Buying online has some advantages to it. Your local gun store can’t stock everything, so if you’re looking for something unusual or that’s made in smaller quantities, that can be the best way to get exactly what you want. But if you’re going to buy a gun online, there are some things you can do to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
Let’s start off with the basics, because I get this phone call at least three or four times a week.
No matter what you may hear from politicians and the media, you can’t buy guns online and have them shipped to your door. There are a lot of federal, state and local laws that you’ll have to comply with. You still have to go through a local FFL so they can do the proper paperwork and, depending on where you live, process a NICS background check.
I have fielded calls from people who have bought entire gun collections from widows located out of state, folks buying their first custom shop 1911, people receiving inherited firearms and folks who got a little too crazy with their credit card on Black Friday. Here are a few things to consider that everyone should know up front when buying online
Not every vendor has actual stock and has virtual inventory.
There are online vendors that I won’t name that are notorious for indicating that items are in stock and ready to ship when they’re not. There are some sellers that virtualize their inventory in a manner that tells you they have X number to sell, and that’s actually backdriven by inventory management software at their supplier which populates their webstore and updates available to sell inventory.
In other words, they’re selling the gun you’re buying, but it’s held at their fulfillment center where it will be shipped to you.
Back in 2013, during the Great Gun Rush, a lot of virtual retailers had problems with this because demand outstripped inventory and they went from having thousands of SKU’s to sell to none almost overnight. A lot of people who were expecting their orders to be filled got nothing but cancellations.
As for vendors that have actual stock on hand, you can generally trust that they’ll ship the product on time and correctly. That happens most of the time, but since we live in such a globalized environment now, it can be hard to determine how an online vender does business. Make sure that you do business with reputable firms that ship product quickly and on time.
Timing is everything.
I was recently notified by FedEx that there would be major disruptions to service due to thunderstorms around Memphis. The aircraft carrying my orders was delayed, so they didn’t get sorted, routed and put on a plane to my local hub on time. We can’t control mother nature, and neither can the vendor who sold you that new shotgun you’ve been waiting for.
As I write this, the folks in the Midwest are experiencing some of the worst flooding some have seen in their lifetime. Most of the state of Nebraska is underwater and if you’re expecting components from someone based there — say Hornady, for example — you can’t really expect their employees and warehouse staff to be running 100% if they’re trying to head to higher ground or pump out their flooded basements.
I can’t tell you how many times someone’s ordered a new gun for a class, hunting trip, birthday, or USPSA match that was destined to arrive Friday afternoon for an event on Saturday or Sunday. Those gun owners, a group that is traditionally familiar with things not going according to plan, left no margin for error.
Do you want to miss the first day of your hunting trip because of a thunderstorm in Memphis or a plane with mechanical problems carrying your new gun didn’t make it on time? Some of my customers take pride in not missing the first day of deer season for 20 years. If you plan your purchases to ship with some wiggle room built in, you’ll be in your tree stand with your new rifle or on your way to Thunder Ranch right on schedule and without any grief.
Keep your forms of ID current and with you.
Since it’s easy to say keep your ID up to date, I’ll say it: keep your ID up to date.
I ran into a unique problem the other day with one of my customers, an EMS chief who had his home address redacted from every form of ID due to privacy concerns. He was driving his department-issued vehicle – so no registration was in the glove box bearing his personal information.
The problem that I had as a firearm dealer was that without valid ID I couldn’t transfer anything he had purchased from Gunbroker. None of his photo IDs would work. I could have used his passport, but he didn’t have that with him either. Eventually I had to call ATF and ask for a list of potentially viable things that I could get the paperwork closed out with.
Eventually, we figured it out. He found an old fishing license that listed his address. Combined with his photo ID, that was enough. That time we got lucky, but these are special problems for special people.
Most folks won’t have that problem, but keep your ID with you and up to date. If you live in a state where there’s a waiting period and exempts you from another background check with a concealed carry license, make sure you have your permit with you.
One customer left his wallet at home. He had his wife Facetime the ID for me to see and asked me to accept that in lieu of an ID being physically present. Unfortunately, the ATF doesn’t let us do that. We don’t make the rules, but we do follow them. Just be prepared when you go to pick up your online purchase and you won’t have any problems.
The instant background check system is frequently not exactly instant.
The NICS system goes down sometimes with no hint when it will come back online. This is like problems with weather delays and force majeure; if you have a deadline like a hunting trip or a class, it’s entirely possible the system can go down and we can’t release firearms until it’s back up.
