I purchase a fair number of firearms, and do so both locally and online. Well, technically they are all local since they go through an FFL dealer, but you know what I mean.
Many people are unfamiliar with purchasing firearms online, but thorough knowledge of the process, law, and common sense can help ensure this is a positive experience.
Why purchase firearms online? First, selection. Most everything can be found online, and often times local shops and “big box” stores do not have the specific models or variants one is seeking. Second, price. I often save $150 – $200 by purchasing online vs. going through local brick & mortar channels. Don’t misunderstand; I am NOT saying that you shouldn’t support your local retailers. They are a vital part of the shooting community in every locale. However, I cannot justify paying $650 + tax for the EXACT same product I just purchased online for $502 (including all shipping and FFL transfer fees). And, all the firearms I purchase online come from the US, of course. Some from distributors, some from small shops in other locations. So before you get on me about not supporting local shops, my response is that I am supporting US firearms businesses, many of which are small mom & pop shops. They just happen to be “local” to someone 300, 500, or 1,200 miles away.
So, how do you purchase a firearm online?
- You MUST go through a licensed dealer, often referred to as an FFL. Let me be clear: the law does NOT dictate that the seller be an FFL; only the person receiving the firearm must be an FFL. For example, Joe Smith in another state can ship a firearm for sale, but it must be shipped to an FFL to handle the transfer. Of course, there are specific regulations around how firearms are shipped and I won’t get into that, but just know they exist. Anyway, many dealers will tell you it’s the law that the shipper must be an FFL. Well, it’s not. It’s their policy. And some of them are even mistaken in the fact that they think it has to be an FFL. But look it up yourself and you’ll see what I mean. However, even if the person on the selling end has an FFL, the receiver of the shipment must be another FFL. Just keep this in mind: you can not just purchase a firearm and have it show up on your doorstep if you are an average citizen with no FFL of any kind (I’m not getting into antiques here; many pre-1898 manufactured guns can be shipped this way. This post deals with the majority of modern firearms).
- Find an FFL in your area. Call around to shops in the phone book and find out if they handle transfers and what their fee is to receive. Fees will vary greatly, but I find plenty of local people who will do it for $20 flat fee; anything more than that is unacceptable to me. Most of the large shops and big box stores will charge more. I have found success by going through the FFL lists on some of the gun auction/classified sites and contacting the individuals listed. As a result, I now have two guys who will do my transfers for $20, and I have a copy of their licenses that I can send to anyone at any time for shipment. It is extremely important that you first make contact with these people and ensure they are okay with handling your transfers. Find out how they send licenses to others and any other pertinent details. And, always ensure they are aware when shipments are coming. Also, if you intend on buying firearms from private individuals, insure your FFL will accept shipments from non-FFLs. While legally they can, many will not due to not being comfortable with this arrangement (likely due to the fact that if it comes from a private person there’s no paper trail before it got to them, but if it comes from another FFL then that dealer had to book it in their inventory first and it reduces liability on the receiving FFL’s end).
- Find what you want to buy. Either go through a webpage for a gun store/distributor that sells online, or you can buy via auction through places such as Gunbroker.com or Auctionarms.com. There are also classified sites such as GunsAmerica.com. The BEST deals I have gotten are off the auction sites. However, just like any auction site (such as E-bay, etc.), use common sense. I only purchase from sellers with a long history of good feedback and you should always read the fine print. I never purchase without detailed pictures. And, if I’m buying off a classified listing on an internet forum, I ensure the seller is a long standing active member with past successful transactions. I also typically make contact with the seller first to see how responsive they are and to ensure they can provide details about what they are selling. There is never a guarantee that you’ll never be scammed so if you’re not into auction sites or online sales in general, that’s your choice. But I have never been scammed with an online purchase and have purchased and sold many firearms on Gunbroker.com, AuctionArms.com, etc.
- Send payment to the seller along with a copy of your FFL’s license; if you are buying from an out of state source, you don’t have to pay sales tax! Note that many FFLs will only send their license directly to the seller, so they may want to fax or e-mail it themselves. Once payment and the copy of the FFL is received, the seller should ship the package. I always ask that seller to provide me with a package tracking number.
- When the firearm arrives, your FFL will need you to complete the necessary paperwork and they will need to make a background check call to the FBI NICS line to ensure you are approved to purchase firearms. Note that if you are not, you WILL NOT be able to take possession of the firearm. It’s up to you too know if you have a clean record.
- If your state has a waiting period, you’ll need to wait to pick up your firearm. If not, then you can take it at that time. Note that some states, including mine, have specific licensing requirements to purchase firearms (Example: Illinois has the FOID card, which is a license that is required for anyone to own or purchase firearms or ammunition; you can’t even hold a firearm in a store without a FOID in Illinois). Know your local and state regulations first.
Purchasing firearms online is a great way to open your options for both price and selection, just like with any other product. Just know that an FFL must receive the firearm, and all federal and state regulations must be followed. Line up your FFL first before buying and understand their policies and fees.
Some of the sites and sources I have used successfully are:
Bud’s Gun Shop online is also a popular choice and they typically have good prices, but I have never used then. I also hear good things about Jet Guns, J&G Sales, and Palmetto State Armory, but again I have not used them so can’t comment about them from first hand experience.