Sometimes it’s necessary to send a firearm to an address without physically transporting it there. However, before sticking a gun in a cardboard box and taking it down to your local post office, there are a few regulations that you should be aware of.
Can You Mail a Gun?
If you’ve ever asked the question, “Can you mail a gun?” rest assured: the answer is “yes.” The process of shipping firearms isn’t as straightforward as it once was. But it’s not impossible. You just have to follow a few federal and, possibly, state regulations.
According to the ATF, if you are a non-licensee — i.e., do not possess a federal firearms license (FFL) — you can ship a firearm using the United States Postal Service or a private courier under the following conditions:
1. You’re mailing a firearm to yourself
If you intend to “hunt or engage in any other lawful activity” in another state, you can ship a gun to yourself in that state. You must address the parcel to yourself “in the care of” the resident who will be taking receipt of the package on your behalf. Once the firearm arrives at its destination, no one other than you — the owner — may open the package or take possession of the firearm.
2. The non-licensee resides in the same state
You may ship a firearm to a resident of the same state as long as you “don’t know or have reasonable cause to believe” the intended recipient is prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law. The state in which you live may regulate this process separately from the federal government. So you must determine what the legal process is.
3. An FFL in any state
A non-licensee can ship a firearm to an FFL in any state. This is the primary way that private citizens buy and sell firearms interstate. It’s why, when you buy a gun from a private seller on an auction site in another state, the seller ships the firearm to your local FFL. Contrary to some misconceptions, you don’t need to have your FFL ship a firearm to an FFL in another state. This isn’t a legal requirement.
Mailing Guns to Other States
If you want to mail or ship a firearm to a non-licensee in another state, federal law requires that you ship the firearm to a federal firearms licensee (FFL). The other state’s intended recipient will have to complete ATF Form 4473 and the NICS background check before taking possession of the firearm.
What Kinds of Guns Can I Mail?
You can mail shotguns and rifles via the United States Postal Service. You should, ideally, send your firearms by registered mail. If you want to ship a handgun, intrastate, or interstate, you’ll need to use a common or contract carrier like FedEx or UPS. The United States Postal Service does not mail handguns.
Regardless of the type of firearm that you’re shipping, you’ll need to package it in such a way that conceals the nature of the contents. Thieves steal firearms from delivery vehicles regularly, so you must use plain packaging. There should be no external markings indicating that the package contains a firearm, whether in writing or otherwise.
You should also ensure you pack the gun as securely as possible. The last thing that you want is for the gun to become damaged in transit due to impact. Pack the gun so that it can’t slide around on the inside and pad areas that are delicate. These can include the muzzle and any telescopic or reflector sights that contain glass. If the gun has a finely polished wooden stock, all the more reason to protect it.
Some choose to enclose the firearm in a hard case with foam padding, placing the hard case in a corrugated cardboard box. This can double the level of protection.
It should go without saying, but the gun should be empty. If you want to send ammunition with the gun, you’ll have to package it separately. Ammunition is subject to a different set of regulations.
Don’t skimp on insuring your firearm against loss, theft, or damage, especially if it’s a rare or expensive weapon. The cost to insure is well worth the peace of mind.
Even if it’s legal to ship a firearm directly to the resident of a particular state, you should first determine whether a private sale or transfer requires a background check. Several states require that all private firearms transfers be conducted through an approved vendor or federal firearms licensee.
Second, you should ensure that the firearm you’re shipping is not restricted. This includes ammunition too. For example, if the destination state has an assault weapons ban, you should find out whether the firearm you’re shipping is regulated under this legislation.
As assault weapons are defined fluidly, depending on the state and the legislators who drafted the law, it’s not cut and dried what weapons the law applies to.
In some states, most notably New Jersey, jacketed hollow-point ammunition is explicitly banned for private citizens; therefore, transporting it or shipping it to NJ is ill-advised. Likewise, many states have magazine capacity restrictions. So if you plan to ship a 30-round magazine to a state that limits the legal capacity to 10, think again.
Knowing the Law
Violating any of these laws, whether knowingly or not, isn’t worth the risk. By understanding the regulations, you can avoid both hefty fines and the risk of imprisonment. If you don’t know whether what you want to do regarding firearms is legal, never assume that it is. When asking, “Can you mail a gun?” consult authoritative sources as often as you can. If necessary, call your local police department or sheriff’s office for additional guidance. Always ask the officer or agent with whom you speak to cite the relevant law they’re quoting. Having this information handy can help you.
The Bottom Line: It is Legal to Mail a Gun
If you want to ship firearms, you need to understand the laws governing the process. It will make the process a lot less complicated and save you the cost of having your FFL do it for you.
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Guide to Making a Sawed-Off Shotgun