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Is There Really a National Firearms Registry?

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Is there really a national firearms registry?

Does the Government Really Know How Many Guns I Own?

It’s a commonly held belief that the government has a national firearms registry and knows what guns each person owns. This is mostly untrue. There are exceptions to this rule depending on certain localities, but by and large, there’s no central database of guns and who owns them.

History of Gun Registration Laws

Gun registration in America really dates back to the early decades of the last century when cities like New York and Chicago were beginning to deal with severe organized crime epidemics.

Laws were enacted that were designed to allow the city to trace who owned firearms and what guns they owned. This way when a firearm was found at a crime scene it could theoretically be traced back to its criminal user/owner. This proto-gun registry was then used so that they could be prosecuted for using it.

crime scene firearm tracking

New York’s Sullivan Act was the prototype for legislation that would be gradually introduced across the nation in the major metropolitan areas. This law required the registration of every gun purchased. This registration includes a listing of make, model, serial number, and caliber along with the owner’s name and address. Further, all of this had to be consistently kept up to date under penalty of law.

While they were in force for most of the last century, many of these laws have since fallen by the wayside as recent court cases have held that they were infringements upon our rights to purchase and own firearms.

Currently Enforced Gun Registration Laws

While cities like New York still have their databases, the only state with full gun registration at this time is Hawaii. All firearms purchased in Hawaii are registered in a central database.

Illinois takes a different path and requires the registration of gun owners as opposed to the guns themselves. This allows them to know who purchases guns and ammunition, if not exactly what they bought. This is a backdoor style of a firearms registry which they claim is not an infringement.

Myths from Television and Movies

Movies and TV give a firearm registry a better reputation than it deserves.  On the big and small screen, when the police find a gun they can trace it back – within hours – to its origin and previous owners. It doesn’t matter what the criminal has done to hide it or deface the identifying marks. Magically, the criminals all manage to get their guns from easily traceable locations.

Somehow the hero detective can then confront them with sales receipts for the purchase before the criminal inevitably breaks down and confesses. This is mostly done for dramatic effect and convenience. Real police work takes more time and has more dead ends than the episode allows.

In real life, tracing a firearm’s path can take days, weeks, or months. It is a laborious process involving going through records, contacting manufacturers and distributors, and finally dealers till you get to end users. This all requires that records exist on any of these levels, which is by no means certain.

Federal law only requires records of private purchases be kept for 5 years, and dealer records are turned in to the government only when they close their license. These records are paper records and can’t be digitized by law, specifically to prevent the creation of a firearms registry. This has resulted in any search of surrendered dealer records requiring a person to physically search the paper records by hand for information.

gun crime paper trail

This, of course, assumes that there is a paper trail to follow at all. Guns that are stolen or bought illegally have no way of being traced past their last legal owner, no matter what registration scheme you have.

What The Government Actually Learns When You Buy A Gun

When you purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer, you undergo a background check through the federal NICS system. NICS stands for National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

federal background check for firearms registry

You begin by filling out a background check form called a 4473. This is the form that asks various questions including if you’re buying the gun for yourself, if you’re a felon or using illegal drugs, and so forth. As a part of this form, the dealer is required to enter a make, model, serial number and caliber for all firearms being purchased in this transaction.

Under the NICS system, the government is told the following things as a part of your background check:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Country of citizenship
  • If your responses were correct legal responses
  • Whether it is a long gun or handgun that you are requesting to buy

They don’t receive direct information on the firearm itself. This information is kept with the dealer under current regulations.

The 4473 form is kept on site at the dealer as well a bound book listing all firearms bought and sold. Furthermore, the name and address of the seller and buyer are also documented. These two records can be obtained by law enforcement at any point with proper authorization. They are required to keep these records until they close or change licenses, at which point the records are sent to the ATF in West Virginia for storage.

