Questioning “No Questions Asked” - Are Gun-Surrender Gimmicks Legal?

by Jeff Knox

For decades we've heard about gun turn-ins – "Gun Buy-Back" programs sponsored by churches, civic groups, and various other misinformed do-gooder organizations. The very name – buy-back – implies that guns belong not to individuals, but to the government, or at least to the people who don't like guns. The programs have the stated purpose of "getting guns off the street," which seems to give operators a pass from further scrutiny, even as they offer a tangible good such as a grocery store coupon or gift card in return for a gun, "no questions asked," much like any other fencing operation. Finally someone has forced the question: Are these programs legal?

Attorney and author of the New Jersey Gun Law Guide, Evan Nappen, not only asked the question, he is offering a $5000 bounty for anyone who can prove an affirmative answer. Nappen is specifically asking about the legality of a church-sponsored program in the state of New Jersey. As an expert on New Jersey gun laws Nappen says he can find no provision in the state's maze-like gun statutes that permit churches and civic groups, or the people surrendering (actually selling) the guns, to by-pass the thicket of New Jersey state laws that require permits, background checks, and paperwork whenever a gun is transported or transferred.

Mr. Nappen also questions the "no questions asked" policy, and the immediate destruction of the guns, which might be stolen property, or could be evidence in serious crimes. Details of Nappen's challenge can be seen on his web site,

I don't expect Evan will lose the $5,000 anytime soon. He knows New Jersey law and it is pretty clear that there are very specific requirements which are not being met in these "buy-back" programs.

Under New Jersey law, anyone wishing to surrender an illegally possessed firearm must first state their intention to do so in writing to their chief of police or the head of the State Police. The statement must include their identity. Also, while New Jersey does offer some immunity from prosecution to a person who turns in a gun in this manner, that immunity is limited to the crime of illegally possessing the gun, not to any other crimes that might involve the gun.

Further, it is a direct violation of NJ law for anyone other than a licensed dealer to purchase a firearm unless they have a special permit from the state. There is no provision for exceptions, exemptions, or special dispensations, and again, there is a requirement that paperwork be filled out which includes the name and identifying information of both the purchaser and the seller. Anonymous transactions are not legal in New Jersey. On top of all of that there is the issue of transporting the guns to the "buy-back" location. New Jersey has draconian laws regarding the transport of firearms and there is no exception for someone going to a "buy-back." The fact is that in New Jersey, like most other states, there simply is no provision for suspending gun control laws for the sake of anti-gun propaganda events.

Gun "buy-backs" are legally questionable even when they are conducted by municipalities or police departments. When they are conducted by private entities, there is no cover of law to be found. Not for the organization sponsoring the event, not for the people working the event, nor for the people bringing guns to the event to turn in. Just because law enforcement chooses to turn a blind eye to the infractions does not make them legal. Police may claim a need to use use discretion and common sense when they enforce the law – we've all seen stories of a kid's lemonade stand shut down due to licensing or zoning issues, or when the Salvation Army is gigged for not paying minimum wage when they give a wino homeless person a few dollars for helping around the thrift store, but this goes beyond discretion. Wholesale disregard for laws that shouldn't exist by the very people who demanded that they be passed in the first place goes beyond the realm of sense. The New Jersey gun laws clearly infringe on the fundamental rights of citizens and are routinely used to ruin the lives of people who have no malicious intent or criminal agenda. Look up Brian Aitken for a stunning example. These are bad laws which do no good and cause great harm. They should be repealed, but until they are, they should not be ignored when it comes to the people who helped pass them.

Hollywood celebrities call for disarming the masses while they are protected by their armed bodyguards and their special dispensation carry permits. Legislators pass special exemptions and amnesty periods when they find one of their own snared in stupid gun laws. And well-meaning, peace-marching church folk call for stricter gun laws, but then expect to be able to openly defy those laws in the name of "getting guns off the street." It's hypocritical, it's wrong, and they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

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