Ideally, you’ll live in a state where your concealed carry permit gives you an exemption to the background check, but many states don’t have this exemption. Also worthy of note; folks with common names frequently get delayed results. I’ve had customers with common names get so ticked off by repeated delays that they get a Unique Personal Identification Number (UPIN) and that solves the problem. If you’ve ever been the victim of mistaken identity, consider getting a UPIN.
The waiting is the hardest part.
California is notorious for their 10-day waiting period for transfers. The computer literally counts down the wait to the minute and will not allow the dealer to release a gun until the statutory wait time has elapsed. They call it a 10-day wait, but it’s actually a 14,400 minute wait.
Other states vary in how they calculate their waiting periods. Some count from when the sheriff’s office gets application for licensing/registration. Others do it when the dealer gets the gun on the books. And still others start counting when the dealer does a 4473.
There are 50 states, each with its own unique laws and very different understandings and interpretations of those law. If there is a waiting period in your state, check with the dealer about that and how to comply with your state’s laws so you don’t have any surprises.
Couple not knowing how your state’s waiting period works with a FedEx delay and you might have to put a picture of a gun under the Christmas tree if you’re cutting it too close.
For fraud protection, use a credit card, not a debit card.
I used to have a debit card and the number got snagged by a skimmer and it was a nightmare getting to the bottom of the mess. A skimmed debit card can wreak havoc on your personal finances because once fraudulent use occurs, the money is instantly gone from your account and you have to fight to get it back.
With a credit card, you get infinitely more protection and you aren’t out of pocket. Some of the larger financial institutions have actually detected fraudulent activity and denied the charges on one of my cards before I even noticed it. It was obvious to them that I was not at a Target in Chicago after buying groceries at my local market an hour earlier.
Very much like a firearm, your financial institution’s fraud department is a tool – why not let it do the work?
Make sure your shipper and local dealer have your info and it’s accurate.
We frequently get guns in with documentation that has that has bad information; the name of the gun buyer is mis-spelled or wrong, or there are transposed digits in the phone number. In the cases the seller got absent-minded and shipped the gun with no info at all. I then have no idea who to contact to let them know their purchase has arrived.
The gun literally has to sit until someone calls in wondering where their gun has gone. If we can’t get in touch with you, you can’t come down and get your gun. We want you to get your property since it does nobody any good sitting on a shelf in my stockroom. I’d much rather you be sighting in your new rifle, breaking in your new pistol or busting clays with your new shotgun than have it gathering dust in my storeroom.
Listen to your dealer, not to FedEx or UPS.
Sometimes you can have too much data. Some of the better online sellers out there issue tracking data to the customer which generates an automatic email letting them know their package has been delivered to their local dealer. That’s great, except…. Just because a package was delivered doesn’t mean your FFL has unpacked it and gotten it onto their books yet. Some FFL’s get a lot of incoming shipments and that takes time to process.
Murphy’s law dictates that both my FedEx drivers, the UPS guy and the USPS will all show up in the same 35 minute window. I’ve had days when I’ve gotten in 19 different boxes with my orders and incoming transfers all commingled. With a store full of people, we’re not going to tell everyone who’s shopping for guns to wait so we can go crack open cartons.
We have to unpack everything, figure out who gets what and get everything logged into our books. On a good day we can get do that in an hour. On a busy day we might have to do it after closing just because of foot traffic.
I’ve had occasions where a customer got their delivery notification and drove over to pick up their gun 16 minutes later. The problem was their gun wasn’t available.
Because we hadn’t unpacked it yet and gotten it on our books, it wasn’t legally in my possession. Which means I couldn’t legally transfer the gun to him.
I had another customer who swore up and down that we’d gotten their package. He had the delivery notification and even showed me the tracking data. What wasn’t immediately clear was where this customer’s shipment containing a 1903A3 Springfield actually was, no matter what the email said. We couldn’t figure it out until I got a call from a Dick’s Sporting Goods across town telling me that UPS accidentally delivered the rifle there.
Thankfully, in that case, it was an easy fix – drive over to Dicks, grab a rifle and bring it back to our place and get it to its proper owner. Other times, it’s not that simple.
Everyone can have a better experience buying online if you help your FFL help you. Stay vigilant in the fight against credit card fraud, buy from dealers that don’t lie about what they have in stock and make sure you have current ID and I have your best contact info.