Your information is submitted to receive either a proceed, delay, or denial. If you get a proceed you are good to go, a delay can mean it takes several days to get a response, and a denial is obvious – no gun for you. If you do get a delay, under current laws, the transaction can still proceed after three days with no further response from the NICS system.

firearms background check destruction

The federal system is also legally required to destroy the records of approved background checks. Your information is only retained until your approval is granted. The only exception to this is if you get a denial your information is kept in the federal system for theoretical further action by law enforcement.

They are supposed to follow up on all denials to confirm no transfer took place,  as obtaining a gun when you are a prohibited person is a crime. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Many crimes would be better prevented with the enforcement of existing laws such as these.

How A National Firearms Registry Would Work

If gun control advocates can successfully get their way, this is how gun registration would work. Firstly, the federal system for background checks would be enforced on every purchase of a firearm. Private sales would no longer be allowed. Then, instead of the current system where background checks are destroyed, they would be retained in perpetuity. Along with this would be an electronic transmission of sales records to the federal government.

locked gun firearms control

This firearms registry would be focused on allowing the government to quickly create a database of everyone who has applied to buy a firearm and what guns they bought. Using this information, government entities would be able to compile lists of who owns what types of firearms. They would ideally then be able to impose further regulations onto legal gun owners based on the type of firearms owned and what they were used for. Every single politician who supports gun registration points at Europe and Australia as success stories of gun regulation and registration reducing crime and getting guns away from criminals.

They want to impose the same strict controls and rules on your rights. They claim that once they have this information it would be a simple and peaceful process to collect any firearms that are deemed to be illegal, or that shouldn’t be in someone’s possession. In their minds, criminals would strictly obey the law as well. We have seen the beginning of this with the red-flag laws that have been passed. Gun registration leads to confiscation, and not necessarily with any due process.

confiscated firearms

The reality is true full confiscation would require armed men to enforce it. The anti-gunners all assume the police and military will happily cooperate with enforcing these laws.

The situation is more complicated than it may seem, given many police officers wouldn’t act against fellow Americans because they are strongly pro-second amendment and pro-constitution as well. Even with this reassurance, we must stand vigilant and any attempt at registration must be fought at all costs. 

What Can Be Done to Stop a National Firearms Registry?

What can you do to prevent a gun registry from coming into existence? Actually, there are a few things. Call your Congressperson at both state and national levels, and let them know that you oppose any legislation to create a national firearms registry. Tell them that your vote is riding on them not pushing through any legislation that could be used to infringe upon your rights. Remember to vote out state and local officials who support anti-gun policies.

government support of firearms

Secondly, be involved in the fight at your level by keeping yourself informed of what laws are being proposed that would affect you. Participate in civil gatherings to show your support of the second amendment and that you don’t support registration.

If your state does voter initiatives and propositions, make sure you are voting on them. Don’t let your state become an anti-gun paradise. Support your elected and law enforcement officials that stand up for your rights. The police are not the enemy in most cases, and we do ourselves a disservice when we lump them together.

Final Thoughts

National gun registration is mostly a pipe dream at this point thanks to carefully placed laws that preserve and protect our freedoms. Sadly, if left to their own devices, our politicians would almost inevitably attempt to do like the British at Lexington and seize all the legally owned guns. They seem to have forgotten how that ended.

declaration of independence

Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to head off national firearm registration before it becomes an issue. Educate yourself and get involved today by taking some of the steps we mentioned above!

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About the author

Joe O'Brien

Joseph O’Brien is a Military History and Firearms Expert located in the Midwest. After receiving a B.A. in History, Mr. O'Brien has worked in the retail firearms business as well as branching out into militaria/firearms appraisal and movie armorer work. He has written on a wide variety of topics and eras, and is always looking to increase his knowledge and collections of militaria.

2 thoughts on “Is There Really a National Firearms Registry?”

  1. Can you clarify regarding the ATF making changes for 4473s to be held indefinitely and handed over to the ATF if the seller is no longer in business? Hidden in their redefining of frame and receivers; 2021R-05F


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