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Whether you’re in the market for a new or used firearm, online retail and auction sites are among the most popular venues for gun owners. Before attempting to buy a gun online, however, you should have an understanding of the relevant laws and how to proceed safely.
Can You Buy a Gun Online?
In the 1970s and ‘80s, gun owners and overlapping communities used early bulletin board systems (BBS) to share information regarding firearms. When the Internet became more accessible in the ‘90s, gun owners didn’t take long to realize the possibilities. That decade saw the founding of prominent firearms auction sites, such as GunBroker.com.
However, despite the technological progress that accompanied the Internet, it also attracted its fair share of controversy. News-media pundits, lawmakers, and special-interest groups would often clamor for increased Internet regulation for several reasons, more recently including the sale of firearms.
The claim that you can easily buy a gun online is complicated. It confuses the equivalent of classified ads, in which two private parties meet in person to exchange firearms for cash, with online auctions and retail sales, which require the use of an FFL.
You can’t ship a firearm to the private residence of a non-licensee (a private citizen who does not possess a federal firearms license or FFL) in another state. However, private sales between non-prohibited persons who reside in the same state are legal without an FFL or background check. Different states regulate these activities to varying degrees, so always check your local laws.
Pros and Cons of Online Ordering
Any discussion that focuses on how to order a gun online should begin with the pros and cons. There are a wide variety of auction sites and online gun stores to choose from.
Inspection and Handling
The first downside is that you’re not able to inspect the firearm yourself. When you’re buying a used gun from a local gun shop, you can, and should, examine it thoroughly for signs of wear, rust, pitting, and broken or loose-fitting parts. This lets you check how tight or sloppy the action is and how it handles.
Unfortunately, when you buy a gun online, you have no way of handling the gun until it arrives at your local FFL.
If you’re new to firearms, you should ideally handle various makes and models in person to determine the fit and feel that you find most satisfactory. You should also fire a few different guns at a range that rents firearms to find what suits you best.
When you buy a gun from a brick-and-mortar gun store, you can often take receipt of the firearm in a matter of minutes. However, when you buy a gun from an online store or seller, they must first ship it to an FFL near you, requiring you to wait longer.
As you’re not patronizing a business run by employees you can speak with directly, you’re unable to ask questions as easily as you would otherwise or build a rapport with the sales staff.
Pros of Online Ordering
Whether these disadvantages are enough to dissuade you from buying guns online, however, is up to you.
The first pro you’ll notice is with regard to prices. Online gun retailers tend to charge less for a number of reasons, including fewer taxes and lower overheads. Aside from price, one of the most significant advantages of buying online is variety.
The market online, in both used and new firearms, is vast, spanning the entire country. If you’re searching for a particular firearm, including collector’s items, you stand a better chance of finding the gun that you want online than in your local gun shop.
The question of how to order a gun online is relatively simple to answer. When you find a gun that you want and place your order, the retailer will have to ship the firearm to a federal firearms licensee near you. This is typically a brick-and-mortar gun or sporting goods store. Unless you possess an FFL yourself, the retailer is prohibited, by law, from shipping a firearm to a non-licensee in another state.
Find and notify a local FFL to whom you want to have a firearm shipped and ask about their transfer fees. If you accept their terms, provide your local FFL with the relevant contact information (phone number, mailing address, email address, and fax number, if applicable) of the online FFL. Let your retailer know who your FFL is and their relevant contact information. This is important for ensuring that the online seller is genuine. .and that you’ve purchased a gun and that it will be shipped to the FFL’s location, leaving your full name and phone number. When the gun arrives, the FFL will take receipt of the weapon and call you.
For you to take receipt of the firearm, you’ll need to fill out ATF Form 4473 (Firearms Transaction Record) and complete the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background System) background check. The FFL initiates the background check by contacting the FBI using the information that you provided on the form.
Once the NICS examiner approves the transaction, the FFL will be authorized to transfer the firearm to you. This usually takes a few minutes, although depending on certain factors, such as your immigration status, it may take longer. This is the same procedure as buying a gun from the gun store itself.
While a notable downside to buying a gun online is that you can’t inspect it before you buy it, you can, and should, inspect it thoroughly before taking receipt of it. Once the gun is transferred to you, it can’t be returned. If there’s anything wrong with the weapon, you’ll have to consult the manufacturer.
Assuming you’re relatively new to firearms, if you have any questions regarding routine firearm maintenance, what kinds of cleaning supplies to buy, or how to disassemble the firearm, feel free to ask. The gun store’s staff should welcome these questions and provide you with the necessary guidance.
You’ll often hear references to the so-called gun-show loophole — the claim that you can purchase a firearm without having to undergo a background and that this is a common source of firearms to criminals.
It is true that you, as a private citizen, can buy a gun from another private party without undergoing a background check, provided that A) neither of you is a prohibited person, and B) you’re both residents of the same state.
However, this is strictly federal law — it doesn’t determine the gun laws at the state and local level. For example, in California, it doesn’t matter whether the transfer is between private parties or not; you need to complete all firearms-related sales through an authorized vendor.
The available data doesn’t support the claim that gun shows are a common source of firearms to criminals. Among state inmates possessing a gun at the time of their arrest, fewer than 2% bought it from a gun show.
Online ordering offers a wide array of choices at various prices, from affordable to extravagant. If you’re in the market for a firearm and want to increase the available selection, consider an online retailer or auction site.