Lots of military personnel have an interest in firearms. This makes sense: firearm proficiency is required throughout the military, even for jobs that don’t require daily use of a firearm. There is a high rate of firearms ownership among military personnel, and larger PX, BX, and MCX locations actually have gun counters where firearms can be purchased right on the installation. But what about private sales between individual servicemembers?
In recent years many states have enacted laws regulating the transfer and sale of firearms between individuals. For those of us living in Washington State, this is old news: Washington was the first state to require background checks on all firearms sales, which means even private sales need to be conducted through a federally licensed firearm dealer (FFL). Today, 22 jurisdictions require such a process for at least handguns, and many follow Washington’s lead in requiring it for all firearms sales.
Every so often, two service members who both live on-base want to conduct a transfer of a firearm between the two of them. The question that comes up is: “do we have to still follow the state law and take the gun to a local gun dealer to conduct this transfer, or can we just sell it directly because we both live on federal land?”
Consider this scenario: a Soldier who lives in Army housing on JBLM, WA wants to sell his personally owned pistol to an Airman who also lives in military housing on JBLM. Technically, neither of them live “inside” the state of Washington because JBLM is a federal military reservation, where Washington State law has no authority. So, can they transfer the gun directly?
The answer is NO… not because of Washington state law, but of service regulations and the UCMJ. When it comes to firearms, all services have a regulation that requires that military personnel comply the laws of the State in which their base is located.
So, while the two JBLM servicemembers would not be breaking Washington state law by selling the gun directly, at least one of them (and likely both) would be violating a general order or regulation, and that’s not good. Failure to obey a general order or regulation is a violation of UCMJ Article 92, which can carry a maximum punishment of 2 years in jail and a dishonorable discharge at a general court-martial. The bottom line here is that all military personnel should always comply with both the laws of their state and all military regulations.
If you are worried that you may have exposed yourself to legal liability because you conducted a transfer, it may be worth consulting with a qualified military defense counsel to see what you could be facing. Our team has tons of experience with military legal matters, including firearm offenses and may be able to help you resolve your situation without any adverse action.
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