What Are The Laws For Shipping Firearms
Table of Contents
Is It Possible to Ship a Firearm in the Mail?
Many reasons exist for wanting to mail a firearm. Some people want to ship a gun as a part of a sale. Other people want to buy a gun and have it shipped to their house. Some folks are looking to ship firearms as a part of a business venture. There are even people looking to mail guns as gifts. Unfortunately, mailing a gun is a little more serious than shoving it into a bubble mailer and sending it priority mail. There are restrictions as to who can mail guns where, and how firearms can be mailed legally. And yes, it is possible to ship a firearm without an FFL in some special circumstances. Generally, however, firearms must only be shipped to an FFL holder. Even firearms which have been purchased online must be shipped to an FFL holder to be picked up.1
Are Firearms Shipped Separate From Other Packages
Firearms must be packaged separately from other packages. They must be declared as firearms to the carrier upon shipping. And they must be packaged in a safe, acceptable container (see How to Package a Gun For Shippingto learn more). Ammunition also must be packaged separately from firearms.
Shipping A Gun Without an FFL
Federal law does state that the carrier needs to be informed that a package contains a firearm.
A FFL (Federal Firearms License) is usually required in most instances where a firearm is being shipped in the mail system, regardless of the carrier. FFLs are used to determine that licensed individual is operating a legitimate business registered with the ATF. There are many different types of FFLs, which allow for dealing in different wares. The lower ends of the spectrum cost under $100 and allow trade of a variety of interesting weapons. The higher end of the spectrum costs about three grand, but it allows the licensee to ship and receive some insane firearms. In generally, most FFLs issued are $200, which is the standard fee charged by the ATF for the average applying business.2
It is possible to mail a long gun from non-licensed individual to non-licensed individual provided both people are in the same states. This is not allowed for handguns, however, which require an FFL to receive. It is also possible to ship a firearm to one’s self, in care of another person, where lawful hunting or sporting activity may take place. The package should be addressed to the firearm owner, but only designated “in care of” the recipient. It is possible to ship firearms this way in care of recipients whom live in states other than that of the firearm owner.3
A nonlicensee can still transfer a firearm to another nonlicensee in another state. This includes the original firearm owner shipping the gun to be transferred to an FFL holder that is near the new owner. The new owner then completes the standard background check* and a little paperwork (like a Firearms Transaction Record – Form 4473) and picks up the gun from the FFL holder.4
Here is a map showing the states which require background checks for firearm transfers:
To learn more about purchasing a firearm, check out our other article: How to Properly Shop for a Gun.
While firearms have many shipping restrictions, the ATF classifies ammunition separately. The ATF allows an unlicensed person to obtain ammunition from out of state sources.5It is also lawful to ship ammunition, provided the carrier does not have ammunition on their prohibited commodities list.
How to Ship Guns in the Mail Legally
There are many ways to ship a gun, and each carrier has their own terms and rules. These are the most common carriers used to ship firearms and their policies, listed in alphabetical order:
DHL may not be one of the most popular mail carriers, however, they do offer some reasonable rates and they will ship firearms. The firearms can only be shipped to and from licensed dealers. Additionally, domestic firearms need to be “rendered mechanically not fireable” before transport.6
FedEx specifically states they transport firearms in accordance with the United States Gun Control Act of 1968, so long as the transactions are in between licensed individuals. They also will ship firearms to and from locations which do not prohibit the transport of firearms by law, from individuals to FFL holders. FedEx also requires the “Signature Required” option in many cases when shipping guns, and they must be shipped overnight. They require telling the clerk receiving the outgoing package that it contains a firearm. Both parties (shipping and receiving) must be of legal age to possess a firearm. Firearms must be empty and ammunition must be shipped separately as “dangerous goods.”7
United Parcel Service
UPS accepts firearm packages in accordance with federal law, even citing a few chapters from the United States Code (Title 18, Chapter 44; Title 26, Chapter 53). Specifically, they will ship firearms between licensed importers, licensed manufacturers, licensed dealers, and licensed collectors. They will also ship firearms for government agencies. UPS also allows shipping firearms between two parties which are not prohibited from transacting by law. They require shipping any firearms overnight, or “next day” air.8
