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.

UPS

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. 

Federal Express

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.

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20 Responses to Tip Of The Day: Ship Carefully

    • No you can thank a federal government that can’t read the constitution. They have NO authority to interfere with any gun transfer/action/ownership or anything involving guns with the citizens of this nation. Shall not be infringed is real clear.

      • sadly, they do have the right to interfere with interstate commerce, and as its pointed out in the article, some of the policies are made by the Carriers, not the US Govt. The constitution has no restrictions on shipping of items across state borders, nor does it restrict businesses from making up their own asinine rules

  1. Often times if you’re shipping to a manufacturer (I’ve shipped some stuff to S&W for custom work), ask that manufacturer to ship you a pre-paid label. Sometimes, as in the case of my 586 that I sent off for refinish and action work, S&W picked up the tab. In the case of my pre-M36 that needed to be refinished (nickel plated), I paid what UPS charged S&W – $18.

  2. More examples of the idiotic laws in this country.

    And of course, like everything else in our new and improved America, the laws get obeyed by people who are not criminals anyway.

  3. Okay, it’s been at least 5 years since I’ve shipped a gun but from my recollection, the charge really wasn’t that steep. I think the most I ever paid to ship a gun across country was on the order of $35.

    I always use UPS and here’s something to remember: Your local “Mailboxes Etc” or “UPS Store” or similar generally is not set up to take firearms shipments – you usually have to go to the main shipping office in your area (often located adjacent to the airport.)

    When I sell guns on Gunbroker (which I haven’t done for years) I always package the gun up, take it out to the UPS center and have them weigh it, and ask what would be the charge to ship it to a zip code in Maine. Once I have that, I put it in my Gunbroker ad as the fixed shipping charge (a lot easier to do that than to charge “actual shipping” because then you have to end the auction and negotiate the shipping charge separately.)

  4. I recently had to ship a handgun back to the manufacturer for warranty repair. The manufacturer emailed a UPS shipping label which I affixed to a well-padded cardboard box. Since I was new to shipping firearms myself and expecting to have to declare the gun and thinking it would have to be inspected, I did not seal the package before taking it to the local UPS office. I put the box on the counter and before I could tell the clerk what was being shipped, she whisked out a big roll of tape and sealed the package. I said I thought the contents would need to be inspected but she told me, “We don’t care what is in the package as long as it has the prepaid shipping label.”

    So much for the law and rules of declaration.

  5. The real reason behind UPS and FedEx policy on handguns is to keep them out of the hands of their own thieving employees (though it does not always help). Next day type shipments operate under tighter internal controls and are in the shippers hands for much less time, leading to much less liability on them, statically speaking. USPS will leave your Glock leaning up against the side of the building for anyone to pick up…hence you should always pay for the “proof of delivery” and “signature required” options.

    • ^This. I can’t tell you how many packages of mine have been ‘lost’ by UPS over the years. All when no signature was required. Friends don’t let friends use UPS is my simple motto. I personally hate it when a shipper sends anything without a signature. I’ve commonly put in whatever comments section upon purchase that without requiring a signature, they may be sending the items twice. Speaking of which….

      I had a White Oak Armament upper ‘lost’ by UPS a month ago for instance. Wasn’t the first firearm related package that’s been ‘lost’ by UPS either. All stated ‘left on porch’ yet I was home not 4 feet from the front door. I even have a home security system sans video camera set up covering my front door. The UPS call service all but accused me of stealing it until I mentioned that I’ve got video of my front porch and no delivery was made. The other excuse I’ve heard from them is that thieves follow them around and steal packages off the porch once dropped off, or that it must have been delivered to another address. Yet they claim to have GPS following their driver’s movements.

      Google UPS driver theft and you’ll see plenty of problems with that company. If you must use UPS, have it delivered to a place of business. And always be prepared to either pick the item up and/or demand a signature.

      BTW – I’m still waiting for my replacement WOA competition upper to be sent. Bet my replacement won’t arrive for another month.

  6. Im jealous Dogman,

    I went to ship a Marlin cowboy leveraction funskies rifle for warranty repair, and of course being the honest American that I am, *accidentally* told them that it was a rifle. Needless to say they would not let me ship the bloody rifle without a FFL or a copy of the factory’s FFL. I live in Michigan… FML

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  8. Shipping firearms is a task because there are so many rules and regulations and they are complex to understand. I actually think finding the rules and regulations is difficult. Do you think more can be done to inform people about shipping firearms? I didn’t realise how long the shipping process actually is. You’ve got some great money saving tips.

  9. I used USPS to mail two “starting pistols” after getting approval from their own toll free service. The package was left at the wrong location. They refused to retrieve them and repeatedly refused to pay the insurance I had taken out on them – they said I shouldn’t have shipped them (see first sentence) , should have gone through dealer, etc. Any excuse not to pay! I called the intended recipient and he picked it up and sent them back to me – using the signature the USPS had obtained when they originally dropped them off. USPS is a joke!

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