Private sales make some buyers and sellers nervous. Is this guy a felon? Is the gun stolen? Chances are, you never know. You also never know if down the line, the buyer or subsequent owner will use the gun in a crime. To some, a bill of sale appears to be the answer. Some buyers will refuse to fill out a bill of sale, for various reasons. It’s more complex than it seems.
For the time being, private gun sales are legal in Nevada and in many other states. Voluntary private background check systems are rare. In the Silver State, one has to send a letter to Carson City using a courtesy program graciously extended by the Department of Public Safety after Question 1 stupidly eradicated the statutory provision for the same program. At least bureaucrats have more decency and sense than the gun banners. Yet the ambiguity raises concerns to some.
Let’s dispel some myths.
Selling to a felon or prohibited person unwittingly is not going to get anyone in trouble unless the seller knows the buyer can’t own guns. If someone is unsure, don’t do the sale. And if you do sell to a bad guy in good faith, the police still have to prove you knew or reasonably should have known that the neighbor you saw get arrested three times is a felon.
The biggest fear sellers have is their gun turning up at a murder scene. The detectives call the ATF in West Virginia to trace what wholesaler bought the gun from the manufacture, what dealer bought it off the wholesaler, and who’s name is on the Form 4473 in the dealer’s files. Then the police call on the buyer, who, according to the myth, is taken downtown to be interrogated and charged with murder because it was “their gun.”
A detective investigating what obviously appears to be a racial gang murder is not going to suspect the first buyer, John Smith, of the murder. The detective will be concerned that Mr. Smith sold the gun to a gang member, but more likely, the detective wants to know if Mr. Smith had the gun stolen or sold it. When the police call, Mr. Smith informs the detective that he sold the gun, and don’t you know, he sold it to Demarcus Williams. Mr. Smith was 300 miles from the scene of the murder.
Adding in a layer, the officer contacts Demarcus Williams, who tells the detective he sold the gun because he was leaving for college and couldn’t have it there. Methy McRedneck was the buyer, who seemed a little intense. Turns out Methy McRedneck was owed $5,000 from the dead guy. Mr. Smith is off the hook.
Having a bill of sale in the rare event it escapes confinement and kills someone illegally is handy for just one reason; so that if the police have the gun, they will get a lead on who might have bought the gun. Most citizens and gun owners secretly like to help solve crimes and be cool to the police, so they’ll happily give up their copy of a bill of sale to put a dirtbag behind bars. That’s all well and good, but those who actually had that happen are in the minority. Most of the time, the investigating detective pretty much assumes the original buyer had nothing to do with the crime for reasons above.
Many gun owners refuse to do bills of sale because of concerns that their address and info may be used for theft later on or because of a simple invasion of their privacy rights. Someone who sells a car generally don’t keep any info on the buyer once their copy of the release of liability hits the mail and no one keeps tabs on who bought blunt objects or kitchen knives from their garage sale.
Another reason is to avoid a paper trail that some do-good citizen might decide to hand over to the ATF if national gun registration ever becomes a thing. If the ATF traces buyers and threatens to those who claim they sold the gun to prove it, that bill of sale becomes a good way to keep your dog or your nursing wife from being shot. Unfortunately, many gun owners will gladly give up their guns and their paperwork to keep a future tyrannical government from stomping all over them.
On one hand, I can’t fault people for doing whatever is necessary to save their family’s skins. On the other hand, I would hope they would tell the ATF to pound sand and be willing to go down in a hailstorm of lead should confiscation be attempted. This is assuming the ATF traced the gun to you in the first place, bothered to follow-up and harass people, and if they had the time/manpower to make arrests that the US attorney may or may not charge. It’s not likely that non-compliance with reasonable doubt will lead to you being drug off to the gulag.
For those of you who keep bills of sale to dime out others to save your skin, I hope the ATF shoots your dog anyway.
Finally, I don’t look to harshly upon people who want a bill of sale. For the most part, many are selling their first gun. For them, it’s peace of mind in a process they don’t fully grasp yet. Over time, as they come to realize most people buying and selling guns in their circle are also normal, the desire for needless paperwork will disappear. Make selling guns a non-issue and soon enough they’ll treat it like trading lawnmowers.
Besides, half of these people will loose the paperwork anyway.
It’s not something to harangue fans of Bill O’Sale over, just politely decline the sale. There is no reason to alienate private sellers when we can convince them their fears are empty. And sellers, if they have a CCW, you don’t need a bill of sale. If they do anything stupid with the gun you sold, there was nothing you could do about it. No need to be paranoid or feel guilty.
Clayton E. Cramer
Gun Free Zone
The War on Guns
The View From Out West