How to Sell a Gun in Iowa

Selling a gun in the United States, including in the state of Iowa, involves a careful dance between federal and state laws. Each state has specific regulations regarding private gun sales and Iowa is no exception. It is crucial to understand and follow these laws to ensure a legal and safe firearm transaction.

Written by:
Manny Perovic
June 10, 2023
minutes read
Map of Iowa

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Iowa State Laws for Private Gun Sales

In Iowa, the laws concerning private firearm sales differ based on the type of firearm being sold. While a background check isn't required for private sales directly, there are indirect mechanisms that enforce one in certain cases.

For long guns like rifles or shotguns, there is no state requirement for a private seller to conduct a background check on the buyer, nor is there a need for the buyer to obtain a permit.

Photo of a rifle, sniper

However, for handguns, a "Permit to Acquire" is necessary, which indirectly enforces a background check. This permit is obtained from local law enforcement, who will perform a background check as part of the application process. Once granted, this permit is valid for a year and can be used for multiple purchases. Thus, while private sellers aren't directly doing the background check, they are required to ensure the buyer has a valid Permit to Acquire.

Photo of a handgun, GLOCK-17

Despite these state-specific rules, private sellers in Iowa, like elsewhere in the United States, must follow federal laws. This means they cannot knowingly sell a firearm to someone who is prohibited from owning one, such as convicted felons, individuals under a domestic violence restraining order, or individuals with certain mental health disqualifications.

Lastly, all sellers, private or otherwise, should remain vigilant about to whom they are selling firearms and ensure they comply with both state and federal laws.

Handgun Purchase Permit

If the firearm to be sold is a handgun, there is a small catch. The buyer must possess a valid permit to acquire handguns. This permit can be obtained from the sheriff of the buyer's county of residence.

Age Restrictions for Firearm Purchase

Age plays a crucial role in Iowa's gun laws. In Iowa, you must be at least 18 to purchase a rifle or shotgun and at least 21 to purchase a handgun.


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Firearm Carry in Iowa

In Iowa, a Permit to Carry Weapons (PCW) is necessary for both the open and concealed carry of firearms. The state operates on a "shall issue" basis, meaning that the designated authority, typically the sheriff's office in each county, must provide the permit unless there is a concrete, legal rationale for the denial. Such reasons could include if the applicant has a felony conviction, documented mental illness, or other disqualifying factors. The PCW extends to the carrying of weapons within a vehicle.

Photo of an application for Iowa permit to carry weapons

Federal Laws for Gun Sales

Federal law requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to record all sales. However, unlicensed private sellers (most individuals) are not required to perform background checks, although it's illegal to sell a firearm to someone you know or have reasonable cause to believe is prohibited from owning firearms.

Interstate Sales

According to federal law, it's illegal to sell a firearm to someone who is not a resident of the seller's state. If a firearm is sold to someone in a different state, the sale must go through a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) in the buyer's state.

Prohibited Purchasers

Federal disqualification categories include conviction (felony or misdemeanor) where the crime has a maximum imprisonment term exceeding 1 year (even if a buyer did not receive actual imprisonment exceeding 1 year), warrant (felony or out-of-state misdemeanor), felony pre-trial release, misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence restraining/stalking/protection order mental health adjudication or commitment, unlawful use or addicted to a controlled substance (including marijuana), dishonorable discharge from the armed forces, renounced U.S. citizenship, illegal alien status.

How to Buy and Sell a Firearm in Iowa through an FFL

When purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer, a purchaser must complete a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms form 4473.

ATF's website form 4473 - Firearms Transaction Record Revisions

Role of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System

As mandated by the Federal Brady Law, a National Instant Criminal Background Check System check is also required and will be performed by the licensed firearms dealer. This check determines whether the purchaser’s background allows for the completion of the firearm purchase.

FBI's website , National Instant Criminal Background Check System check

Potential Penalties for Non-compliance

Penalties exist for buyers and sellers if the firearm was sold to an ineligible person, if a defaced firearm was sold, or if a restricted firearm (like an explosive weapon or machine gun) was sold. Criminal charges, including felony charges, could result from these violations.

