Beware the Straw Purchase!

Recent highly publicized shootings have heightened concerns over firearms purchases and the background screening processes required by FFLs. Now more than ever there is a heightened level of public awareness focused on how firearm retailers include proper screening and follow guidelines.

Know Your Customers

A seasoned firearms salesperson working for a licensed FFL can quickly recognize a first-time gun buyer. There will be many questions about calibers, size, safety, proper use and other features. The customer’s language is basic and includes words like “shots,” “handle,” and “kick.” The sales process will tend to be slower, more of an educational process and void of the interesting stories that take place with more experienced shooters.

Then there’s the experienced shooter who has purchased a few or more guns in the past. He or she may be upgrading to a higher quality firearm or stepping up to a more powerful caliber. This customer has a good idea of the type of firearm they are interested in, has done their research and inquires with confidence and credibility as they discuss their new purchase.

These two customer types make up the vast majority of an FFL’s clientele — and then there’s the unfamiliar customer who approaches the sales counter and requests to purchase one or several specific guns, stating make and model. They may reference information from a text on their phone, a description written down or may repeat information from someone talking with them on their phone. They’ll want to make a quick purchase with few questions if any — and to the seasoned firearms salesperson, it just doesn’t feel right. Now what?

Details of a Straw Sale

Let’s take a minute and first review what a “straw” sale is. A straw purchase is any purchase in which a second person agrees to acquire a firearm for someone who is ineligible to purchase the firearm for himself. A straw purchaser can be identified as a person with a clean background who purchases firearms specifically on behalf of a person prohibited from purchasing a firearm because that prohibited person is a convicted felon, domestic violence misdemeanant, juvenile, an individual who has been adjudicated mentally ill or one who is prohibited for other federally or state-defined reason from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

In the U.S, a purchaser of a firearm from a FFL who lies about the identity of the ultimate possessor of the gun can be charged with making false statements on a Federal Firearms Transaction Record. (Note: A firearm purchased as a bona fide gift is different, and I’ll discuss that in a future article.) Further, it is illegal for any person not in possession of an FFL to purchase a firearm with the intention of resale.


As an FFL, you should always be asking, “What can I do to detect an attempted straw purchase and what actions should I take if I encounter or suspect one?

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