How to Buy a Gun Online
How to buy a gun online, or for that matter how to buy a gun from a person not in your state? Just like every other product out there a gun can be bought online. But unlike most products that can be purchased online, buying a gun online requires additional steps. This guide will assist you in completing just about any firearm transaction that is not face to face, whether you bought from an online gun store or won a gun at an out of state auction. Or your uncle Bob who lives on the other side of the country wants to send you a rifle, this guide will help you through the process.
Things to consider before buying a firearm:
If you answer “no” or “I do not know” to any of the questions below, stop and do some more research before you buy a gun.
- Is the gun you are planning on buying legal in your state?
- Are the magazines that come with the gun legal in your state?
- Can you pass the federal or state background check? There are many reasons depending on your state why you may not pass a background check, the most common reasons are having a felony on your record or being convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
- If you are buying a handgun, pistol grip shotgun, or a receiver. Are you 21 or older?
- If you are buying a rifle or shotgun. Are you 18 or older? (if you don’t know how old you are don’t buy a gun)
- Do you have a valid government issued photo ID with your current physical address? (more on this later)
Find a local receiving FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee) before you buy:
You will need a Federal Firearms Licensee (from here out I will abbreviate this to FFL) to receive the firearm you buy, so it makes sense to have one picked out prior to buying a gun online. Federal law requires that all firearms crossing state lines must be handled through an FFL. An FFL is a Federal Firearms Licensee, more commonly known as a Firearms dealer, or even more commonly known as a gun store. There are many tools available online to find an FFL dealer close to where you live, our FFL Locator is here. Identify a few nearby FFL’s and contact them to ask if they are willing to conduct a firearm transfer for you. A Transfer is what FFL’s call the process of receiving a firearm from one individual or company and transferring it to another individual or company. Generally, when you buy a gun online you will be dealing with two FFL’s, the shipping FFL (the one you are buying the gun from), and the receiving FFL (the one you need to find to conduct the background check on the gun). Without trying to confuse things too much. There are times when you may not be buying a firearm from an FFL, you might be buying it from a private individual. By law the person or entity shipping the firearm does not have to be an FFL, but the receiver must always be an FFL. This means that a private individual (your uncle Bob) can ship a firearm to an FFL, but it does not mean that an FFL can not make a company policy stating that they will not accept shipments from non-FFL’s, more on this later.
What to ask before deciding on a receiving FFL:
- Will they do the transfer for you? Some FFL’s may not want to do transfers, others may want to know who the gun is coming from before they commit to doing the transfer. Some will only accept shipments from other FFL’s and will not accept a shipment from a private individual (your uncle Bob).
- What is their policy for doing the transfer, what do they need from you? Generally, this goes into the realm of individual company policies and they can vary from FFL to FFL. Some FFL’s require that their own incoming transfer forms be filled out by the shipper before they accept a transfer. Others will require a copy of the shipping FFL’s license before they send out a copy of theirs. Find out what their process is, to avoid any unforeseen problems. It is not unheard of for an FFL to refuse a shipment because it wasn’t in compliance with their policy. Keep in mind these are company policies and not the law, some FFL’s have tougher requirements than what is required by law. This type of information is good to know as it can delay your transfer if your receiving FFL has a bunch of additional requirements that the shipping FFL is not familiar with.
- How much do they charge for the transfer? Yes, there is a fee for a transfer, more on that soon. This fee varies from FFL to FFL and can be as low as $10.00 and up to $85.00 or more.
- Are there any other fees or taxes besides their transfer fee? Some states charge an additional fee for processing background checks, some FFL’s may even charge an additional fee. For example: In Virginia the state police run the background checks, and there is a $2.00 state fee on each background check. Some states require sales tax on the transfer fee as well, or even a sales tax on the value of the firearm you bought online. Ask what your total price is for the transfer, so everyone is on the same page.
- What forms of payment do they accept for the transfer fee? Some FFL’s will only accept cash for a transfer, some will charge extra for using a credit card. Get all the payment information up front so there are no surprises.
- What are their hours of operation? This can be a huge deal breaker in my experience. An FFL can sound great until you find out that FEDEX has tried to deliver your gun 4 times and is about to send it back to the company you bought it from. All because you didn’t know that the FFL you chose is only open from 4pm to 7pm every other Monday by appointment only. Make sure that their hours are convenient for you and that somebody is available during regular business hours to accept packages.
