Kenneth Kieser: Many things to consider when giving a gun as a gift

The Examiner
Firearms education is a must for beginning shooters.

I recently received inquiries from readers wanting to purchase firearms as gifts. This once was simple as going to a store and buying the gun. Those days are over, so here are some facts you should know.

The National Shooting Sports Federation recommends you start by visiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) website for an overview of local laws. Currently no federal law prohibits the gift of a firearm to a relative or friend that lives in your home state with exceptions. 

Abramski v. United States, a recent Supreme Court decision involving a “straw purchase” of a firearm did not change the law regarding firearms as gifts to felons. By further definition, buying a gun for someone who is prohibited by law from possessing one or for someone that does not want his or her name associated with the transaction is a "straw purchase” and a federal crime.

You are required to transfer any gun through a local firearms retailer. An instant background check is performed to ensure the recipient is not legally prohibited from owning the gun. There are exceptions, so it’s important to carefully check the laws of your state or ask your firearms retailer. They will ensure everything is legal.

My personal recommendation is buying a gift certificate from the gun dealer. The gun recipient will physically go to select their firearm and immediately be required to pass a background check. This is your best course of action.

I, too, avoid buying guns from any unlicensed individual, my personal choice. The firearm you purchase may be stolen and its serial number reported to authorities and/or the gun could have been used in a crime. When a bullet is fired from a gun, the gun leaves microscopic marks on the bullet and cartridge case. These marks are ballistic fingerprints. Cartridge cases are compared in the same manner.

Your friend probably didn’t commit a crime, but the person they bought the firearm from may have. Note, it is always illegal to purchase anything stolen and you could be arrested.

Once you have purchased a gun, make sure your adult or youth has taken a hunter’s safety class. All hunters born on or after Jan. 1, 1981, and all first-time hunters must complete a firearms safety/hunter education course. Students must be 13 years old to participate in this firearm safety/hunter education program. Contact the Missouri Department of Conservation or the Missouri Hunting Heritage Federation for these free but important classes. You can find contact information on their websites.

Basically, these necessary classes teach young hunters or target shooters how to safely use a firearm. Guns are tools when used correctly and dangerous weapons when used carelessly or in anger.

Now let’s consider why your friend should own a gun, especially youth. Will your friend have an adult to go hunting or target shooting with? Why would they want or need a gun? Are you purchasing for their home protection?

I don’t recommend buying a firearm for anyone who has no reason to own one. Some say they wanted their grandson to own a gun like a relative did, even perhaps as a family keepsake. Will this child have an adult to guide them on their first hunt or target shooting outing? If not, buy them a bicycle or anything other than a gun.

Like any tool, firearms require training and practice to make the shooter safe and proficient. A child needs an adult to help ensure a good education for their lifetime of safe gun handling. This is where rules learned in hunter’s education classes become essential and important.

Next consider what firearm to purchase, another good reason for a gift certificate. Everyone should be measured to fit the gun stock. You would not buy a pair of pants without trying on several pairs for a perfect fit. The same is true with guns.

How does the gun fit from your friend’s shoulder to trigger? Does the person find a certain gun to be too heavy? Would your child be better off with a 20-gauge shotgun as opposed to a 12-gauge shotgun with more kick? Are they left or right-handed?

Personalities can, too, become a factor. Shotguns generally require constant motion before shooting, the exception is turkey hunting, in which you take careful aim at the gobbler’s head and fire. Rifles mainly keep the shooter stationary in placing a single bullet. I believe a patient child will initially do better with a rifle while an impatient child is better off moving – like on a pheasant hunt with shotguns.

Guns are dangerous when used incorrectly, a fact that every gun owner must know. Yet, when used correctly on hunts or target shooting, many walk away with a sense of pride. Responsibly is another mindset youth learn with guns after proper training and guidance.

I highly recommend you include a trigger lock or some kind of device to make the firearm impossible to shoot, especially when children are in the house. A gun safe is no doubt the best option, but trigger guards are less expensive and effective.

Buying firearms as presents may seem a bit tricky. Just be careful and at least, in my opinion, buy firearm gift certificates.

Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser