It will come as a shock to some of my readers, but I promise that it is true: among my friends, I count several liberals (in the modern sense) and several of what are commonly referred to as "gun grabbers", anti-second-amendment types. As you might suspect, there is considerable overlap between those two categories.
Recently, I crossed swords with one of them (both categories, naturally) over the issue of 'how easy it is to buy a gun over the Internet'. Many of you will already be chuckling at such naïveté, but what a golden opportunity to increase others' level of awareness. I am unable to resist.
Eloise is in the business of selling guns. She has a store in Palatka, Florida. She also appears at several local gun shows and she has a website on which she advertises guns for sale. When someone buys a gun at her Palatka store, Eloise must (by federal law) have that person fill out an ATF Form 4473 and pass a background check. When someone buys a gun from Eloise at a gun show, Eloise must (by federal law) have that person fill out an ATF Form 4473 and pass a background check. When someone buys a gun from Eloise over the Internet, Eloise must (by federal law) have that person fill out an ATF Form 4473 and pass a background check. As a matter of fact, there is no circumstance under which Eloise, a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) will not have a buyer fill out an ATF Form 4473 and pass a background check before that buyer takes possession of a firearm from her. Eloise doesn't want to go to prison.
George is a stockbroker living in Ocala, Florida. He also has several guns. When George decided to sell all his revolvers and go strictly semi-auto, he advertised on a website known for faciitating sales and trades of firearms. The S&W .38 Special he gave to his niece was not included. His niece did not fill out a Form 4473, nor did she have a background check. The Colt Python .357 Magnum George sold to his neighbor also did not result in a Form 4473 or a completed background check. George hoped no one would make him a decent offer on his Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army in .45 Long Colt, but when a buyer from Key West offered him $8,400 for it, he buckled. That buyer didn't want to drive all the way to Ocala to pick it up, so George's regular dealer shipped it to Griswold's Custom Firearms in Marathon where George's buyer filled out a Form 4473, passed a background check, and paid an additional $35 fee to Griswold's when he picked it up there. A similar scenario played out for George's .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk when he sold it to a buyer in Wyoming. A tourist from Texas visiting locally made George a generous offer for another of George's guns, but George knew he couldn't legally sell a firearm in Florida to someone who didn't also live in Florida. Like Eloise, George also didn't want to go to prison.
Greg lives in Oviedo, Florida. The guns in his collection are very special. Greg owns a 1929 Thompson submachinegun (the 'Chicago typewriter'), two WW-II-era M3A1s ('grease guns'), a 3.75" rocket launcher (bazooka), a German Panzerfaust anti-tank rocket launcher, four MG43s (the original assault rifle), a full-automatic AK-47, and a Finnish Lahti 20mm anti-tank cannon. Of course, he has ammunition for all of these. His basement is a vault. At this point, he estimates his collection to be worth around a million dollars. He doesn't sell; he buys, and every time he does, it takes 6 months for BATFE to finish all the paperwork approving the new addition to the collection. Every few years or so, someone from BATFE rings his doorbell and personally examines each and every piece of his collection and each and every piece of documentation regarding each and every piece of his collection — a marvelous waste of taxpayer money, but, hey, there's more where that came from, right? Greg is considered a 'Class III dealer' even though he has never sold a single firearm — ever.
Can everyone see the pattern? Guns not covered by the 1934 National Firearms Act can be sold person-to-person without a background check as long as neither of those persons hold a federal license to deal in firearms and as long as both of those persons reside in the same state, and are in that state at the time of the sale. In every other case — every other case — a Form 4473 (or in Greg's case, a Form 3) will be filled out and filed, and a background check will be done. Every other case.
The notion — widely held among those who don't actually know the law — is that anyone can go on the Internet, find a machinegun for sale, buy it, and have it shipped to their door, no paperwork, no BGC, no nothing. Failing that, they can just visit the nearest gun show and walk out with a crate of hand grenades, no questions asked.
Don't listen to such people. They have no idea what they're talking about.