UPS will ship firearm parts, provided they cannot be assembled to create a firearm and are not considered one of a few special parts. Some of the parts UPS chooses to treat as firearms include: frames, receivers, mufflers and silencers. They will not ship automatic weapons. All firearms must be appropriately labeled, and packaged separately from ammunition, which must be shipped separately as well. Like FedEx, UPS requires a delivery confirmation via signature on the receiving end. The UPS clerk receiving the package for shipment should always be notified that the contents include a firearm.8
United States Postal Service (USPS)
USPS will mail firearms to and from licensed FFL dealers. The firearms still have to be appropriately packaged in compliance-satisfying mailers.9 Mailing firearms with USPS means accepting that the package may be opened for inspection to ensure the gun is unloaded. USPS prohibits mailing short-barreled rifles and shotguns (most notably those which are concealable on a person). The outside of the package cannot be marked or labeled in a way that designates the contents.10
USPS will mail firearms and parts for nonlicensed individuals provided the circumstances are legal and permitted by federal law. For example, firearms which are classified as Curios or Relics can be mailed between collectors, non-frame and receiver parts can be mailed, and government curators can trade firearms through the mail. It is also possible to mail a firearm to a crime detection bureau or a science lab.10
USPS does require that the party shipping a handgun (addressee) complete and sign an affidavit which indicates the receiving party (the addressed individual) is qualified to receive a firearm. But, the USPS’ policies on shipping rifles and shotguns is much more lax. The USPS follows the policies set forth in the above section, Shipping a Gun Without an FFL. The most important key points to remember include:
- Long guns can be shipped between two nonlicensed individuals as long as they are within the same state and of legal age (provided the specific state’s laws do not somehow prohibit this federal law).
- Rifles and shotguns can be shipped by a non-FFL holder to themselves in another state, in the “care of” another nonlicensed, adult. The sending individual (and owner of the firearm) is still the only person allowed to open the package.
- Museum relics and Curios collectors guns are able to be shipped, but some Curios firearms may require a license to ship and/or receive.10
Other Shipping Services
There are a few other, obscure shipping services which will transport firearms when it is legal to do so. One popular option is ShipMyGun.com, although, it still requires selecting an FFL to ship the gun to. The pricing is setup based upon the type of gun being shipped, costing a minimum of $39 to ship a handgun and $29 to ship a long gun.11
How to Properly Pack a Firearm For Shipment
Firearms require special packaging procedures to meet many carrier and federal standards. This is a simple guide to help ensure firearms are shipped according to standard.
Step 1: Obtain a strong firearms box or container that can support the size of the firearm and as much packing material necessary to properly hold the gun in place within the container. Check with the selected shipping company (UPS, FedEx, USPS, etc.) to verify the selected container will meet their standards for shipping a firearm.
Step 2: Carefully pack the firearm to allow it plenty of cushion, and to eliminate all empty space in the box. To be clear: the box should feel sturdy, reliable, and strong. Nothing should be “sliding around” inside the box. This is important for two reasons: maintaining the condition weapon being shipped and reducing scrutiny placed on the parcel (as being deemed unacceptable packaging).
Remember, the outside of the container or box being used cannot have any markings, writings, or labels which indicate that a firearm is inside. Never include ammunition, as it is considered a hazardous item and must be shipped separately. And always verify the gun is unloaded!
Getting Insurance When Shipping a Firearm
Remember to always fill out an insurance form (usually comes with a sticker of some kind), if the firearm is worth more than $200.00. While some people have claimed difficulty collecting on insurance when a firearm is damaged due to firearms being on a special item list, it is absolutely something that is covered. Firearms are entirely covered by USPS insurance and it is nearly always worth it to insure a firearm when shipping. Other carriers (UPS, FedEx and DHL) offer insurance when shipping firearms as well. Even Shipmygun.com offers insurance.
A Few Words About Shipping Curios and Relics [Firearms]
Shipping curios guns is a special process. Relics are often included in this special category as well. Although it may sound confusing, the rules are surprisingly simple. The curios and relic firearms fall under federal firearms laws 27 CFR §478.11, which defines the weapons as “of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons.” Generally, this means the firearm must fit into one of these three categories:
- The gun must have been manufactured at least 50 years prior to the present date (replicas excluded).
- Municipal-certified firearms. Municipal means any curator of state, federal, or municipal exhibiting firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest.
