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This came up as a discussion. With recent incidents in the news, it's often argued by some members of the public in the US that guns are a requirement for safety, and that everyone should have the right to own a gun.

Obviously, they're talking about citizens. However, if a tourist visits, surely they should have the same concerns (arguably more, since you don't know as much as locals).

Anyway, the question that is being asked here (and I'm trying to avoid politics as best as possible) - can a non-resident tourist buy a gun for their travels around the United States?

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if you do manage, good luck getting it out of the US and into your own country though –  ratchet freak Dec 23 '12 at 17:05
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It is most often not the actual possession of the gun that protects you it is the possibility that you may have one that acts as a deterrent. –  Chad Dec 25 '12 at 13:02
    
One more point to add: While you might be able to buy a gun from a private party (Erik's answer) to actually carry it around has it's own licensing requirements separate from purchasing it. –  Loren Pechtel Apr 19 '13 at 23:13

5 Answers 5

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Very simply, no, they can not.

In order to purchase a firearm in the US you must be a resident of the state in which you are buying it, and able to prove that residency. As a tourist is not a resident of the state, they are unable to purchase firearms.

There was previously an additional requirement that non-citizens had to have been a resident of a state for 90 days before they could purchase a firearm in that state, but that additional condition was removed earlier this year.

Even if you could purchase a firearm, doing so for "travels around the United States" would be troublesome as gun laws vary from state to state, so what is legal in one state could be illegal in another.

Update: Further information can be found in this Q&A document from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) website.

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Q5 of that Q&A doc seems to indicate that if you're in the US on a visa-waiver program, you can buy firearms if you can meet the residency requirements of the state you're in. Not sure if a tourist would be able to, but possibly in one of the 50-odd states you might find it possible! –  Gagravarr Dec 24 '12 at 0:29
    
Arizona used to only have a requirement that you be able to show a AZ drivers licence... I think it may be a little harder since columbine but not much. –  Chad Dec 25 '12 at 13:04
    
As an aside, how does one prove residency in a state in the US? In many European countries there is a mandatory registration, in France you would typically show some utility bill (as a French citizen, if not, you also have your visa/residence permit), etc. What about the US? –  Relaxed May 23 '13 at 10:00

Federal law at 18 U.S.C. § 922 bans the sale of firearms or ammunition to aliens except for permanent residents, which would rule out any foreign tourist being able to purchase guns from a licensed dealer. Due to constitutional restrictions the federal ban is only applicable if the firearm or ammunition is transported across state lines. But state law does not carry such a restriction, and I am not aware of any state which does not also ban the sale of firearms or ammunition to non-resident aliens. The ATF provides a factsheet for Nonimmigrant Aliens Purchasing Firearms and Ammunition in the United States.

States and municipalities also impose many additional restrictions on firearms and ammunition sales, possession, transportation, and use, particularly handguns, which would make it an impractical matter for someone who is not a resident.

For tourists who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents, purchasing from a gun dealer requires that the laws of both their state of residence and that of the dealer be met, as well as applicable federal laws. Some states require permits for handguns to be obtained in advance. The NRA Institute for Legislative Action provides some summaries of state gun laws

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After asking around on some gun forums (that was an interesting experience!), I got the following useful responses (paraphrased and fixed in parts):

No. A person must be a legal resident of a state in order to buy a gun, and must have ID that is acceptable under federal law for purchasing said weapon. Legal residency according to the ATF is a presence in a state with the intention of making a home in that state, so tourism definitely would not apply.

Also, ID that is acceptable is defined as identification issued by a government entity of the federal government or of any state in the United States. That can include federal ID like a greencard, state issued ID like a driver's license, a water bill from a local municipal government, a trash collection bill from a county government, or what have you. Without that ID, it is illegal for anyone to sell you any firearm in the US.

However, You can also buy guns on a non immigrant visa (like a H1B work visa) if you qualify for an exemption (by having a valid hunting permit and being a resident of the state). However, someone in the U.S on the VWP (like a tourist) cannot buy a gun under any circumstances.

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Sure you can. Just go to the right gun show. Selling guns is hard for private citizens so they can skip all that background check foolishness. We've been unable to close the gunshow loophole in spite of discovering documents from Al Qaeda advising cell members to purchase weapons at gun shows. It's not legal of course but clearly no one's interested in being serious about stopping you if you really want a gun in this country.

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+1 for giving a differing answer. –  Leo Dec 23 '12 at 11:07
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Why not? The question is about purchasing a gun. Not about legally purchasing a gun. –  PERSONA NON GRATA Dec 24 '12 at 0:00
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While this might be technically correct - I don't see the value it provides. If it's illegal to do so, you can't reliably purchase guns at gun shows. Some shows, from some buyers, maybe. You might also, maybe, be able to buy from some guy on the street or a gun shop that will deal under the table. This is true of EVERY country in the world - even countries with tight gun controls. The wording of the question (asking about the US, asking about the legal status) really seem to imply the answer should be limited to what is legal. –  Rob P. Dec 24 '12 at 15:06
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@MarcelC. Agreed. But the question does specifically discuss what is allowed by law (citizens right to own a gun). It then specifically asks if 'non-resident' can purchase a gun. Someone's legal status in a country is COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT for anything illegal. You don't need a green card to buy crack. You don't need a SS card to be a thief. You don't need to be a citizen to ILLEGALLY purchase a gun. Black markets exist everywhere. There is no point in asking such a question if the answer ignores legality. ANYTHING purchasable can be purchased illegally; without exception. –  Rob P. Dec 24 '12 at 20:14
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It is better to stick to what is written in the question rather than interpret things. –  PERSONA NON GRATA Dec 25 '12 at 16:32

Frankly, start with a taser and some pepper spray. If you're really concerned, a bulletproof vest is probably a lot more helpful against threat of gun violence than yet another gun.

