Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has introduced a bill to modernize certain aspects of interstate firearms commerce. The Firearms Interstate Commerce Reform Act, H.R. 2246, would yield increased convenience and choice for consumers, while continuing to allow states to set their own policy regarding transfer and possession of firearms within their borders.
In 1968, when the federal Gun Control Act (GCA) was enacted, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and today’s sophisticated computer technology did not exist, and what background checks were run on gun sales occurred at the state or local level. Recognizing that state approaches to gun laws varied, Congress enacted a nationwide system of licensing for those engaged in the business of firearm commerce and generally prohibited licensed dealers from selling guns to out of state residents or shipping guns directly to unlicensed buyers.
The 1968 law contained limited exceptions for interstate sale of rifles or shotguns. Specifically, the buyer`s state had to have a law allowing such transactions. Second, the transaction had to comply with the state law in both the buyer`s and seller`s states. Third, the dealer had to notify the chief law enforcement officer in the buyer`s state, and wait for evidence that the officer had received the notification. Finally, the dealer had to wait seven days after receiving the notice before completing the transfer. These requirements were intended to keep buyers from leaving their home states to evade whatever sort of background check might be required under state law.
In the 1980s, the Congress revisited these restrictions during the debate over the Firearms Owners` Protection Act (FOPA). As the Senate Judiciary Committee`s report on FOPA put it, the 1968 interstate sales provisions were "so cumbersome that they [were] rarely used." When the Congress passed FOPA in 1986, it did away with the state authorization, notification and waiting period requirements. Federal law now allows dealers to make interstate rifle and shotgun sales, as long as: (a) the buyer meets in person with the dealer, and (b) the transaction complies with the laws of both the buyer`s and the seller`s states.
Since 1998, however, all people buying firearms from licensed dealers anywhere in the U.S. have been subject to computerized background checks under the FBI`s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), either by the dealer contacting NICS (directly or through a state "point of contact" agency) or by the buyer presenting a state firearms permit issued after a NICS check. NICS, moreover, is a national system that collects records from every state and makes those records available to every other state. Thus, even if a person leaves a state where some disabling conviction, commitment, or order was entered, any records reported to the databases encompassed by the NICS system will show up through a NICS check in any other state.
This means that even if a person buys a firearm from an FFL out of state, that FFL’s NICS check will also be able to screen for disqualifying records from the person’s home state. This makes a limitation on buying only from FFL’s in one’s own state unnecessary.
Under H.R. 2246, FFLs could sell both handguns and long guns to unlicensed residents from other states, but the transfer would still have to occur in a face-to-face transaction (in other words, no mail order sales to non-licensees), and it would still have to comply with the laws of the state of the buyer’s residence. Thus, a buyer could not go out of a state to buy a firearm banned in the buyer’s state of residence, and any prohibited person provisions, waiting periods, or other requirements specific to the buyer’s state of residence would still apply.
The bill would also allow FFLs to sell firearms at gun shows in other states, so long as they complied with the laws both of the state of transfer and of the buyer’s state of residence.
All other rules governing retail sales by FFLs – including the paperwork, identification, and NICS requirements – would continue to apply.
Finally, the bill would recognize the realities that military members face in having to make frequent moves to duty stations throughout the U.S. and abroad. It would clarify that service members and their spouses are residents, for purposes of the GCA, of their state of legal residence, of the state in which the member’s permanent duty station is located, and of the state in which the member maintains a place of abode from which the member commutes each day to the permanent duty station. Civilian employees of federal agencies such as the State Department who are stationed overseas for long periods would also benefit, as the bill would effectively allow them to buy firearms in the U.S. during trips back home to their U.S. state of residence.
The NRA thanks Rep. Scalise for his leadership in this important effort. It’s high time Congress recognizes that today’s systems of interstate commerce and information sharing are far more advanced and well-developed than in the late 1960s, and federal regulation of firearms sales (products that are legal and constitutionally-protected in every state) should keep pace with these developments.