A regulation implementing federal firearms laws, 27 CFR §478.11, defines Curio or Relic (CFR) firearms as those which are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons. To be recognized as CFR items, 478.11 specifies that firearms must fall within one of the following categories:
• Firearms which were manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas of such firearms;
• Firearms which are certified by the curator of a municipal, state, or federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; and
• Any other firearms which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.
How to Legally Own an Antique Firearm
Gun laws in Utah, differ drastically from state to state, and laws regarding antique firearms are no exception. Even if you’re only a collector with no intent to ever fire the weapon, you may have to fire the same rules and regulations you would for more modern firearms. While most states provide exceptions from various licensing requirements for antique firearms, what is considered an “antique” may vary extensively. If you want to legally own an antique firearm, the law in the state where you live and plan to store the weapon is the most important.
• Check your state law: Since gun laws vary significantly from state to state, it’s important to check the laws of the state in which you live before you buy an antique firearm. If you move to another state, don’t assume the laws are the same and you can continue to legally own an antique firearm just because you legally owned it somewhere else. For example, anyone convicted of a felony is prohibited from buying a firearm. However, this prohibition doesn’t apply to many antique firearms. The types of guns included, however, depend on state law. Muzzle-loading rifles, shotguns, and pistols that use black powder rather than fixed ammunition generally can be purchased by felons. However, if the weapons are converted so that they can fire fixed ammunition, they may not be allowed. Additionally, many states have additional regulations regarding characteristics such as flintlocks, barrel length, and who may own them.
• Evaluate the “antique firearms” exception: Most states exempt antique firearms from the general licensing and ownership requirements to legally own modern firearms. However, each state applies this exception in different ways, and may define “antique firearm” differently. Under federal law, an antique firearm is any firearm produced before 1898. The federal definition also includes replicas, which means the firearm may have been manufactured recently, but if it was manufactured to exactly duplicate a firearm produced before 1898, it is still considered an antique firearm. Most states use the same definition as federal law. However, some states include newer firearms as well. In these states, a firearm is considered an antique if it was manufactured more than 50 years ago and is not still being manufactured. With these relatively newer weapons that are still considered antiques, there may be additional restrictions on their ownership. Typically that depends on the type of ammunition they use.
• Contact an expert: If you’re unsure about how the exception applies, of if you are eligible to purchase or own an antique firearm legally, speaking to someone such as a federal firearms licensee can help you understand the law. The state government agency that regulates firearms typically will be your most reliable source. You can identify this agency by searching on the internet or asking a licensed gun dealer near you. If you don’t feel comfortable calling up the state agency, a licensed gun dealer near you usually can give you full information about the laws in your state. You also may be able to find out about your ability to legally own an antique firearm by talking to an attorney, such as a criminal defense attorney. If you’ve been convicted of a felony, this may be your best resource.
• Apply for a state license: Typically, you don’t need a license to buy or own an antique firearm. However, not being licensed limits your ability to use or transport your gun, and you may not be able to sell it to others. A state license generally is a “license to carry,” meaning you need the license if, for example, you want to take your antique firearm to a local shooting range and fire it. However, before you rely on this you should check to make sure that your antique firearm falls within the licensing exemption, which may differ from the purchase or possession exemption. When you buy your antique firearm, think about the reason for your purchase and what you anticipate doing with it. If you’re a collector who intends to hang it on your wall or display it in a case, and knows you’re never going to attempt to fire it, you shouldn’t need a license in most states.
• Consider getting a curios and relics (C&R) license: If you want to collect antique firearms and plan on buying and selling them on a regular basis, a curios and relics license will allow you to do that more efficiently. A C&R license is a type of federal firearms license (FFL) that allows you to buy and sell antique firearms directly without having to go through a licensed dealer. The license is issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). You can download a copy of the application from the ATF’s website. A C&R license allows you to buy and sell antique firearms, including any firearm that is at least 50 years old or that has historical or collectible significance. Once you get your license, you must keep records of each firearm you buy or sell, including the make, model, serial number, and type of firearm. You also must record the name and address (or FFL number) of the buyer or seller of the weapon.
