In South Carolina, a legal gun transaction can be as simple as unwrapping a box on Christmas Day. State and federal laws provide little guidance or oversight on person-to-person gun sales, allowing for undocumented movement of firearms between private parties. And if the advertisements we see around us every day are any indication of what will be under the tree during this holiday, some of you will be packing heat in the bleak midwinter.
Once again this year, Palmetto State Armory has dozens of billboards in the Charleston area promoting buying guns for your loved ones this Christmas. Most of the signs riff on classic holiday carols about the birth of Baby Jesus, like "Do you hear what I hear" while looking down the barrel of an assault-style rifle available for purchase at the fast-expanding gun superstore. Or "5 Golden Rings" with an image of a loaded revolver. The ads draw their fair share of criticism, for sure, but to Adam Ruonala, Palmetto State Armory's chief marketing officer, "it's no different than any other company advertising their product." Ruonala likens his store's gun ads to the nostalgia-driven Budweiser clydesdale ads and the risks alcohol poses.
Ruonala, along with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, urge gift-givers to opt for gift cards and allow the recipient to be the legal buyer of a new gun.
"While it is something we advertise, we don't promote it as something you go home, wrap up, and give to someone," says Ruonala.
But in most cases, the law allows you to do just that.
South Carolina gun retailers are required to be licensed by the ATF and gun buyers must undergo a federal background check and meet legal qualifications to own a gun. The ATF outlines persons disqualified from owning handguns, such as violent offenders, illegal drug users, illegal immigrants, or anyone deemed by a court unfit to own a gun. Now, buying a gun on someone else's behalf who would not pass a background check, known as a "straw purchase," is a felony. But "legitimately purchasing" a gun as a gift is 100 percent legal, assuming the recipient is not a minor without parental permission or a "prohibited person."
After a gun leaves a licensed retailer like Palmetto State Armory, the laws get murkier still. It's still unlawful for anyone to "knowingly" gift or sell a gun to anyone who wouldn't meet the original purchasing criteria, but for the most part, private transactions are off the books. The original buyer may be questioned if the gun is sold and eventually used in a crime, but no recordkeeping is required that could help determine where the gun ended up.
So once you tear the ribbon off that rifle that looks just like the one in the latest military multiplayer game (assuming Uncle Joe passed the background check and you're not a violent drug user) congratulations, you've just fulfilled the requirements for legally acquiring a gun.