How Would an 18-to-20-Year-Old Go About Buying a Handgun?

As I read 18 U.S.C. § 922(b)(1), it’s illegal for an professional gun dealer — such as a typical gun store — to sell a handgun to an 18-to-20-year-old. But it’s quite legal for a nonprofessional to sell it to the 18-to-20-year-old, and for the 18-to-20-year-old to buy it, even if the nonprofessional knows or suspects that the buyer is under 21. (I realize that some states ban handgun possession by under-21-year-olds, but I’m speaking here of the federal ban.) The 18-to-20-year-old can’t have someone buy it specifically for him, since that would be conspiracy to make a false statement, given that the straw purchaser would have to falsely assert that the gun is for the straw purchaser himself. (There’s a case on that, U.S. v. Bledsoe.) But if some private party is willing to sell a gun that he bought for himself, the 18-to-20-year-old can buy it, though of course the gun would generally be used, and wouldn’t come with a warranty.

Here’s my question: As a practical matter, how hard would it be for the 18-to-20-year-old to buy a gun this way? Do there tend to be classified ads — either on specialized Web sites or in traditional newspapers — that make such private transactions easy? Or is it hard to find such ads in many geographical areas, perhaps because all the local newspapers in that area (and all the relevant Web sites) refuse to take gun ads? I understand that there’s a pretty brisk market in private gun sales at gun shows; is that right, and are such gun shows generally pretty common in most geographical areas?

My guess is that unless there’s some Web site that offers classified ads for non-professional gun transactions, and has plenty of such ads in almost all geographical areas, getting a handgun through a traditional market wouldn’t be easy: Rather, it would generally require the 18-to-20-year-olds to rely on the help of friends or acquaintances who are willing to sell their handguns. (The friend can’t buy a gun for the 18-to-20-year-old, but he could sell a handgun he bought for himself, and then buy a new one to replace it.) And of course having to rely on friends or acquaintances’ existing handgun stock dramatically limits the selection one can have. But maybe I’m missing some important other legal way to buy a handgun.

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