Buying or Selling Antique Firearms
• Buy only from reputable dealers: You can find numerous antique firearms available online, at pawn shops, or in other locations. However, without knowing the dealer’s reputation you can’t be sure that you’re actually getting what you’ve paid for. If you have a C&R license, you’ll have to get details about the person from whom you’re buying the firearm for your records. However, apart from that information, you should be able to find out basic information about the reputation of this particular seller before you buy an antique firearm from them. While this isn’t necessarily a legal consideration, it can be if someone sells you a firearm claiming that it is an antique, when it really isn’t particularly if you don’t have a license to buy or possess modern firearms.
• Get an independent appraisal: If you’re a collector, or if you’re concerned about the collectible or historical value of a particular antique firearm, an independent appraisal can let you know what you’re getting and how much it’s worth. Who you contact for an appraisal depends on the type of firearm you’re purchasing. If you’re only concerned about the age of the weapon, you want to find an antique firearms expert. Your local gun dealer may be able to point you to someone who specializes in dating antique firearms. If the antique firearm is alleged to have particular historical significance, you will want to have it evaluated by a museum curator or historian who specializes in that particular period of time or type of weaponry.
• Review transport laws: State and federal laws cover the shipping or transport of firearms from one state to another, and from another country into the United States. Even if your seller is located in the same state as you, your state may have specific legal requirements for transporting the weapon. If you have a C&R license, you don’t have to worry about transport restrictions if you’re buying and selling within your own state. However, to transport an antique firearm across state lines, you typically must use a federal firearms licensee within the state where the firearm is located. That licensee can then transfer the firearm to you, or to a federal firearms licensee in your state to deliver to you. If you want to import an antique firearm (or ammunition) from another country, this also must be done by a registered firearm dealer. The ATF provides forms which must be completed prior to making an international purchase or sale and transfer. Visit the ATF website to download those documents. If the firearm you wish to transport is more than 100 years old, it is eligible for duty-free transport internationally. However, you must be able to provide proof of age.
• Work with a federal firearms licensee: When selling one of your antique firearms, you typically must go through a federal firearms licensee to complete the transfer. In some states, you may be allowed to make the sale at a local law enforcement agency. States have different laws regarding private sales between two private individuals. Many states require you to complete the sale using a federal firearms licensee, but some do not. For example, suppose you see an antique firearm on an online auction site that you want to purchase. Your state law controls how the final transfer of the weapon can be made. Generally it can’t simply be shipped to you. Instead, you must meet with the seller in person to take possession of the antique firearm. Talk to a gun dealer in your area or contact the state agency that regulates and enforces state gun laws to learn if you must use a federal firearms licensee to complete private transactions.
Keeping Antique Firearms
• Store your firearms appropriately: Each state has specific laws regarding the storage of firearms, whether antique or modern. Some cities have their own gun laws as well, which may further restrict how you can store your antique firearms. In some states, antique firearms are not exempted from state storage laws. However, others carve out an exemption for antiques being displayed for collection purposes, provided they are not loaded. Generally, you should avoid keeping even antique firearms where children can reach them or take them down to play with them. Keep in mind that children are naturally curious, and will want to inspect anything within their reach. Check legal requirements if you need to move your weapon. All states have requirements for the safe transportation of a weapon. Even if you move, or are taking your antique firearm out of state yourself, there may be restrictions on how you can transport your weapon across state lines. If you’re transporting your antique firearms because you’re moving to another state, make sure they’re secured properly and safely, and are not loaded while they are being transported. In some instances, particularly if you don’t have a license yourself, you may be required to ship your antique firearm to a federal firearms licensee. They will return the weapon to you when you arrive at your destination. When you’re travelling between states, more than one state’s laws may come into play.
