual 21 years of age or older may acquire a handgun from a dealer federally licensed to sell firearms in the individual`s state of residence
  • An individual 18 years of age or older may purchase a rifle or shotgun from a federally licensed dealer in any state

It shall be unlawful for any licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer to sell, deliver, or transfer a firearm unless the federal firearms licensee receives notice of approval from a prescribed source approving the transfer.

Sale of a firearm by a federally licensed dealer must be documented by a federal form 4473, which identifies and includes other information about the purchaser, and records the make, model, and serial number of the firearm. Sales to an individual of multiple handguns within a five-day period require dealer notification to the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Violations of dealer record keeping requirements are punishable by a penalty of up to $1000 and one year`s imprisonment.



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