I hear this in the firearms community on an almost daily basis. People who’d rather buy a gun from an individual than a dealer because of the fear that the government is going to know what they have. I plan to address a few harsh realities with you in this article, and I do NOT intend to scare anyone, only to educate you. Some states have additional procedures which I cannot speak to. This is the situation in MOST areas of the United States.
The process for buying a new gun at a dealer with an FFL is pretty simple. You pick a gun. You and the dealer agree on the price. You fill out a US Government Federal Firearms Transfer Record (Form 4473 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Form_4473,) answering the questions on it, signing and dating it. (These forms are given the same status as a tax return under the Privacy Act of 1974 and cannot be disclosed by the government to private parties or other government officials except in accordance with the Privacy Act. Individual dealers possessing a copy of the form are not subject to the Privacy Act’s restrictions on disclosure. Dealers are required to maintain completed forms for 20 years in the case of completed sales and 5 years where the sale was denied by the NICS check coming back disapproved or other disqualifying information.)
The FFL dealer then calls the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Check System. The dealer identifies themselves and verifies their FFL #. The NICS clerk then asks for your name, gender, place of birth, height, weight, Social Security Number, state of residence, race and verifies you status as a citizen/legal alien. They check to make sure you’ve filled out and answered the form correctly. They then ask if you’re buying a Long Gun, Handgun, or Other (a lower receiver for an AR15, etc.,) They process the request and give a confirmation number to the dealer followed by a status. The statuses are Proceed, Delay or Deny. In many cases a delay is then bumped to a senior clerk for verification that you’re not someone with a similar name.
Upon receipt of a Proceed, the dealer copies the identifying information for the firearm, Make, Model, and Serial number, along with your name, address and confirmation number into a book that THEY keep. At no time is the information on the actual firearm provided to anyone but yourself and the dealer.
You then pay for your firearm, shake hands, and walk home with your new purchase. Only you and the dealer know exactly what you bought. The NICS system as it currently stands is required to purge the check information.
A lot of folks think even this is too much involvement with the government. I don’t intend to argue that point. The most common fear is that they government will know what you’ve bought, where you live, and how many guns you own. This isn’t the case. They know you asked to buy a firearm and were confirmed or denied. Period.
There is a prevailing fear that the government can, and will, use this information to come and get the guns. Without digging into conspiracy or fear mongering I am want you to think about the computerized society we live in. There are, in day to day operation around the world, computerized systems that can monitor nearly every bit of information floating around in the electronic spectrum. In the case where a truly oppressive government wanted to find out who owned, or was even suspected of owning, firearms, this information likely could be gathered from telephone calls, faxes, e-mail, web sites and forums, Facebook or any and all other social media, as well as even mailing of magazines and memberships in organizations such as the NRA. Or if you have a Concealed Carry permit…
These capabilities exist. If you’ve EVER bought a firearm, had a Guns and Ammo subscription, used a debit/credit card for purchasing anything related to a firearm, posted on Craiglist or Facebook or Myspace or Armslist or Glocktalk or any other electronic forum, hypothetically you’re ALREADY FLAGGED.
So you have two choices… Drop off the face of the earth and hide (that worked really well for Osama bin Laden, or you can live your life, enjoy your hobby, and not live in fear. I, personally, have bought and sold firearms to FFL dealers, as well as from friends and countrymen. I’m not going to stop enjoying my hobby, or even limit it, when we live in a society that could, in theory, turn oppressive. Living in fear is a technique terrorists use. I prefer to enjoy my life and be prepared for anything that comes my way. I hope you will, too.