Waiting Period for Handgun Purchases

In Iowa, there is a three-day waiting period from the date of purchase for handguns. This does not apply to individuals who already have a permit to carry or to law enforcement officers.

Record of Sale

Although not a requirement, maintaining a record of the sale is beneficial for both parties involved. This should include details like the date of sale, a description of the firearm, and the contact information of both the buyer and the seller.

Restrictions in Private Sales

Though private sellers aren't required to perform background checks in Iowa, knowingly selling a firearm to someone who is prohibited from possessing one is a crime.


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Tips to Sell Safely and Get the Best Price

To ensure a successful sale, make sure your firearm is in good working condition, clean, and well-maintained. Provide an accurate description of the firearm, including its make, model, caliber, and accessories. Prepare a comprehensive bill of sale and include relevant documentation, such as receipts and warranty information. Finally, complete the sale and transfer ownership in a legally compliant manner by adhering to all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

Cleaning and Maintenance:

It's a good idea to ensure your firearm is in good working condition and properly cleaned before selling it. This can also increase the firearm's value.

Photo of a rifle in a case, with ammo

Accurate Description:

When preparing your firearm for a private sale, you should aim to provide an accurate description of the firearm. This includes information about the make, model, caliber, and any accessories that come with the firearm. An accurate description will help ensure a smooth transaction with your ultimate buyer.


Prepare a complete bill of sale that protects both parties in case of disputes, including the following information: sale date, buyer and seller information, and firearm details (such as make, model, and serial number). Additionally, be sure to include any relevant paperwork, such as purchase receipts and warranty information.

Man with an iPod

Bill of Sale

A bill of sale is recommended for private sales to document the transaction and protect the seller if the firearm is later used in a crime or reported stolen.

Completing the Sale and Transferring Firearm Ownership:

Once you've found a legal buyer, complete the sale and transfer ownership of the firearm in a legal and compliant manner. Be sure to follow all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations, including background checks and any necessary permits or licenses.


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Choosing Cash for Arms to Sell Your Firearms

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General Questions & Answers

Is it legal to sell guns in Iowa?

Yes, it is. Iowa law permits gun owners to sell or give a gun to another person without a licensed dealer.

Can you buy a gun in Iowa without a license?

In Iowa, you can purchase a long gun, such as a rifle or shotgun, without a license or permit. However, to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed firearm dealer, you need to possess a valid Permit to Acquire Pistols or Revolvers (PAPR) issued by the county sheriff. 

How much is a handgun permit in Iowa?

In Iowa, the cost of a handgun permit depends on the specific category:

  • New Permit to Carry: $50
  • Renewal of Permit to Carry: $25
  • Permit to Acquire: $25
  • Duplicate Permit: $25

Can someone from out of state sell a gun in Iowa?

Whenever a private individual, not a gun store, sells a firearm across state lines (meaning to a person who resides in another state), a federally licensed firearm dealer must be utilized in the buyer's state of residence to facilitate the transfer.

Do you need a federally-issued ID to buy a gun in Iowa?

Yes, you do need an identification document that includes a government-issued photo ID to verify your identity, age, and residency when purchasing a gun in Iowa. Commonly accepted forms of identification typically include a state-issued driver's license or a U.S. passport.

What do you need to sell firearms in Iowa?

To sell firearms in Iowa, individuals or businesses need to obtain a Federal-Firearm License (FFL) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Generally, Iowa does not require an additional state license specifically for firearm sales. Sellers must comply with federal and state laws, which include conducting background checks, maintaining records, and following sales restrictions. It is essential for sellers to adhere to these regulations to ensure legal compliance.

Does a gun bill of sale have to be notarized in Iowa?

No, the state of Iowa does not register firearms or require that private sales include a bill of sale.

What is the process to buy a gun in Iowa?

