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This page was last updated: November 7, 2009
Specialized Information on Firearms Shipping.
Firearms shipping laws, in and of themselves, are surprisingly straightforward. According to Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the bureau of the Treasury Department that regulates the nation's firearms trade, they boil down to this:
1) You can't mail handguns. You must send them via a private carrier, such as UPS or FedEx.
2) You can send long guns-- rifles and shotguns-- via the Postal Service or a private shipper.
3) You are required to tell the shipper that there's a gun in the package.
4) Neither you nor the shippers can label or mark the package in any way or fashion as containing a gun.
5) You can send and receive gun parts with no restrictions. As long as the parts don't add up to a complete gun (or a receiver, which in the eyes of the law is a complete gun), you can send and receive a barrel, a firing pin, grips or other components in any manner your preferences and pocketbook dictate.
6) You can send a gun to any resident of your own state, whether or not that person is a federal licensee (gun dealer, manufacturer, collector, gunsmith or importer). Outside your state, you can send the gun only to a licensee. The instate/out-of-state distinction is made, an ATF spokesman says, because: "The Treasury Department's authority in these matters is derived from the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution." If a gun doesn't move across a state line, it's not interstate commerce.
7) Military and law-enforcement personnel acting in their official capacities have a slightly different set of laws to follow.
Postal Service: Handguns cannot be mailed; they must be delivered by a private shipper. You can send a long gun to any resident of your own state, but only to a federal licensee out of state. USPS recommends, but does not require, sending guns by registered mail, its most secure option. Packages cannot contain any markings that would identify the contents as a gun.
UPS: Handguns and long guns are accepted for shipment, but only for repair, replacement or customization, i.e. warranty service or gunsmithing. Handguns must be sent via Next Day Air. Long guns can still be sent via ground service. Either sender or recipient must be federally licensed; no private party to private party. All guns must be sent from a UPS Customer Counter. The Authorized Shipping Outlets found in strip malls, supermarkets and shopping centers nationwide (the pack 'n' ships) are prohibited from accepting guns because UPS interprets the federal gun laws as requiring an actual UPS employee to accept the package, and the Authorized Outlets are independently owned and operated. No guns are accepted in unstaffed drop boxes. You cannot mark or label your package as containing firearms. UPS stamps all packages "Adult Signature Required," mandating that an adult sign for the shipment.
FedEx: Handguns and long guns are accepted for shipment. All must be shipped Priority Air Overnight. FedEx has always handled guns via air because it began as an air-freight company and only added ground service two years ago, when it purchased a ground shipper. Either sender or recipient must be federally licensed; no private party to private party. Guns are accepted at any staffed office or station that handles FedEx shipments, including the independently owned and operated pack 'n' ships. Guns are not accepted in unstaffed drop boxes. Guns must not be capable of firing; you must remove the firing pin, disconnect the barrel or otherwise render the weapon inoperable. You cannot mark or label your package as containing firearms, and names readily identified with guns--Glock, Winchester, Smith & Wesson, what have you-- must be abbreviated or otherwise disguised, i.e. "G.I." for "Glock Inc." FedEx requires an adult to sign for the shipment.
Gun Dealers: You can legally bring your handgun or long gun to any licensed dealer and ask him to ship it for you. Whether the dealer will agree, though, is another matter. Some will; some won't. A random call-around in the Chicago area showed an even split among those who wouldn't handle private shipments at all, those who handle them only for customers and those who handle them for anyone.
Typical is the policy of one large dealer in the Chicago suburbs. "Sure, we can handle it, no problem," said Connie Roe, who, with husband John, owns J,R. Shooting Sports of Naperville, Ill. "We started offering the service for our customers, but we'll do it for anyone."
J.R. charges the actual cost of air shipping and insurance via FedEx or UPS, plus $20 to $25 (depending on packaging and padding requirements) for staff time, storage, customer notification of the weapon's arrival and the ATF-required paperwork.
A Field Guide To Shipping Firearms
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