By Dan Kidder
From time to time, we need to ship a firearm. Whether it is because we are traveling a great distance to hunt and the cost of shipping is less than the airline’s extra bag fee, or because we need to send a gun to be repaired or to a gunsmith. Whatever the reason, there are some things you need to be aware of when shipping a gun that you wouldn’t need to consider if you were shipping a sweater.
Recently we shipped a Pro Membership winner a Winchester SX4 shotgun to the Reno, NV Sportsman’s Warehouse so he could go pick it up and do all the legal stuff. The UPS driver just set this firearm on the closed loading dock and drove off without letting anyone in the open store know about it. A couple of hours later a person on a bicycle rode by, saw the box, opened it, and rode off with this valuable shotgun. My mistake was improperly navigating the UPS website, and though I thought I had added insurance, as I normally do when shipping a gun worth more than a thousand bucks, I had failed to.
The subsequent investigation told me a few things. This was likely a setup between the driver and the thief, and UPS doesn’t care about you or your package. They only care about the money they get from you. So, here are some things to be wary of when shipping a gun.
First, it is important to ship it to the proper person. When shipping a firearm, you need to deal with both federal and state laws. If you are shipping the gun to yourself, in most states you can ship it to yourself at a hotel or a home where you will be receiving it. Do not ship it to your buddy at that address. It must be shipped to your name. Federal law states that you may ship it to yourself to a location where you will be hunting or engaged in other lawful activities. The gun must be legal to possess in the state where you are shipping it. If you are shipping it to a buddy in another state to affect a transfer of ownership, you are required by federal law to ship it to a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder, where they will log it in, and then your buddy must come and fill out an ATF form 4473 to complete the transfer. They will run a background check and charge a transfer fee. There is an exception to shipping a gun to a non-FFL in another state, and that is if they inherit the gun as part of a will or estate. The ATF lists this exception on their website: “Another exception is provided for transfers of firearms to nonresidents to carry out a lawful bequest or acquisition by intestate succession. This exception would authorize the transfer of a firearm to a nonresident who inherits a firearm under a will or by State law upon death of the owner.”
Next, there are limits on the types of guns that may be shipped and each shipping company has different rules. UPS will allow you to ship both rifles and handguns, but not machine guns. The US Postal Service will only allow rifles and shotguns to be shipped. FedEx will allow any types of guns to be shipped so long as they are shipped to the appropriate person. None of them will ship firearms internationally, unless you have an FFL.
You also need to ensure the legality of the gun you are shipping. Just because the gun you are shipping is legal in your state does not necessarily mean it is legal in the state you are shipping it to. Some states have lists of approved firearms that meet certain requirements like the ability to accept a magazine that holds more than a prescribed number of rounds. They also may require an external safety or prohibit certain cosmetic features. Other states require the person you are shipping the gun to have a state firearms owners ID card that permits them to possess a firearm and/or ammunition.
“Another exception is provided for transfers of firearms to nonresidents to carry out a lawful bequest or acquisition by intestate succession. This exception would authorize the transfer of a firearm to a nonresident who inherits a firearm under a will or by State law upon death of the owner.”
--18 U.S.C. 922(a)(5)
It is important to understand that each shipping carrier has different rules on how they must be shipped. Generally speaking, they want them in a case or box inside of a plain cardboard box that does not tell anyone that they contain a firearm. They should have no markings indicating that a gun is inside and even the label should not make this obvious. Many gun companies will abbreviate their name so that it is not obvious. If you are shipping a gun to a manufacturer for a warranty repair, check with that manufacturer on how they would like the label to read and also to get an RMA number so they can track the package back to you. The Post Office may ask you to open the package when dropping it off and sign a certification that it is unloaded. UPS will only accept drop offs at their service center or you can request a pick up. They will not accept firearms at the UPS Stores. Most will require that you have tracking and require an adult signature on delivery. UPS requires handguns to be shipped overnight air. Each shipper has detailed instructions on their website or they can answer your questions if you contact a service center.
