Until I started scribbling and ranting for TTAG, I knew blessed little about how to send guns across the country. I either bought them from a local dealer or borrowed them from my friends. ‘Shipping’ usually meant the drive home from the store or said friend’s house. Since joining the ranks of TTAG scribes, however, my gun safe has seen a lot of temporary guests, and I’ve had to learn about one of the biggest costs and headaches in the gun-blogging business: Shipping.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 enacted a slew of Byzantine restrictions on the shipping of firearms. On the receiving end, this rule is pretty simple in practice: ‘little people’ like myself have to receive our internet-order guns by picking them up from a local FFL holder and filling out a Form 4473. With one exception, only FFL holders and licensed manufacturers can receive firearms by mail or contract carrier.
That exception is known as the ‘gunsmith and factory repair’ exception: if you ship a gun to a gunsmith or factory for repair, they can mail it directly back to you. Many gunsmiths and manufacturers prefer to ship to your FFL, because your FFL is always there to sign for the package when the UPS truck shows up.
On the shipping side, the rules get more complex. As a general ‘safe’ rule, civilians (non-FFLs) like us can only ship guns to licensed manufacturers and FFL holders. So you can’t mail your father’s hypothetical shotgun directly to your brother in Nebraska just because your dad left it to him in his will; it must be shipped to a hypothetical Nebraska FFL and then transferred to your hypothetical brother.
But that’s just the Federal regulation. At the state level, depending on where the shipper and receiver live, it can get much worse because each state can add their own layer of regulations and restrictions to the process. California, Massachusetts and New York come to mind; if you’re a shooter and happen to live there, my only advice (and nothing in this article constitutes legal advice) is to move somewhere friendlier.
Once you get past the Federal and state laws and start dealing with Federal Express, the US Postal Service, and UPS, it gets worse still. Each of these carriers has their own rules for who can ship what, to whom, and how. They all prohibit you from shipping guns and ammo in the same package (duh), and they all require that shipping boxes be sturdy corrugated cardboard and not marked in any way that shows that there’s a firearm inside. You always have to inform the carrier that you’re shipping a firearm.
Shipping a gun the wrong way can be a felony crime, so when in any doubt you should have your FFL arrange the shipment; he’ll know the finer points of the rules, and if there’s a screwup it will be his problem and not yours.
U.S. Postal Service
The U.S. Postal Service allows civilians to ship long guns to FFLs and licensed manufacturers, but prohibits civilians from shipping handguns period. FFLs and manufacturers can ship handguns cheaply through the Postal Service, but we can’t.
I wouldn’t recommend fibbing and calling your Glock “Machine Parts” because it’s a felony and you never know when a Postal Inspector will X-ray your package under the excuse of “Transportation Security” and whisk you off to Guantanamo Bay.
The Big Brown Truck will deliver your long guns and handguns to any FFL or manufacturer, but they’ve got one set of rules for FFLs and manufacturers, and another set for the rest of us. They’ll deliver long guns relatively cheaply by ground shipment (although only within the Lower 48 States) but handguns have to go by next-day air.
This isn’t the law, it’s just a UPS “policy.” It’s so outrageous that if I were a cheating man, I’d ship handguns by UPS ground by calling them rifles, packing them in rifle cases and adding an old phone book at each end of the gun case for balance. But I’m not, so I don’t. And good luck collecting on your package insurance if you lied on the declaration of contents and value.
Don’t worry, there’s a better way to cheat UPS out of their ill-gotten gains: keep reading.
FedEx allows civilians to ship handguns and long guns anywhere the law allows, but they have to go by next-day air and it will cost you a fortune: at least $100 to ship across the country. FFLs and manufacturers may ship long guns by FedEx ground, but not handguns.
FedEx’ website states that they allow civilians to ship long guns directly to gunsmiths and manufacturers for the purpose of repairs or customization, and that they can be shipped directly back to the civilian.
How To Save Money
What does all this mean? How can the Thrifty Shooter send his guns hither and yon (to FFLs or manufacturers) without getting fleeced? Like any serious game, you’ve got to know the rules and play by them:
- Ship long guns yourself by USPS or UPS ground. It’s not exactly ‘cheap’ but it’s the best rate you’ll get. Pack them securely using a shipping carton (gunsmiths have the boxes if you need them) and tell the shipper it’s a rifle or shotgun. I always insure the guns I ship, since they’re not my guns.
- Ship handguns through your FFL, and have him ship them via the Postal Service. Even with the FFL’s paperwork fee, you’ll still save a bundle. If he charges too much, find another FFL who wants your business: I pay $20 for the paperwork (which I consider fair) but I know of other FFLs in town who charge $10.
- If you must ship to Alaska or Hawaii, these strategies are more expensive (because you can’t simply drive guns across Canada, and they haven’t finished the tunnel to Hawaii yet) but they’re still the cheapest option.
- If you’re shipping a long gun to a gunsmith or factory for repair or customization, call FedEx for a ground shipping quote and remind them of their ‘repair and customization’ policy, which could save you an FFL paperwork fee.
Again, if you’re in any doubt you should ship through your FFL. A little money saved isn’t worth a lot of trouble with the Postal Inspector or the ATF.