Can You Buy a Gun Online?

Last Updated on January 5, 2023.

Whether a dedicated auction site or the digital equivalent of a classified ad in a newspaper, you may have wondered whether you can purchase a firearm online. The short answer is yes. As prices have skyrocketed and supplies dried up, now is the perfect time to buy guns from sellers on the Internet.

Why Buy Guns Online?

Not everyone has the luxury of a well-stocked local gun store with an expansive selection that they can patronize. Gun stores have limited inventories, especially during periods of scarcity, and place a markup on sales. After all, a gun store is a business. By searching online sources, you can often find used firearms at reasonable prices from private sellers.


You can also find discontinued and rare collectible firearms. But the question remains: “How do you buy a gun online?” It’s not as complicated as it may appear at first glance. Once you understand the process, you’ll be well on your way to expanding your personal arms collection.

How to Buy Guns Online?

You may have heard that you can purchase a gun online. Is this true? Yes, but probably not in how you expect. Unless you have a federal firearms license, including a Curio & Relic license, the seller cannot ship a firearm directly to your private residence.

Instead, the seller sends the firearm to a federal firearms licensee (FFL) where you live. This is typically a gun store or sporting goods store licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to deal in firearms and ammunition.


When the firearm arrives, the FFL usually notifies you by phone call. To take receipt of the firearm, you’ll need to meet the following requirements:

  • Proof of ID.
  • Be at least 18 years of age to purchase (or take possession of) a rifle or shotgun. This includes ammunition for these weapons. If you’re buying a handgun or handgun ammunition, you must be 21 years of age.
  • Not a prohibited person.
  • Fill out a form and complete a background check.

The question of minimum age raises a question regarding ammunition. Some cartridges, such as the .22 Long Rifle, are widely used in handguns and rifles. How does the FFL determine whether it’s for one or the other? It depends on what type of gun you intend to use it in. They may ask you directly or refuse to release the ammunition to anyone under 21.

Buying guns online is a very convenient way to acquire firearms but it requires you to comply with a couple of requirements for legal purposes.

How the Background Check Works

Before the FFL can transfer possession of a firearm to you, you have to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record. This is also known as ATF Form 4473. The FFL will then initiate a background check by contacting the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) by phone or via the Internet.

If you live in a point-of-contact (POC) state, the FFL contacts a state or local law enforcement agency. An example would be the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Since 1998, when the NICS went online, background checks have been conducted relatively quickly. You’ll usually only have to wait a few minutes for the FBI to conduct a background check. When the FFL contacts the NICS, the FBI Examiner checks the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

The FBI describes the NCIC as an “electronic clearinghouse of crime data available to virtually every criminal justice agency nationwide.” If you are a prohibited person, you cannot purchase a firearm.

A prohibited personaccording to the ATF, is any person:

  • Convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
  • An unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act, codified at 21 U.S.C. § 802).
  • Discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions.
  • Convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
  • A fugitive from justice.
  • Adjudicated as a mental defect or has been committed to any mental institution.
  • Who has renounced his or her United States citizenship.
  • An illegal alien.
  • Subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner.

If any of the above categories describes you, it is illegal for you to purchase, borrow, or otherwise take possession of a firearm.

How to Buy a Gun in California (Legally)

Background Check Completion

If the NICS Examiner does not find any prohibitive criteria, they will advise the FFL to proceed with the transaction. If the FFL does not receive a “proceed” or “denied” response from NICS within three business days, the FFL may transfer the firearm to you, anyway. This rarely happens, but every system has its glitches.

If the jurisdiction in which you live requires that you undergo a mandatory waiting period prior to taking receipt of your firearm, the FFL will hold your gun until that time period elapses.

Is the Gun Legal in My State?

Many private sellers on firearms auction sites stress that it is the responsibility of the buyer to know their local laws and if the firearm they’re buying is legal to own in their state of residence.

This is reasonable because gun laws differ from one state or municipality to another. A seller who lives in Texas can’t be expected to know the intricacies of New York or New Jersey gun laws.

Gun Shows or Private Sales

You’ve probably seen references to the so-called gun-show or private-sale loophole. This is called a loophole because, according to federal law, private sales between non-prohibited private citizens do not require an FFL to act as an intermediary. As a result, you can purchase a firearm from an individual’s collection and collect it in person without an FFL. Some states require a background check for the private sale of firearms, so always check your local laws.

Final Thoughts

Buying a gun online legally is relatively straightforward once you understand the basics. If you live in a more restrictive jurisdiction, you’ll have to be mindful of your state and local laws. You may have to address licensing and registration requirements separate from federal law.

Buying guns online can save you money and help you find rare and discontinued firearms. It can also allow you to access weapons and ammunition from across the country during shortages and price spikes. From gun stores or private sellers, buying guns online is an excellent resource.