Understanding State Firearms Laws

Mar 7, 2018

Provided by: Orchid Advisors

Helping Firearm Distributors and Dealers Understand State Firearm Laws

Researching, interpreting, and tracking firearm laws across the United States can be maddening. If you sell firearms over the counter or distribute them across state lines, then this article is for you. While the following does not purport to address every nuance of the law, it was written to grossly simplify state firearm laws and aid in the compliant sale of such products.

What Determines State Firearm Legality By State?

Broadly speaking, there are four “logic gates” found in the pending and enacted statutes of the 50 U.S. states. Absent those logic gates, the determination of legality by firearm type, by state, by feature and by name presents a challenge – tens of thousands of potential combinations.

However, these four logic gates help pair down the legal restriction quickly; weeding out those firearms that have little to no state restrictions so that the balance can be evaluated. For example, pistols and revolvers sold into California immediately fall out of our analysis, eliminating the need for a features test.  That’s because states like this specifically list permissible firearm sales – within the pistol and revolver class – on a public Roster.

While other factors need to be addressed for Curios & Relics, National Firearms Act (NFA) products (including short barreled rifles and suppressors, for example), ammunition and other products, the following applies to the Gun Control Act (GCA) categories of firearms that include: pistol, revolver, rifle and shotgun.

 


There are four tests that we perform in evaluating the compliance of GCA firearms by state. They are shown in the red boxes above and are to be evaluated in the context of each geographic location, flowing from left to right. In other words, the four gates are filtration points by which a firearm can fall out of your analysis to arrive at an early determination.

Roster Test

Is the firearm to be sold in a state that has a roster?  Is it on that roster?

Generally speaking, this applies to handguns being sold in California, Maryland, Massachusetts and Washington, DC. This test is binary and requires that an employee read and determine if the firearm in question is listed on a roster.

Named Model Test

Is the firearm to be sold specifically named by any combination of Manufacturer, Model, Part Number, SKU or UPC? In most cases, the named identification consists of a Manufacturer and Model designation but may also list additional features.  This test is binary and also requires that an employee read and determine if the firearm in question is named by the State.

Disqualifying Features Test

There are approximately 10 [core] features evaluated in this logic gate. But, the test begins with consideration for the firearm Type and location previously selected. Why? This is because, and thank goodness for the industry, there are a number of states which have very few restrictions at all. For example, Alabama and Alaska do not have any laws** precluding the sale of a new, unmodified rifle and therefore bypass not only this Disqualifying Features Test, but also the subsequent Disqualifying Attributes Test. Regardless, the 10 features disqualification test break down into three categories of Action (e.g., Semi-Auto, Pump, etc.), Cartridge (Rimfire vs Centerfire) and Magazine (e.g., Nature of attachment, capacity, etc.).

(**Notwithstanding other laws and regulations such as to whom I can sell to, the age of the buyer, qualifications of the background check and other such matters).

Disqualifying Attributes Test

There are approximately 30 attributes evaluated in this final logic gate. To complicate matters, some of the states have specific rules about not only the feature presented, but the quantity of features. For example, a rifle otherwise deemed legal to sell in Massachusetts (prior to this final test) would fail if two or more of seven named attributes were part of the firearm. The restrictions by attribute, by type of firearm and state generally is limited to no more than 3 of any particular attribute.

Firearm Innovations

As a reminder, innovations in firearms frequently cause confusion for over the counter sales and classifications.  ATF Form 4473 and an FFL’s bound book must comply with federal statues, and all product classifications and indications of type on ATF Form 4473 should match all ATF issued guidance.  Any pertinent state forms and or requirements should be completed per the state’s guidelines.  As an example, for bird’s head grip firearms (i.e. Mossberg Shockwave and Remington Tac-14), it is recommended these firearms be entered into and FFL’s bound book as a “pistol grip firearm” type, and type indicated as “Other” on ATF Form 4473.  When completing various states’ forms, the firearm may be classified as a Pistol or Other, and requires all associated documents, registrations, and/or private sale background checks relevant to the associated type.

How Do I Practically Research all Laws and Stay Current?

“Thank you! This does grossly simplify state firearm laws. But wait. How do I practically stay on top of this?”

Yes, the laws change. Yes, they are not well-organized nor presented consistently across the United States. Yes, new SKUs are brought to market each year by the manufacturers. This means that the matrix of state firearm laws is a moving target – no pun intended. Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to assist.

NASGW / Orchid State Firearm Research App

These organizations teamed to create a web-based, “Point-and-Click” application that permits  users to enter the firearm type, the location, and the features and attributes named above, and receive an instant response as to its legality. And, responses are accompanied by a link directly to the applicable section of the State laws and regulations. This tool is available for free to NASGW members and at a small cost to paid subscribers.

NSSF Legislative Tracker

The National Shooting Sports Foundation provides its members with a Bill tracker so that the industry can stay abreast of pending and recently enacted legislation.

The Orchid Advisors State Restrictions Software App

Recognizing the computer-driven nature of today’s firearm supply chain, the team at Orchid Advisors took it one step further. This application allows small and high-volume businesses to electronically send a signal (through what’s called an “API”), directly from their eCommerce, ERP or POS system and receive an instant response. Imagine your customers getting instantaneous feedback on the legality of a firearm before – not after – an online checkout.

Will Tracking State Firearm Laws Ever Get Easier?

Well, if I was holding a crystal ball, I would say no. At least not at the state level. It takes an act of Congress – sometimes literally – to change Federal firearm laws, but things move a little quicker at the state level. For that reason, it’s important to develop your own internal understanding of these laws, on a spreadsheet for example, or connect to a tool that can do all the work for you so that you can focus on making and selling firearms in a compliant manner.


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