- Any firearm which composes a substantial part of its monetary value from being a “novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.
Meeting one of these qualifications means the firearm has met the “C&R status.”12
It is worth mentioning that antique firearms differ from C&R firearms, in that antique guns were manufactured before 1898.13 The ATF keeps a full list of all curios and relic-qualifying guns. There are curios licenses (under 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44), which are still classified as federal firearms licenses or FFL Type 3, that are applied for using form 7/7CR. The 7/7CR is also known as an application for a Federal Firearms License. FFL 03 applicants have more relaxed application requirements.14
For all the gun enthusiasts wondering if they can get a firearm shipped directly to their house, there is one C&R loophole. One benefit of obtaining a FFL 03 Curios and Relics Firearms License would be to receive curios-qualifying firearms directly to one’s door. There are some important rules though. Firstly, an FFL 03 license holder cannot sell their personal firearms collection for business purposes. And secondly, an FFL type 01 or 02 license is required to sell firearms for an actual living.
Final Tips About Shipping Guns
Many people automatically assume that firearms and ammunition cannot be mailed without being a licensed firearms dealer, however, there are obviously many special circumstances which allow shipping certain guns and ammunition. It is always still the responsibility of the shipping party to ensure they are complying with all local, state and federal laws whenever shipping a firearm for any reason. Additionally, it is important to ship firearms in responsible packaging only, taking time to properly secure the firearm in an acceptable container and unloaded.
Note: If you are interested in applying for an FFL, here is a link to their application: Application for Federal Firearms License.
Disclaimer: Advice offered on this page is offered for general information and education purposes. It is not intended to be legal advice.
1ATF. (September 16, 2015). How may an unlicensed person receive a firearm in his or her State that he or she purchased from an out–of–State source? Questions and Answers. Retrived from: https://www.atf.gov/questions-and-answers/qa/how-may-unlicensed-person-receive-firearm-his-or-her-state-he-or-she
2ATF. (April, 2019). Application for Federal Firearms License. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from:https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/form/form-7-7-cr-application-federal-firearms-license-atf-form-531012531016/download
3ATF (October 25, 2018). May a nonlicensee ship firearms interstate for his or her use in hunting or other lawful activity? ATF: Firearms. Retrieved from:https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/may-nonlicensee-ship-firearms-interstate-his-or-her-use-hunting-or-other-lawful-activity
4ATF. (October 2016). Firearms Transaction Record. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/4473-part-1-firearms-transaction-record-over-counter-atf-form-53009/download
5ATF (September 16, 2015). May an unlicensed person obtain ammunition from an out-of-State source? Firearms. Retrieved from:https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/may-unlicensed-person-obtain-ammunition-out-state-source
6DHL. (July 15, 2019). Prohibited and Restricted Commodities. DHL USA. Retrieved from:www.dhl-usa.com/content/dam/downloads/us/express/shipping/terms_and_conditions/prohibited_restricted_commodities.pdf
7FedEx. (April 29, 2019). Firearms. Shipping Policies.https://www.fedex.com/en-us/service-guide/terms/express-ground-samedaycity.html
8UPS (July 15, 2019). How to Ship Firearms or Ammunition. UPS. Retrieved from:https://www.ups.com/us/en/help-center/packaging-and-supplies/special-care-shipments/firearms.page
9USPS. (July 15, 2019). Firearms. Restricted Domestic Items. Retrieved from: https://www.usps.com/ship/shipping-restrictions.htm
10USPS. (July 15, 2019) Firearms. Mailability. Retrieved from: https://pe.usps.com/text/pub52/pub52c4_009.htm
11Ship My Gun. (July 15, 2019). Ship My Gun. Our Services. Retrieved from:https://www.shipmygun.com/go/
12ATF (July 11, 2019). Curios and Relics. Tools and Services Firearms Industry. Retrieved from: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/curios-relics
13ATF (April 26, 2018). Firearms – Guides – Importation & Verification of Firearms – National Firearms Act Definitions – Antique Firearm. Firearms. Retrieved from:https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guides-importation-verification-firearms-national-firearms-act-definitions-antique
14ATF (February 4, 2019). Instructions for Form 7/7CR – Application for Federal Firearms License. Firearms. Retrieved from: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/instructions-form-77cr-application-federal-firearms-license
About the Author:
Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith
The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.
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