You should verify that you meet the basic eligibility criteria, which usually include being at least 18 years old for long guns and 21 years old for handguns and not being prohibited by law due to a felony conviction, domestic abuse restraining order, or mental health adjudication. For handguns, you must obtain either an Annual Permit to Acquire Pistols or Revolvers or a Permit to Carry Weapons from your local sheriff's office. This requires completing an application form, passing a background check, and potentially completing a firearms safety training course, depending on the type of permit. If you are approved, you will receive your permit. With the permit, you can buy a handgun from a licensed dealer, who will also require a federal background check at the point of sale. For long guns like rifles and shotguns, no state permit is required, but you will still need to pass a federal background check at the point of sale.

What documents I need to buy a gun in Iowa?

New Iowa Code § 724.15 requires that any person (who is not a federally licensed dealer) who seeks to acquire a handgun from a federally licensed dealer must present a valid Iowa permit to carry and present a valid Iowa permit to acquire and complete a satisfactory NICS criminal background check.  In 2021, Iowa eliminated its longstanding handgun permit requirement

What are the rules for gun ownership in Iowa?

For handguns, you must be at least 21, a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and an Iowa resident, and you must obtain either an Annual Permit to Acquire or a Permit to Carry Weapons. Some individuals, such as felons, domestic violence offenders, and those adjudicated mentally ill, are prohibited from owning firearms. 

For long guns, you must be at least 18 and pass a federal background check, but no state permit or registration is required. Public carrying requires a Permit to Carry Weapons, with some areas off-limits even with a permit. 

Are Iowa gun laws strict?

Iowa's gun laws are generally considered to be less restrictive compared to some other states in the United States. The state has a relatively permissive approach to firearms ownership and carry.

Does Iowa have a gun registry?

No, Iowa does not require firearm owners to register their guns.

How much does it cost to transfer a gun in Iowa?

When a private individual, rather than a gun store, sells a firearm to someone residing in another state, the transfer must be facilitated by a federally licensed firearm dealer in the buyer's state of residence. The fees associated with this process can vary depending on the specific FFL (Federal Firearms License) involved.

Does Iowa allow private gun sales?

Yes, private sales are legal in Iowa.

Can you gift someone a gun in Iowa?

It is lawful for one Iowa resident to sell or give a handgun to another Iowa resident, but only if the person receiving the gun has either a Permit to Acquire or a Permit to Carry.

Who can't own a gun in Iowa?

In Iowa, individuals who are prohibited from owning guns include convicted felons, individuals with domestic violence convictions, persons subject to restraining orders, individuals with certain mental health conditions, and individuals with drug-related convictions. 

Iowa now prohibits a person from acquiring a handgun (a pistol or revolver) if the person:

  • Is under age 21, except as required for military duty or while a peace officer, security guard, or correctional officer;
  • Is prohibited by state or federal law, or by a court order, from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving a firearm;
  • Is prohibited by state law from carrying concealed handguns;
  • Is intoxicated under the criteria set out in Iowa Code § 321J.2, subsection 1.3

What do you need to sell a gun in Iowa?

A firearm bill of sale in Iowa is a document that records the exchange of a handgun or long gun between a buyer and a seller within the state. Despite Iowa not requiring firearm registration, neither the buyer nor the seller is obligated to use this completed document for any purpose other than confirming the purchase. However, Iowa law mandates a Permit to Acquire (PTA) for handgun purchases, which the buyer must present. The PTA is issued by the sheriff of the county where the buyer resides and remains valid for five years.

Can you privately sell firearms in Iowa?

Yes, you can sell a gun privately in Iowa. This state previously required background checks on private sales of handguns, but in 2021, Iowa eliminated its longstanding handgun permit requirement, including the comprehensive criminal history check that state law enforcement previously conducted on all handgun purchasers.

Can I sell my gun to a friend in Iowa?

Selling or gifting a handgun between Iowa residents remains legal as long as the recipient possesses either a Permit to Acquire or a Permit to Carry. However, transferring a handgun to an individual without a permit is classified as an aggravated misdemeanor.



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In conclusion, understanding both state and federal gun laws is critical to conducting a legal and safe firearm sale. The responsibility of ensuring the legality of a sale lies with both the buyer and the seller. If you have any questions or need more detailed information, consider contacting law enforcement or a legal professional. Selling a gun can be a complex process, but understanding the laws can help protect you from unintentional violations.


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