How to ship a gun legally and safely (the ultimate guide)

Americans ship guns across the United States every day. However, a gun shipment is not like an ordinary shipment. Learn about the important details of shipping a gun, and follow our checklist to ensure you ship your gun without any mistakes.

How to ship a gun legally and safely (the ultimate guide)

After you sell a gun online, you usually need to ship it to the buyer. Unfortunately, shipping firearms is more complicated than an ordinary shipment.  There are several factors you must consider:

Below, we’ll look at everything you need to consider when shipping a gun.  At the end we give you a checklist you can follow for your next shipment.

Is an FFL required to receive a gun shipment?

An FFL is a "Federal Firearms License" holder.  An FFL might be a gun store, pawn shop, gunsmith, or even just a hobbyist who got federally licensed.  Any of them have the authority to receive a gun shipment and formally "transfer" a gun to a buyer.  But is it required that an FFL receive a gun shipment?  Generally yes.

Federal law generally requires that guns are shipped to a receiving FFL.  (GunTab always requires it, regardless of any exceptions to the federal law.)  Here is how the BATF describes the federal requirement:

Generally, for a person to lawfully transfer a firearm to an unlicensed person who resides out of state, the firearm must be shipped to a federal firearms licensee (FFL) within the transferee’s state of residence. The transferee may then receive the firearm from the FFL upon completion of an ATF Form 4473 and a NICS background check.

The receiving FFL is basically a legally-required middleman who performs this formal "transfer" process.

Is an FFL required to ship a gun?

Must another FFL be the one to send the shipment to the receiving FFL?  In other words, do gun shipments require a different FFL on each end?  Generally yes, depending on the type of gun and the receiving FFL.

Shipping carriers have different policies for different types of guns:

  • Handguns (and frames): Shipping carriers do not accept handgun shipments from "nonlicensees". They all require handguns to be shipped by an FFL.
  • Rifles and shotguns (and lowers): Only USPS accepts accepts long gun shipments from "nonlicensees". FedEx, UPS, and DHL all require long guns to be shipped by an FFL.
  • NFA guns (and suppressors): All carriers require NFA items to be shipped by an FFL.

So if you don't possess a federal firearms license, you're only allowed to ship a gun if you're shipping a long gun through USPS. Otherwise you need to ask a local FFL to ship the gun for you. And even if you're shipping a long gun through USPS, there can be additional restrictions.

Although federal law does not prohibit ordinary Americans from shipping a gun to an FFL, some FFLs only accept gun shipments from other FFLs.  They want to be certain all the paperwork is done properly.  So if you don't have an FFL, you should confirm the receiving FFL will accept your shipment.  (GunTab handles this by helping the buyer find a local FFL and requiring the buyer to confirm this FFL will accept a shipment from a non-FFL.)

Even when you don't need to ask an FFL to ship your gun for you, many people prefer to.  Again, it's a matter of wanting to be absolutely certain any paperwork is done properly.  Be aware that an FFL will generally charge a transfer fee of somewhere between $25 and $50 to ship your gun.  But, on the upside, FFLs are usually entitled to cheaper shipping so you might save some money on that side of the equation.

If you’re looking for an FFL for sending or receiving a gun shipment, GunTab's FFL search is the best in the industry.

Do I need a copy of the receiving FFL license?

Federal law requires that any FFL sending a gun first get a copy of the license of the receiving FFL before shipping.  However, there is no such requirement for non-FFLs (ordinary people).

It is a common misconception that non-FFLs must get a copy of the receiving FFL's license before shipping.  (Even GunBroker perpetuates this myth.)  This misconception is so widespread that many FFLs either believe it themselves, or play along to save the hassle of explaining that it's incorrect.  You can read the law or see one of many forum posts to learn more.

Regardless of whether you have an FFL, it's always a good idea for you to confirm the receiving FFL's information in FFL eZ Check before you send a shipment.  (GunTab does this for you.)  It's much more reliable and up-to-date than a "certified copy of the transferee's license", which is easily fabricated.  

Are there special paperwork requirements when shipping a gun?

Again, it depends.  Some receiving FFLs have special paperwork requirements.  These might be unique to their specific operation, or might be required by their state.  So again the solution is to ask the receiving FFL before you ship: what paperwork do they expect you to provide?

Watch out for California in particular.  California requires a separate Firearms Shipment Approval letter for every shipment that contains a firearm.  The receiving FFL will be able to help guide you.

Do shipping carriers have special rules about firearms?

Yes, all the major carriers place significant restrictions on gun shipments. Generally, shipping guns is either completely prohibited or restricted to FFLs:

  • DHL will not ship firearms. See the DHL policy.
  • FedEx will not ship firearms unless you have an FFL. It requires overnight shipping. See the FedEx policy.
  • UPS will not ship firearms unless you have an FFL. It requires overnight shipping. See the UPS policy.
  • USPS will not ship handguns unless you have an FFL, but will ship long guns. See the USPS policy.

Checklist for shipping a gun

Follow this checklist to help ensure you are shipping your gun legally and safely:

  1. Do NOT ship any guns except long guns, and only via USPS. For everything else, take it to a local FFL so they can ship it for you.
  2. Do NOT ship a gun if you are prohibited from possessing it.  See the BATF guidance to learn more.
  3. DO contact the receiving FFL to confirm they are willing to receive this shipment from you, and to ask what paperwork they expect from you.
  4. DO confirm the receiving FFL's address using FFL eZ Check.
  5. DO make certain the gun is completely unloaded before you package it for shipment.  Triple-check.
  6. Do NOT include ammunition in the same shipment as a gun.  (Federal law prohibits this.)
  7. DO package the gun for shipment in a clean, sturdy cardboard box or a hard case.  Be certain to include adequate padding.  When you’re done, you should be able to shake the box without any movement inside the box.  (You are financially responsible if items are damaged in transit, so proper packaging is a way to protect yourself.)
  8. DO print the packing slip (or some other order information) and put it inside box.  This documentation must clearly state who the buyer is.
  9. DO put a copy of the appropriate government ID inside the box.  If you have a Federal Firearms License (FFL), or someone with an FFL is shipping on your behalf, put a copy of that FFL in the box.  Otherwise, put a copy of your government-issued photo ID (like a driver's license) in the box.
  10. Do NOT label the box as containing a firearm.  (Federal law prohibits markings, and anonymity helps prevent theft.)
  11. Do NOT put the package in a carrier drop box or give it to a third-party.  Only take the package to an official carrier location where you hand it to a carrier representative.
  12. Do NOT ship a handgun via USPS unless you have an FFL.  (Federal law prohibits this.)
  13. DO inform the carrier representative that the package contains a firearm.  (Federal law requires this.)
  14. DO ask for the "signature required" option on delivery.
  15. DO be prepared to pay for one of the shipping services allowed for your firearm. (Carriers generally restrict firearm shipments to their more expensive services.)
  16. DO purchase shipping insurance. (You are financially responsible if items are damaged in transit, so insurance allows you to recover any loss from the carrier.)
  17. DO provide the tracking number to the buyer as soon as possible.

GunTab helps keep you safe

If you care about shipping safely, then you probably care about making your whole transaction safe.  GunTab is "the PayPal for guns" and guarantees both sides are safe in every transaction. It's the safest, easiest way to handle your firearm transactions. It's free to open an account, try it now.

Disclaimer: This post is provided without any guarantees and does not represent legal advice. Use at your own risk.