Q: What is a Straw Purchase?
A: A straw purchase occurs when one person buys a gun for someone else who is either prohibited by law from possessing a gun or who does not want his or her name associated with the transaction. A straw purchase is a felony with a punishment of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000.
Current laws and regulations for firearm purchases from licensed gun dealers are designed to ensure that the wrong people don’t end up in possession of firearms.
Straw purchases are scenarios in which a permitted person attempts to circumvent the law and acquire a firearm for a “prohibited person” who would not be allowed to acquire the firearm for themselves.
In this article, we’re going to explore:
- who those “wrong people” are,
- what a straw purchase is, and
- how to identify and prevent straw purchases.
“Prohibited Persons” are a class of individuals who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition.
This group includes anyone who:
- is a felon
- has been convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year in prison (whether or not they were ever sentenced to or served a day in prison)
- is under indictment for any crime punishable by more than a year in prison
- is a fugitive
- is an unlawful user of any controlled substance
- has been adjudicated as a mental defective
- has been committed to a mental institution
- is an illegal alien
- has a dishonorable discharge from the military
- has renounced their U.S. citizenship
- is the subject of a restraining order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner, or
- who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
There’s a few nuances that you might need to be aware of if you think that any of these apply to you – especially the “convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year,” “unlawful user of a controlled substance,” and “restraining order” provisions.
If you’d like to learn more about these prohibited person categories, see Prohibited Persons / Firearm Possession.
Prohibited persons are not allowed to possess firearms or ammunition – naturally, this means that they can not purchase them either.
The law doesn’t just apply to prohibited persons, however. It is also illegal for anyone to knowingly allow a prohibited person to posses firearms or ammunition. This applies to everyone!
If you’re a licensed gun dealer/FFL, then you may not sell nor rent firearms or ammunition to a prohibited person (or someone that you should reasonably know is a prohibited person). This also applies to everyday citizens who must be careful who they sell/give/loan firearms or ammunition to. BE CAREFUL – merely allowing a prohibited person access to a firearm or ammunition is a crime!
As you can tell from the list above, it may be extremelly difficult to determine who is a prohibited person. We cover prohibited persons and straw purchases in our Get Your FFL and ATF Compliance courses.
Often, a prohibited person will get someone who is not a prohibited person to purchase firearms for them – this is a straw purchase and will put your FFL and your freedom in jeopardy!
As I often tell my clients, “a straw purchase is based in deception.” Therefore, it is impossible to spot and know about every attempted straw purchase.
However, there are a few things you should watch out for and do to help prevent straw purchases.
How to Identify and Prevent Straw Purchases
There are three main ways to prevent straw purchases:
- Educate your customers and staff,
- Track failed attempts to purchase, and
- Match the gun to the customer.
Educate your customers and staff
Unfortunately, attempted straw purchases are often made by unknowing significant others of prohibited persons. All too often, a girlfriend of a felon (and the FFL who participated) get into serious trouble for straw purchases.
Educating the potential straw purchaser is crucial!
After all, the crime is being committed by the person in your store (the person legally allowed to purchase and possess a firearm). Often, if they are aware that THEY are committing a serious crime and THEY are the ones that will get into trouble, then they will not try.
Educating your staff is an absolute necessity!
You staff is the first line of defense against straw purchases. And, your gun shop is the first line of defense against the criminal misuse/possession of firearms. You have a serious responsibility as an FFL!
We’re going to discuss some things to watch out for but you should look into the Don’t Lie for the Other Guy program. It is a joint effort of the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the DOJ/ATF made to educate customers and staff about straw purchases. If you keep an eye out, you’ll likely see this program’s material in most gun shops – you should have it in yours too!
Track failed attempts to purchase
In our ATF Compliance course, we discuss keeping a log of denied purchases.
By keeping such a log, you can easily spot when someone comes in to purchase a specific firearm, is denied the sale because of their answers or background check, and then someone comes in later to purchase the same firearm – often with the same last name or address!
This is especially helpful is the same description of a firearm is used or it is a unique firearm that isn’t often asked about.
It also help to see how the person asks for the firearm…
Match the gun to the customer
This requires a bit of pre-judging and profiling but it is worth it! No sale is worth the potential criminal misuse of a firearm or the loss of your FFL.
If a 100lb 21 year old female walks into your store, pulls a piece of paper out of her back pocket, and reads off of it saying: “I need a Remington 700 BDL in 300 RUM,” you are right to ask her some follow-up questions such as:
“Why 300 Win Mag?”
“What’s that for?”
“Would you like to see make/model X or caliber y?”
“Do you want a scope/sling with that?”
Yes, this is a bit sexist. No, the second amendment doesn’t require a particular use. I get it…trust me. These questions may seem intrusive to you.
However, if she has no clue about the firearm or what it is for, then there’s a good chance she’s been sent into your store to buy the firearm for someone else.
I’m not saying to not sell it to her. I;m just asking you to feel comfortable that you are making a lawful sale. If you’re not comfortable, then don’t make the sale!
If it’s not a legitimate purchase, she’s likely to answer with “I don’t know, that’s just what I was told to get,” or “um, I think this is the one I want,” or “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to get a sling/scope too.”
If it is a legitimate purchase, you may have just helped her make a better decision about her firearm and also may have up-sold accessories for a better sale.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the firearm is a gift. Someone may legally purchase a firearm for another person ONLY IF is is a bona fide gift (they’re not being reimbursed and the money is actually the purchaser’s) and they have no reason to believe that the recipient of the gift is a prohibited person.
When it comes to gifts, it is a best practice to offer a gift card instead. This way, the intended recipient gets to pick out what they actually want and they are the one to fill out the paperwork and background check. Also, it’s just good business to encourage gift cards. 🙂
The takeaway here? Be careful.
I look forward to having you in our industry,