How to Mail Guns (Legally and Without Going to Jail)

Sometimes, you just need to move a firearm from point A to point B.  You want to do it legally, but you also want to do it easily, without a bunch of hassles.

You can do it, but fair warning, mailing a firearm comes with caveats and considerations.  After all, you have to comply with federal, state and local laws, and even those can vary according to what you’re shipping and its ultimate destination.  To make it a bit more challenging, carriers have their own policies as well.

It doesn’t have to be a nightmare, though.  Today, we’re going to talk about what you need to do to legally ship a firearm.  Disclaimer.

Revolver mailbox

Table of Contents

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Federal Firearms License

What does the FFL—Federal Firearms License—have to do with mailing a firearm?

Dealers—individuals who sell, manufacture, import or repair firearms, for example—are required to hold an FFL.  The FFL establishes that the person holding the license operates a legitimate, lawful business registered and in compliance with ATF.

Gun Shop
In other words, an FFL is necessary to run a gun shop.

An FFL not only allows the licensee to operate their firearms-related business but also to ship and receive firearms in accordance with federal, state and local laws.

If you’re curious, fees for an FFL can be as low as $30 for a collector of curios and relics or as high as $3,000 for an importer or manufacturer of destructive devices.  For your typical gun dealer or pawnbroker, the fee is $200.

Shipping Firearms Without an FFL

For those of us who do not hold an FFL but want to mail a firearm, ATF terms us as nonlicensees.  As a nonlicensee under basic federal law, your ability to mail a firearm through the U.S. Postal Service—USPS—without the involvement of an FFL is limited:

  1. You can ship a firearm to yourself in a state where you plan “to hunt or engage in any other lawful activity.”  You must address it to yourself “in care of” the out-of-state resident.  Once it arrives, no one but you can take possession of or open the package, so you must be at the destination to receive it.
  2. You can ship a firearm to another nonlicensed person in your state.  While the post office will allow nonlicensees to mail long guns to other nonlicensees in the same state, it restricts its services for handguns and pistols to FFL holders.  Nonlicensees who want to ship a handgun are limited to contract carriers, which—by the way—require that you ship the gun to or through an FFL holder.
  3. You can ship a firearm to a person in another state only if you ship it to an FFL holder in the destination state.  That is, if you wish to transfer a firearm to a nonlicensee who resides in another state, you must ship the gun to an FFL holder in your recipient’s state.  The FFL holder will release the firearm to the person once they’ve completed the ATF Form 4473 and NICS background check.  Even if you are shipping a gun for repair, if your gunsmith is out-of-state, they must either hold an FFL themselves or receive your gun through someone who does.

Shipping Firearms Responsibly

Federal law allows you to transfer firearms to another person living within your state of residence.  However, the law also stipulates that you cannot knowingly provide a gun to someone who is prohibited from “receiving or possessing” one.

Current federal law prohibits felons, abusers, violent offenders and people suffering from mental illness from possessing guns, and some state laws go further.

In fact, a number of states offer or require some type of background check, permit or license for firearms that in many cases must go through an FFL or state agency.  In some of these cases, no transfer can occur until the firearm recipient supplies proof that they can legally receive the gun.  As with most gun-related issues, states run the gamut.  For example,

  • Maine doesn’t impose restrictions; however, it does task its Department of Public Safety with helping firearms sellers who want to run a background check on prospective buyers do so.
  • Connecticut requires that all long gun transfers must go through a federally licensed dealer complete with a background check.  All handgun transfers must wait for an authorization from the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
  • California mandates that all firearms transfers must go through a licensed dealer, who must complete a background check.  Period.
Background Check Laws by State, Governing.com
Background Check Laws by State, Governing.com

States implementing these types of restrictions include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

In addition, states determine what types of firearms—and ammo—they’ll allow.  States like Georgia, Indiana, or Kentucky impose no state limitations on firearms classified as assault weapons while California, Maryland, and Massachusetts ban certain weapons by feature, and those same states often limit magazine capacities.

As well as complying with all state laws, you’ll need to heed local ones as well.  For example, urban areas battling high crime rates often restrict the types of firearms permitted within their city limits.  Restrictions don’t always go by city either.  In Florida, for example, while the state itself doesn’t require background checks, some counties do.

Ultimately, what you need to do all depends on the exact address of where the firearm is heading.  While sifting through the gritty details can be frustrating, getting it wrong can result in a seized weapon and some really stressful encounters with law enforcement.

Packing a Firearm for Shipping

Laws govern how you must pack a gun for shipping.  The idea is to pack them so that no one has any idea that a gun is what’s inside and so that it arrives safely and intact:

Glock Gen4 21 Packed in Case
A foam lined case like this one is a great start.
  1. Choose a large, strong box with plenty of room for packing material to cushion the firearm.  UPS, for example, mandates new, corrugated packaging that meet its single-wall strength guidelines.
  1. Ensure that the exterior of the box gives no obvious indication of the firearm within.  This is why firearms often arrive as boxes within another box.  Federal law prohibits markings that indicate that the box contains a firearm.  Plus, you don’t want to tempt any potential gun thieves.
CZ box
Slapping a label on here isn’t good enough.
  1. Do not include any ammunition.  Ammunition has its own set of rules, and it must travel as a separate parcel.
  1. Pack the firearm so that it will be secure.  The box should feel solid, with no rattling or shifting.  Shoddily packed rifles have been known to arrive at their destination with the barrel or bolt protruding, with damaged buttstocks or worse, or torn open and at the mercy of strangers and the elements.  Bubble wrap, pool noodles, Styrofoam, sturdy packing paper and wide tape are must-haves.  You should insure the contents, but poor packaging can end up voiding your claim.
Mail Insurance Form
You’ll need to fill out a slip similar to this one.