Next, make sure you insure it. I thought I had insured it, but it turns out I messed up on the website. I have shipped hundreds of guns, and of course the one time I mess up, the gun gets stolen in transit. Guns are expensive, and you want to get your replacement cost back. This will add a bit to the cost but is much cheaper than replacing the gun. Shippers also take better care when delivering insured packages, as they are now on the hook for the value of the item.
Most states allow an individual to ship a gun to an FFL in another state. However, some of the usual suspects like California, Illinois, New York, etc., require the gun to be shipped from an FFL to another FFL in that state. The still free states only require a copy of your driver’s license to be sent to the FFL you are shipping to. So, if you are shipping to one of these more restrictive states, you will need to take the gun to a local FFL, pay the shipping cost and a handling fee for the FFL to ship the gun for you. However you do it, make sure you include a copy of your driver’s license and a letter telling the receiving party what to do with the gun.
And finally, not all parts are the same. The federal government classifies only certain gun parts as a firearm. As a result, you can ship the majority of the gun without any restriction, so long as all the shipped parts cannot be reassembled into a working firearm. Typically, the part that is considered a gun will be stamped with the serial number and be part of the action, except for an AR-style firearm, then it is the lower receiver. If you are doing a warrantee the manufacturer has an FFL, and you would treat that shipment just as if you are shipping to a dealer.
Lastly, there are a few carve out exceptions for older firearms being shipped to a collector or a museum. These are a category of guns called a curio or relic and fall under a special license called a C&R. If shipping to a C&R holder, you may ship just as if you were shipping to an FFL, so long as the firearm meets the requirements. The requirements for a C&R gun are that the gun was manufactured at least 50 years ago, is certified as a collectible by a firearms museum, or contains some other feature or design that otherwise makes it rare and collectible. Replicas of antique guns do not qualify.
"May a nonlicensee ship firearms interstate for his or her use in hunting or other lawful activity? Yes. A person may ship a firearm to him or herself in care of another person in the state where he or she intends to hunt or engage in any other lawful activity. The package should be addressed to the owner “in the care of” the out–of–state resident. Upon reaching its destination, persons other than the owner may not open the package or take possession of the firearm." -BATFE Website - atf.gov•
While we are still very displeased with UPS and will be looking for other options in the future, we are told by the many FFLs that we deal with daily that all of the shippers are careless with handling guns. The number one source of guns used in violent crime is stolen firearms and it seems the best place to steal a gun is from a careless and sloppy shipper in transit. If the gun control crowd wanted to make a real impact on violent crime, it seems that holding shippers to a higher level of accountability would be a great place to start.
If you have a gun go missing in shipping, you must report it to the ATF using ATF form 3310.6. Local police will only take a report in person, and it's supposed to be the job of the shipping company to file that report. In the case of our missing shotgun, I could never get confirmation that a police report was filed with the Reno Police Department. If you get the runaround from your shipping company like I did, I suggest having the person to whom you shipped the gun file a report. For that and the ATF you will need the firearm make and model, as well as the serial number. It is a good idea to keep a record of all of these things before shipping. They will not only help create a record of the stolen firearm, but they may be needed to asses value for insurance replacement.
Every state has different rules about shipping firearms and transferring guns, so if you have any doubt about state law, contact the state attorney general’s office and they should be able to help you navigate the minefield of local gun laws that may apply. If you are looking to buy a gun as a gift for a loved one, a gift card may be the better option as it prevents you from inadvertently getting yourself into legal hot water. And if you are ever in doubt about the law or shipping policy, ask the shipper. As a general rule, if you are shipping to an address in another state, you need to ship to an FFL. There are a few exceptions for law enforcement and active duty military, but most regular folks don’t fall into those categories. Insure it, register it, track it, and follow the shipper’s guidelines and only send it to the right person and you will soon be shipping guns like a pro. And as you have seen, even pros make expensive mistakes.