There are many good reasons to purchase a gun online as opposed to from your local dealer, selection and price forefront among them. Purchasing a gun, particularly online, however, is a highly regulated activity, and unfortunately, a few vendors attempt to skirt the law in order to make a quick buck or to avoid limitations set forth by federal or state law. And while it shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to confirm the legality of a particular vendor’s operations, unwittingly purchasing a weapon illegally, while not a crime in and of itself, can cause undue hassle and cost to the purchaser. Consequently, when making an online purchase of a firearm, ammunition, or accessory, it is good practice to know some basic signs that the dealer you’re purchasing from is following the law.
- FFL Purchases: Look for Shipping Restrictions
Firstly, in most states, it is legal to purchase a firearm online, however, these sales should be through an FFL dealer, as well as shipped to an FFL dealer, who will typically charge a fee ($25-$50) for the service of receiving and holding the weapon until collected, and ensuring that the consumer has presented the documentation required to fulfill his local, state and federal’s requirements in regards to permits or licenses for the purchase to be finalized. The same verifications apply in online purchases, as with retail sales. Therefore, the first sign that you’re dealing with a legally operating FFL dealer, is that they will refuse to ship firearms to your home directly, and instead will only ship firearms to the nearest FFL dealer. Generally this is made abundantly clear on the FFL’s website, because they want to be upfront about this requirement.
- FFL Purchases: Look for Pre-Verification and Shipping Inventories
Assuming that your ammunition and firearms are being shipped legally, there are additional requirements that a legally operating FFL who is selling online will do, which you can be on the alert for. The first, is an initial age verification. Although ultimately your local FFL who receives the firearm shipment is responsible for ensuring that the purchase complies with the law, most legally operating online FFL dealers will preemptively check the purchaser’s age and ensure that the purchaser is old enough (21 for handguns, 18 for rifle or shotgun). Secondly, you can also expect shipments will include a separate written notice of the shipment’s contents to provide a written record of the items shipped. Upon picking up the weapon from your local FFL, you’ll be provided with an opportunity to inspect the weapon, and, should you desire, at that time can check to confirm this document accompanied the shipment.
- Non-FFL Purchases: Look for These Signs
With very few exceptions, if you’re buying from an online FFL dealer, then they’re going to know and follow the law, so these indicators as they pertain to FFL dealers are typically more just to confirm suspicions you might otherwise have, or allay any fears. In the context of non-FFL purchases, however, there is quite a bit more activity that falls outside of federal and local law, so it pays to be more diligent here.
If you decide you want to buy from a private collector online, which again there are very good reasons for doing so (price and selection foremost among them), the decision should trigger the desire for a bit more investigation on your part. In general, it’s legal for a non-FFL (e.g. private collector) to sell a firearm online. However, it is generally not legal for that same private collector to ship the weapon across state lines. And while the private collector is not required to conduct a background check as an FFL is through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) clearinghouse, they are legally not permitted to sell to a known felon or other person prohibited from purchasing a firearm.
So, the questions you should be asking yourself in this context are: Does it look like this non-FFL seller is willing to ship across state lines? (if so, he’s probably not following the law). Or, Does it look like this non-FFL seller is intentionally not asking pertinent questions about the customer’s ability to legally purchase a firearm? (if so, he may be technically within the law but certainly skirting it close), and finally, Does it look like this collector or hobbyist, is really a full-time gun dealer? (in which case he is operating illegally without a license).
Obviously, you’re not expected nor required as the consumer to do any extensive due diligence on your gun dealer or vendor prior to making a purchase. That said, given the potential hassles that accompany purchasing a weapon that, unbeknownst to you, was sold illegally, it makes sense to at least give a cursory examination to the seller for signs that they may not be operating within the law, and if so, consider taking your business elsewhere.
About the Author:
Rich McIver is with Soar Payments, a credit card processor for the firearms, ammo and accessories industry. They offer retail, MoTo and ecommerce firearms merchant account. You can also follow the company on their Facebook page.
Notice: Firearm laws, both on a federal and state level are subject to frequent changes and ever-evolving court interpretations. This summary is not intended as legal advice nor a restatement of law. For advice pertaining to your specific situation, contact a licensed local attorney.