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to analyze the gun laws of several states, it may be easiest to arrange for your antique firearm to be shipped to a federal firearms licensee so you can pick it up when you arrive at your destination. Use federal firearms licensees for transfers. If you give or loan your antique firearm to anyone else, you typically must go through a federal firearms licensee – even if it isn’t a sell and no money is exchanging hands. This typically will not apply if you have a C&R license – in that case you can complete the transfer yourself. However, if the person to whom you’re transferring the firearm is not licensed, you may need to find a federal firearms licensee to receive the firearm for them. For example, suppose you have an antique firearm and you want to give it to your nephew, who has recently started collecting antique firearms. Even though no money is changing hands, you may need to go through a federal firearms licensee if you don’t have a license yourself. However, if you do have a license, you should be able to complete the transfer on your own. Contact a gun dealer near you if you are unsure whether you can transfer your antique firearm to someone else. They will let you know what your state law allows.
• Keep your antique firearms unloaded: Many state laws do not allow antique firearms to be stored loaded. Particularly if the gun uses black powder, these weapons are highly volatile and dangerous if they’re loaded but not fired. In some states and cities, any ammunition you own must be kept in a separate, locked container from the antique firearm itself. Keep in mind that the idea that collectors typically don’t intend to use antique firearms in the same way or for the same purposes people have modern firearms is part of the reason for the exemption from various licensing requirements. States that allow gun owners to keep loaded weapons for self-defense purposes typically do not allow muzzle-loaded weapons that use black powder for ammunition to be kept loaded. You should only “load” a black-powder weapon if you intend to fire it immediately. If your muzzle-loaded weapon has been converted so that it can fire standard bullets, it may not be considered an antique firearm as a result of that modification.
“Modern firearms” are those manufactured after 1898 which do not use black powder or fixed cartridges. Most are match, wheel-lock, flintlock, or percussion cap models. Since most firearms of this era were not date stamped, proof marks from the manufacturer are the most common way age is established. Proof marks vary greatly in shape, detail, and specificity. Modern firearms can roughly be divided into three different categories: handguns, rifles, and shotguns. “Handguns” or “pistols” include revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, and single shot pistols. The main distinction between a handgun and a rifle or shotgun is not the ammunition or overall length but rather the design of the firearm to be fired from the hand rather than from the shoulder.
Rifles are defined by 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(7) as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire only a single projectile through a rifled bore for each single pull of the trigger.” Shotguns are defined as “a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of an explosive to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger.” The primary difference between a rifle and shotgun is the use of rifled vs. smooth bore. A rifled barrel allows for much greater accuracy and range while a smooth bore allows for multiple projectiles useful for activities such as bird hunting or shooting moving targets. Rifles and shotguns employ numerous loading methods including: semi-automatic; pump; lever; bolt; etc.
“Curios and relics” “have special value to collectors because they possess some qualities not ordinarily associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons. To be recognized as curios or relics, firearms must fall within one of the following categories:” non-replicas manufactured at least fifty years prior to the present date; b) be certified by the curator of a municipal, state, or federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; or ) any other firearm which derives a substantial portion of its monetary value from its novelty, bizarreness, or because it is associated with some historical person, period, or event. A special curios and collector’s license is available from the ATF to allow a person to acquire such firearms (only such firearms) in interstate commerce. “Transfers of curio or relic firearms by licensed collectors are not subject to the requirements of the Brady law [nor must a FFL use a form 4473]. It is, however, unlawful to transfer a firearm to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person is a felon or is within any other category of persons prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms.”
“Antique” firearms are defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16) as: any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) manufactured in or before 1898; or any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph if such replica is not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center-fire fixed ammunition, or ( uses rim fire or conventional center-fire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade; or any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. For purposes of this subparagraph, the term “antique firearm” shall not include any weapon which incorporates a firearm frame or receiver, any firearm which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon, or any muzzle loading weapon which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof.
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