- What do you need to do when the gun arrives? Find out what you need to do and what you need to bring when it’s time to do the transfer. In Virginia a customer needs a Virginia Driver License or Virginia ID Card with their current PHYSICAL ADDRESS* on it to be able to do the background check. Most states are the same way, but there can be some variations, please cover this base before you buy a gun online. And occasionally your FFL may have a company policy requirement that you need to know about.
*What if your Photo ID doesn’t have your current Physical Address on it? If your photo ID doesn’t have your current physical address on it, you will need to produce a secondary form of government issued identification with your current physical address. This secondary identification does not need to have a photo on it, and could be a vehicle registration, voter ID, concealed carry permit, hunting or fishing license, tax bill, water bill (if it is from a government entity), etc. Check with your FFL to be on the safe side and save some time. And to be clear a PO BOX is not a Physical address according to the federal government. So, if you have a PO BOX or an old address on your photo ID you will need a secondary form of ID.
What exactly is the receiving FFL doing for me and why is there a fee:
By federal law an FFL must record information for all the firearms they receive and transfer (sell). When your shipment arrives, the FFL needs to record the make, model, serial number, type, caliber, and who they received it from (either another FFL or an individual). Then when you arrive they need to process at the very least a federal form 4473 and send this information off to the NICS system (federal background check). You enter your information on the 4473, the FFL enters their information and the guns information onto the 4473. If your background check comes back approved, the FFL can then complete the transfer. After the transfer is complete the FFL must complete the rest of the required record keeping, by recording the sale of the gun. This involves updating the serial number of the firearm with your information as the person the firearm was sold to, and usually a serial number the FFL applies to the form 4473 you filled out. Then that form 4473 you filled out must be saved by the FFL for 20 years or until they go out of business. After the 20-year mark or going out of business all the records from the FFL are sent to the ATF.
The fee covers the time involved with receiving your gun and processing the paperwork and record keeping, as well as the time spent when the ATF goes through an FFL’s records during a regular inspection that they perform on FFL’s to make sure they are following federal law. Every transaction an FFL performs is another item the ATF looks at to make sure it was done correctly. And to be clear most FFL’s would rather get a tooth pulled than to have an ATF inspection.
Time to buy a gun online:
There are many choices when it comes to buying a gun online, identify a company that has the firearm you are looking for (there is more to this and we are working on an online buying guide). Check their requirements for making a purchase. Usually they will want a copy of your receiving FFL’s Federal Firearms License either emailed or faxed to them. If you are ok with their requirements and feel comfortable making the purchase, go ahead and complete the purchase. The online store you bought the firearm from will then process your order and wait for your receiving FFL to send a copy of their license. This can be a snag if you didn’t do the work above and now can’t get in touch with an FFL that will receive your firearm. Once they have a copy of the license they will ship the gun to your receiving FFL.
The shipment and the wait:
The company you purchased from will usually send you tracking information, so you can keep track of your guns progress (who doesn’t want to keep track of their guns progress?). You can share this information with your receiving FFL if you like, some may require it others won’t.
And now the waiting begins. Handguns usually ship with a faster method than long guns, so don’t be surprised if that tracking information that was sent to you doesn’t move very fast if you got a long gun. Once the gun is delivered DO NOT immediately run down to your FFL to fill out the paperwork for the background check. Go by their policy, or if in doubt call and make sure your gun has been received and they are ready to perform the transfer. Also, don’t be surprised that your package doesn’t arrive on the day it’s supposed to, this isn’t the norm, but it does happen every now and then. Certainly, don’t be impatient or rude with the receiving FFL dealer for things that are out of their control, it may result in higher transfer fees!
Fill out the paperwork:
Go to your FFL’s location and fill out the Federal form 4473 (click here for an example), and maybe a state form depending on your state. If your background check comes back approved, the FFL will transfer the gun to you, of course this is after you pay the transfer fee.
Congratulations, you have completed the process of buying a gun online. Despite what they say in the media, there are quite a few hurdles to buying guns online. Hopefully this guide will help you streamline the process and save you both time and aggravation.
If you have any questions or comments let us know.
Feel free to share this information.
Thank you for your time.