Shipping a Firearm

A number of carriers ship firearms, and each has its own requirements.  Always check your chosen carrier’s website for the latest policies or changes.  Here are the current policies for the big three—USPS, UPS, and FedEx.  A quick look will confirm that each has its own plan of action.

USPS

USPS Logo

According to the USPS guidelines for nonlicensees, “all regulated firearms must be mailed using a USPS product or Extra Service that provides tracking and signature capture at delivery.”  However, nonlicensed individuals cannot ship handguns or other “firearms capable of being concealed on the person.”  Even if you’re shipping the handgun to an FFL holder, you will have to ship it through a contract carrier.  The USPS will ship handguns only for official government, military and law enforcement agencies.

UPS

UPS

While UPS is often cited as a viable contract carrier for firearms, it isn’t really an option for a nonlicensed person shipping a firearm to another nonlicensed person even if you are shipping in state.  UPS specifies that it accepts packages for transportation only:

  • between FFL holders,
  • from an FFL holder to an individual or
  • from an individual to an FFL holder.

That said, UPS accepts firearms only through a UPS Scheduled Pickup Account or UPS Customer Center.  You must opt for delivery confirmation and an adult signature.  While long guns can travel ground, UPS ships handguns only via UPS Next Day Air® services.  UPS does not offer UPS Returns® Services for firearms.

FedEx

FedEx

FedEx has policies for shipping firearms that are quite similar to those of UPS. FedEx ships firearms between FFL holders and from nonlicensees to FFL holders.  You must select the “Direct Signature Required or Adult Signature Required Delivery Signature Option,” and firearms ship via FedEx’s Priority Overnight services.

DHL

DHL

If you were wondering, DHL ships firearms “only from and to licensed dealers.”  It won’t even ship paintball or pellet gun or gun parts for a nonlicensee, and it won’t include firearms in a move of household goods.

Universal Guidelines

Regardless of which carrier ships your firearm, all require that you:

  • Alert the carrier that your package contains a firearm.
  • Present appropriate personal identification and paperwork.  This includes documentation proving your age as well as your recipient’s suitability or license to receive the firearm.
  • Ship ammunition separately from the firearm.  Ammunition is considered an explosive.
  • Ensure that the firearm is not loaded.  The carrier may request that you open the package to ensure that the weapon is unloaded and that it falls within the shipper’s guidelines.
  • Present your package in person.  You cannot use drop boxes or third-party shipping centers, for example.
  • Include appropriate paperwork if you’re shipping the firearm to an FFL holder.  They will need documentation for their records, which can vary by state and locale.

By the Way

If you’re thinking of shipping a gun disassembled or piecemeal in separate packages to be reunited at the destination, you might want to reconsider.  ATF specifically states that “rendering a firearm unserviceable does not remove it from the definition of an NFA firearm.”  In addition, frames and receivers, as well as mufflers, silencers and destructive devices, are all considered firearms.

SilencerCo Omega .30 Cal in box
You have to be careful when shipping this guy, too.

As for international shipping, according to ATF, that is the realm of FFL holders:

  • “A licensee [without an importer’s license] may make an occasional importation of a firearm for a nonlicensee or for the licensee’s personal use (not for resale).”
  • In most cases, exporting a firearm requires a license issued by the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.
  • Exporting sporting shotguns also requires licensing through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.
  • Exporting NFA firearms requires the approval of an ATF Form 9, Application and Permit for Permanent Exportation of Firearms.

Mailing a Firearm Legally

At first, all the rules and regulations may seem off-putting, but asking questions and following the guidelines will get your firearm where it needs to go.

If your head is spinning, remember that you can always employ an FFL holder on your end to help you ship your firearm. 

Gun store
Most gun stores are happy to serve as a federally licensed recipient for shipped firearms.

They may charge a fee for their services—$25 is an oft-cited figure—but you’re paying for more than simple transportation. You’re paying them to keep the entire transaction legal so that you can continue to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of gun ownership.

Conclusion

Hopefully, that helps!

If you’re ever looking at flying…take a look at our Flying with Firearms guide.

23 Leave a Reply

  • Hassan B

    What shipping companies accept firearms to be shipped overseas? Fedex, DHL & UPS won’t do it. Thanks

    1 second ago
  • Phil Phillips, Jr.

    Just my $.02: I'm not an FFL but ship guns around the country all the time to myself, family, people I sell to, etc. I'm well aware it's not legal and I strongly recommend that no one follow my lead but as long as you pack things carefully - super tight with NO rattling or movement - I'm not sure how anyone can tell what's in the box.