Short answer: it is probably possible to acquire a firearm, if a person were comfortable with the potential (extremely serious) consequences. Note: I said "acquire." I did not say "legally purchase and own," much less "legally possess."

...except, of course, in Texas.

(^_^ bet nobody saw that coming.)

Legally, at least in Texas, all you need is a state-issued ID to purchase a shotgun (not 100% sure about handguns.) There is no waiting period for shotguns and no state registration. There's probably an exception expressly to permit hunting tourism. (By the way, hunting requires a license. Otherwise, you're poaching.)

point: unless you're actually here for hunting tourism, forget it. Srsly.

American rights only extend to Americans. Non-citizens are protected by law from crime, but don't qualify for stuff like the 2nd Amendment - which, btw, absolutely does not automatically confer the right to carry a weapon, concealed or open. Beyond private property, very few people have a concealed carry permit and open carry in public is very rarely legal outside a handful of specific situations (for example, transporting.)

The only exception I can think of would have to be grandfathered (what qualifies varies depending on location, type of firearm, etc.) "Grandfathered" firearms generally refers to antiques or historical reproductions - ie, black powder, muzzle-loading, etc. - as exempt from many of the usual restrictions on purchasing, possession, etc. (Some kinds of guns are always illegal for non-military / law enforcement. Generally, it's safe to presume that this applies to any non-grandfathered, functional firearm that takes a bayonet or needs wheels.) In this context, a reproduction revolver, such as a Civil War era Colt .45 or Remington .44 might be completely legal - especially if you ordered it as a kit. Granted, it's a six-shot revolver that's almost a foot long and takes fifteen or twenty minutes to reload, but that would probably be the most realistic, potentially legal possibility.

Which leads to the question: ...what would you DO with it? When Americans discuss "self-defense" in relation to firearm, we pretty much mean against intruders specifically of a private residence.

As a rule of thumb, people in America do not walk around packing heat.

Concealed-carry permits are pretty rare. Having a permit doesn't make it legal to bring a gun any old place - ie, it is always a felony anywhere liquor is sold or gambling takes place, ao gas stations, bars, liquor stores, casinos, many restaurants, department and grocery stores, also within a thousand feet of a school, government bldg, airport, hospital, pharmacy, etc... Open-carrying a firearm, whether or not it's technically allowed, is absolutely guaranteed to freak people out. Americans tend to presume a gun is loaded (whether or not it actually is, they will behave as if it is) and will probably call the cops, attempt to negotiate, etc. as if a crime is in progress. Life will get awkward, and only get more awkward when the cops arrive. Law enforcement tends to react very, very poorly to any situation even potentially involving a firearm, especially a firearm they can't see. Hence the terms "armed and dangerous" and "suicide by cop."

HTH...

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Regarding the statement that "[c]oncealed-carry permits are pretty rare", the GAO says that "there were approximately 8 million active concealed carry permits in the United States as of December 31, 2011." That puts it at more than 1 in 40 people, and roughly the population of Virginia. By comparison, there are more CCW holders than Mormons in the US. The response from LEOs can vary, but the best advice is to be forthcoming about carrying, and show due respect for their need to feel safe. –  GargantuChet Dec 23 '12 at 22:42
    
FYI, Vermont also does not issue permits to buy firearms, much like Texas. –  Andy Dec 23 '12 at 23:56
    
Fair, I guess. Let me add context: I live in Texas, relative to the gun owners in Texas who would like to get a concealed carry permit versus gun owners who actually have one, they're pretty rare. ^.^ Also, Texas does not require handguns to be registered, and has no waiting period. However: Texas. My point is still this: nothing quite as democratic as a shotgun. I don't think that a firearm without a concealed carry permit offers protection of any sort that a the travelling tourist non-citizen could even use, such as somebody with a permit or a house to defend. –  satyrwilder Dec 24 '12 at 1:12
    
Your information regarding where a CCW permit holder can and cannot carry a weapon is inaccurate. First, apart from federal buildings, the federal government does not dictate where firearms can be carried; this is decided on the state level, and states can (and do) have different rules in this regard. While I'm not well-versed in the laws of other states, there's nothing illegal about carrying a concealed weapon into a department or grocery store (nor can I fathom a reason as to why those types of stores would be singled out for protection) in North Carolina. –  Adam Robinson Dec 24 '12 at 18:31
    
(cont.) some of these stores may display a "No Concealed Weapons" sign, of course, which would make it against the law to bring one in, but any store, business, building, etc. can display that sort of sign. –  Adam Robinson Dec 24 '12 at 18:32

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