Hello Mr. Rawles,
I've been using your Pre-1899 FAQ web page to advise many auction sellers from whom I buy [Federally exempt] antique guns.
You invited comments or questions so here is my latest problem: An auction gallery in Indiana offered a pre-1899 S&W .32 Hammerless for sale. I won the item at auction and the gallery owner is of the opinion that State law prevents him from mailing the item to a non-FFL holder because it uses a currently available metallic cartridge even if it is pre-1899.
But when I go to what seems to be the state law in question it says:
"Antiques and Replicas -- The chapter of Indiana's code concerning regulation of handguns does not apply to any firearms not designed to use fixed ammunition or any firearms made in or before 1899..."
[Some deleted, for brevity.]
I would appreciate any light you could shed on this matter so that trade of antique weapons be not limited any more than what is required by the law.
Yours truly, - Jim in Georgia
JWR Replies: You are not alone. I get several e-mails like yours each year. I also very regularly see online gun auctions listed where a do-gooder seller tries to amplify the law. (With phrases like: "This gun is pre-1899 but for me to deliver it you need to have an FFL.") What nonsense! The law is the law.
In your instance, you note that the Indiana law states: "...not designed to use fixed ammunition or any firearms made in or before 1899." [Emphasis added.] The operative word here is "or", so the law exempts pre-1899 from paperwork requirements. Clearly, guns in both categories--both muzzleloaders and pre-1899 guns--are considered exempt.
One of the precepts of jurisprudence is the phrase: 'The black letter law", which is a terse way of stating: The law is what the law says in black and white--no more and no less. The written law is generally unambiguous and known to all intelligent readers with a basic grasp of the language and therefore is free from any doubt or dispute.
I'd recommend that you bid only on auctions where the seller states forthrightly: "Pre-1899, no FFL required."
If the sellers wants to ask for proof of majority (adult age), and a signed statement that you are eligible to buy the antique gun, then so be it. Those are reasonable protections for the seller. But for someone to insist that a non-FFL item be logged through an FFL bound book is idiotic. Is it legal or proper to log a BB gun or an iPod, or an automobile through an FFL bound book and Form 4473 "Yellow Forms"? NO! Neither should you log an antique gun that is built on an original 1898 or earlier receiver. In the eyes of the law, a pre-1899 "antique" is not a firearm. It is outside of Federal jurisdiction, plain and simple.
To voluntarily self-impose extra restrictions is, to quote my handy thesaurus: "abject, adulatory, bootlicking, bowing, brownnosing, cowering, crawling, cringing, ingratiating, kowtowing, obsequious, parasitic, prostrate, scraping, servile, slavish, sniveling, spineless, submissive, subservient, and sycophantic." Pre-1899 antiques are one part of our lives where we can fully enjoy our liberty. For those that would unilaterally "amplify" the law, I say: Don't act like a slave, or insist that I act like one!
Disclaimer: I'm not an attorney and the foregoing does not constitute legal advice. Consult an attorney licensed in your own state who is familiar with both Federal law and your state's firearms laws.