    1 month ago
    • Bobo

      There’s these newfangled machines these days called y-ray or maybe it’s s-ray or something like that, apparently can see thru stuff...

      1 month ago
  • jason schultz

    can some one else drop off my boxed rifles at post office

    1 month ago
  • felipe amoroso

    How can I mail a gun to Brazil?

    3 months ago
  • Alex

    Are there any restrictions for mailing a stock or rifle chassis?

    4 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Nope, anything that isn't the receiver itself is fine to mail normally.

      4 months ago
  • Steve

    You might need to update your info. FedEx will NOT ship a private party (IE from myself, to myself, c/o my brother) weapon. They only ship private party to FFL, or FFL to private party, or FFL to FFL - so I'm told. I showed the FedEx manager the ATF website where it shows that I am legal to do this, but I was told that doesn't matter because they won't do it. People who don't know the law and are unwilling to learn it are beyond my comprehension, and beyond help.

    5 months ago
  • Jacob Warren

    Im thinking about starting a custom holster business, i want the customer to mail me their gun so i can fit it to the holster and then mail the gun back to the customer when I'm done. The customer still has ownership of the gun (not being transferred as a sale), would i still have to go through an ffl or should i be fine since there is no sale? Thank you

    7 months ago
    • William S Grimaldi

      To do this legally you will have to become a FFL. Unless you only accept shipments from in state.

      3 months ago
  • Ruth

    My father passed away and i am in possession of one of his family shotguns from the 1920s. It was my dads intent for the gun go to my nephew. I live in Texas. My nephew is in California. I'm trying to figure out if since the gun is a relic and lawfully would belong to my nephew anyway, how to get him the firearm properly. Any ideas? Can USPS handle or do i have to go to a licensed dealer? The gun isn't a gift from me. The deceased passed 12 years ago and we were waiting for my nephew to get older before giving him the gun my dad intended. I spoke to my nephew and his father. They want the gun. We fly him out often. He's a responsible straight A student and already owns a glock and target shoots often with his cousins, so I have no worries about placing the gun in his custody.

    7 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      You'll need to mail it to an FFL in CA, I would take the shotgun down to an FFL near you and have them send it to CA - any FFL should be able to do it and will normally charge a fee, how much of a fee depends on the FFL.

      7 months ago
  • Turd Fergusen

    I have carried (in checked baggage, of course) firearms on airlines numerous times without incident. Their baggage handlers and security folks are very careful and regimented with the handling of both handguns and long guns. My only suggestion would be that you use a secure means of transporting the firearm, which would be a locked case of some sort. You cannot include it with checked baggage such as your clothing or suitcase. I believe this is a requirement anyway. You can get gasketed foam filled shipping cases relatively cheap these days, and it's something you'll reuse, too.

    8 months ago
  • Matt Longley

    Make sure to add Ship My Gun to the list. That is one of the easiest gun shipping services to use.

    9 months ago
  • Mel

    I just researched all of this. I am a resident of Missouri with a CCW and am traveling to Arizona for the winter. I contacted a FFL dealer in Arizona to accept my firearm when delivered and was told that unless I had a valid Arizona DL I was not able to do that. I had to be a "resident" of Arizona, prove it and go all through their legal requirements to get my firearm back. Glad I checked, now I will just take it on the plane with me.

    10 months ago
  • Laura Knight

    How did you know it's really safe. I don't know the guy I am giving my address to for payment.

    11 months ago
  • Brad

    What are the laws about shipping a gun you own from your home to your new home in another state.

    1 year ago
  • Kalbo

    "frames and receivers ... are all considered firearms." No, they are not. The only part of a firearm that is regulated by the ATF is the receiver; in the case of an AR15, the lower receiver. Everything else are just parts. This is why you find the serial number on the receiver and is not required anyplace else on the firearm.

    1 year ago
    • David

      A handgun "frame" is an FFL item, a rifle's "receiver" is an FFL item. The article is a tad unclear about that, we'll edit it!

      1 year ago
  • Wisteria

    My sister lives in CT. She has a handgun that she purchased inFL when she lived there. Now she wants to “gift” me the handgun. I live in NC and have a CCP. How should she go about sending me the gun?

    1 year ago
  • Art DeMarco

    I thought it was interesting to see how the new gun laws affect the transportation of firearms through the mail. Having someone with an FFL ship your gun seems like a safe, responsible way to get a gun from point a to point b. I'm learning all I can about guns before I purchase one, and this was helpful, thank you.

    1 year ago
  • charles delude

    Would the same rules apply when shipping a handgun for warranty repairs to the manufacturer

    1 year ago
  • Albert

    'Private sales' at "gun shows' do not necessarily require a background check. "Universal background checks" will only work IF and only IF the government knows who owns each and every fire arm. Without 'gun registry' it doesn't work, and that is why the 'statists' want them; back door registration. FFL to FFL is the only way I'd ship a firearm; You can transport it with you when you travel. Just be careful where you end up. NY and NJ are 'no, no' in ANY case. same with CA.

    1 year ago
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