Shipping your Firearms out of state? Here’s a look at the options, from FFLs to the Post Office to UPS.Story and Photos by Nick Perna
Last month I talked about transporting firearms while flying. This month I’m going to discuss the challenges of shipping firearms through the US Postal Service, as well as privately owned shipping companies.
In a perfect world, this would be as simple and routine as shipping household goods. In some ways, it is; in others, it’s not. The major issue is the legality of shipping firearms. You have to contend with the firearms laws in the location you’re shipping from, the firearms laws at your ultimate destination, and the federal laws governing the process.
Negotiating this “triple threat,” the myriad complex laws throughout the process, can make this a difficult task. Does the state you are shipping from allow interstate gun shipments? Does the destined state allow it? Is the firearm legal to possess in the state you are shipping it to? The questions go on and on, and answers can be hard to come by.
The red tape increases even more when shipping firearms out of the country. But it’s less difficult when shipping hunting firearms to countries where Americans often go to hunt, like Mexico and parts of Africa and South America. I recently went through the process of shipping a firearm from one state to another, so I have relevant experience in this area.
THE FIRST STEP is figuring out the legalities. The best place to start is with the local Department of Justice (or related agency) websites for both the shipping and receiving states. Be wary of online chat groups and similar sites where folks discuss these issues. There can be good info there, but it is unvetted so anything you read you’ll need to confirm. For federal laws, you’ll have to research the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and United States Postal Service sites.
More on that in a bit. Gun stores can also be a good source of information since they routinely ship and receive guns from different states and countries. What gets confusing is trying to determine the difference between shipping a firearm to yourself as opposed to transferring it to another person, or even transferring it to yourself.
In some jurisdictions, they attempt to use the terms interchangeably when, clearly, they have different meanings. The safest bet is involving a Federal Firearms License owner in the process, preferably on the receiving end. For anyone unfamiliar with FFLs, it is a license issued by the federal government to sell firearms to those who are allowed to legally possess them. They can also facilitate transferring ownership of firearms, like when you want to purchase a firearm from another firearm owner, and you need to get it registered in your name. FFL owners are also in the business of shipping firearms.
If that’s the route you choose to go, there are companies that will put you in touch with reputable FFL possessors in the areas where you plan to ship to and from, simplifying the process. There are exceptions to these rules. Many states allow for intrafamilial transfers from out-of-state family members. If that is an option in the state you are shipping to, it may be allowed without an FFL holder being involved.
Surprisingly, I found out that here in liberal California this is actually an option! You submit the necessary paperwork after receiving the firearm to get it registered in your name. It’s a much cheaper solution than paying someone with an FFL to facilitate this.
There isn’t much information available at the various state and federal sites about temporarily shipping a firearm to another state for hunting or sporting purposes, but since no transfer is involved, there shouldn’t be any issues. Shipping a firearm to yourself, as long as it’s legal to possess on the other end, is legal.
(I’m not an attorney, and not giving legal advice, but do your research – it really can be done!) A good rule of thumb is that if you can drive or transport a firearm in your vehicle (unloaded, in the trunk) from one state to another, you are probably OK to ship the firearm.
WHEN IT COMES to carriers, each one has its own set of rules. What came as a surprise to me was that USPS is arguably the best option. They will allow you to ship long guns (rifles and shotguns), but they will not ship handguns. The only issue I found was that they have a 70-pound weight limit. Generally, though, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Firearms need to be sent via registered mail. Federal Express, meanwhile, requires that an FFL be involved in the process, either from one FFL dealer to another FFL, or a non-FFL person shipping to an FFL owner. In other words, a non-licensee cannot ship a firearm to another non-licensee using FedEx. United Parcel Service, more commonly known as UPS, is similar, with the exception that they will ship handguns.
There’s no mention on either vendor’s website regarding shipping your own registered firearm to yourself. As a word of caution, not all shipping locations are equipped to ship guns.
So your neighborhood family-owned UPS franchise may not be up for the task. Generally, with the commercial carriers, you have to go to a major hub or outlet to do this. Shipping is generally by ground, so expect longer wait times for delivery.
Rules for shipping ammunition are similar. Every carrier has specifics about what types of containers need to be used. Obviously, you’re going to want to go with a hardened case with either internal or external locks. USPS recommends shipping the firearm in a box with no markings or indicators that a firearm is located inside.
During my recent experience, I put the gun in a normal locked container. I then placed it in a cardboard box. In actuality, this was a little more difficult than that. I had to take two partially disassembled boxes and basically wrap the cardboard around the hardened case. Once it was done, it looked like anything but a gun case.
Mail theft is a real problem, so making a gun box look inconspicuous is a good idea. Also, have a plan for receiving it, either at a shipping hub (preferred) or at your home or business. One last tip: Record all serial numbers for shipped firearms and take pictures of the weapons themselves, the lockable gun box and the final package with the “nondescript cardboard exterior.”
In the event that your package gets lost in shipping (or stolen), you will have everything you need to file a claim or a police report. The next time you want to ship or transport a firearm, be sure to educate yourself about the dos and don’ts in the process.