Can you lend a firearm to another person, in Georgia? What are some things to watch out for? Can the law hold you liable (criminally or civilly), if that third party uses your gun in self-defense?

Private individuals

Private individuals may legally buy, sell, gift, or otherwise transfer firearms to another private individual in Georgia. However, when doing so, careful attention needs to be paid not to violate the laws regulating these transactions. Let’s explore the legal restrictions with an example of a gun loan.

Alex visits his brother, Patrick, at Patrick’s home in Georgia. Alex lives in North Carolina but frequently visits family in Georgia. One night, Alex and Patrick decide to go to the shooting range during Alex’s trip, and Alex borrows one of Patrick’s handguns. After shooting at the range, impressed with both the feel and action of Patrick’s pistol, Alex asks Patrick if he can borrow it for self-protection until he can pick one up for himself, and promises to return the pistol on his next trip. They’re brothers, and Patrick knows Alex is proficient with the pistol and is eligible to possess the pistol (Alex has a North Carolina weapons permit), so Patrick says yes, and even purchases Alex a new holster for the pistol. Before leaving to go home to North Carolina, Alex thanks his brother, and packs his newly loaned handgun.

Does this loan of a firearm violate any laws? As these facts are presented, this loan is likely a violation of federal law. Both Alex and Patrick could be in significant trouble if this loan is discovered, and here’s why…

Residency requirements

Georgia law allows residents of Georgia to purchase rifles and shotguns (not handguns) in “any state of the United States,” so long as the resident complies with all federal laws, and laws of Georgia, and the purchaser’s state (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-100). And nonresidents may purchase (notice the emphasis on the word purchase) rifles and shotguns in Georgia (O.C.G.A. § 10-1-101). In order for the loan (we’ll call this loan a “transfer” in legalese) of a firearm to be legal in Georgia, however, both parties must reside in the same state.

This means, for purposes of our example, both Patrick and Alex must be Georgia residents. Similarly, under federal law, an unlicensed, non-dealer individual (Patrick) may only “transfer” a firearm to another unlicensed person (Alex) who resides in the same state. A Georgia resident is prohibited by federal law from directly (without a dealer) selling or transferring a firearm to a resident of another state.

Federal law

Federal law makes these interstate transactions illegal for both the transferee (Alex, receiving the firearm) and transferor (Patrick, loaning the firearm). It is illegal for a private individual to transport into or receive within his own state, a firearm that was transferred to him in another state. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(3). Likewise, it is illegal for a private individual to transfer or deliver a firearm to an individual whom he or she knows or has reason to believe, is not a resident of the seller’s state. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(5).

The same would apply to a loan of a firearm. It may be fine while Alex is in Georgia, but he cannot return home with that firearm. Consequently, Alex has committed the crime of willful receipt of a firearm from out-of-state by an unlicensed person, while Patrick has committed the federal crime of transfer of a firearm to an out-of-state resident. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(a)(5); 924(a)(1)(D). The penalties for these crimes include jail time up to five years and/or a fine of $250,000!

There is, of course, an exception to this rule that could protect both brothers. For the person loaning and the person receiving the loan, if the loan is made “to any person for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes,” the transfer is lawful, and both parties are off the hook. See 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(3)(for the transferee) and §922(a)(5) (for the transferor). That is if the transfer is for sporting purposes. However, if you notice in our example, Alex accepted the firearm for personal protection. The determination of whether “personal protection” falls under a “lawful sporting purpose” in this case may be left to a jury!

Statutory requirements

Let’s change around our example. Alex and Patrick now both reside in Georgia and have Georgia Weapons Carry Licenses. Is the loan legal? Big change to facts. And that, in turn, makes it more likely to define the loan as lawful, based on our discussion above. Remember, however, that a residency requirement alone is not enough. Alex must be eligible by law to possess the firearm. We know Alex has a Weapons Carry License, which means he is of legal age to possess the firearm, and (so long as he has committed no offenses since his License was issued) would otherwise be eligible to both purchase and possess. So, as long as Patrick is comfortable with the loan, on its face, the transfer should be lawful.

If, however, Patrick were to know (or have reason to believe) Alex was not able lawfully to possess the firearm—say, for a recent felony arrest—Patrick cannot transfer the firearm to him, and to do so would open both parties to potential criminal charges. In Patrick’s case, he could be charged with reckless conduct, having knowledge that Alex cannot possess the firearm, but transferring it to him anyway. Furthermore, if Alex injured someone with the firearm, it is entirely possible Patrick could be sued under various civil claims, including negligent entrustment (negligently “entrusting” Alex with a firearm, with knowledge he could not possess it). 

In other words… the loan of a firearm is lawful under the proper circumstances. Make sure you know what those circumstances are so that both parties (and let’s face it, your attorney worries about you first!) don’t run afoul of the law.

For any questions regarding lending your handgun to another person, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to an Independent Program Attorney.