THIS ARTICLE IS JUST ONE PART OF A BIGGER SERIES:
GUN 101: GETTING STARTED WITH FIREARMS
To be fair, the question we actually hear first is: Wait… buying guns online is legal? Yes, online firearm sales can be perfectly safe and legal.
Buying a gun online is easier than you might think – and no, online firearm sales are not some sort of “loophole” for criminals, Instead, purchasing a gun online is completely legal under federal law (some state/local laws have extra regulations) and it is a completely safe process.
To make sure you have a good transaction, we’re going to walk you through the steps to buying a gun online (the right way).
In this article on how to buy a gun online, we’re going to cover:
- How to Buy a Gun Online (The Rules)
- Steps to Buying a Gun Online
HOW TO BUY A GUN ONLINE
Before we talk about how to buy a firearm online, let’s first take a brief look at the federal requirements on how firearms are purchased (in-store or online).
These firearm purchase rules differ from state to state (some states have extra firearm purchase requirements) and whether the purchase is from a gun store/dealer or a private party transaction.
If you’re buying a gun online, you’re going to have the firearm shipped to a gun store/Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL) for them to satisfy the background check requirements and transfer the gun to you in person. Therefore, we’re not going to cover private-party sales here.
When buying a gun from an FFL, you’ll need to have the firearm “transferred” to you via an FFL Transfer.
A transfer occurs by you filling out an ATF form, called the Form 4473, and satisfying the background check requirements.
The Form 4473 requires information about the identity of the purchaser and it requires answers to a series of questions to ensure that you are not a prohibited person.
Firearm Background Checks
Upon completing the Form 4473, you must satisfy the background check requirements. Typically, this means that the FFL will conduct a federal background check on you through the federal National Instant Criminal Check System (NICS).
However, some states have some different requirements. For example, some states have extra forms/processes that must be followed (we’re looking at you, California), some states use their own background check system, and some states allow for the possession of a valid Concealed Weapons Permit to satisfy the background check requirements.
To learn more about federal vs state background checks for firearms and which states allow CCWs, check out this article: Federal Background Checks for Firearms
STEPS TO BUYING A GUN ONLINE
So, you’re ready for an online firearm purchase? Awesome!
Here are the steps to buying guns online:
- Step 1 – Find an FFL
- Step 2 – Arrange the Firearm Transfer
- Step 3 – Purchase the Gun Online
- Step 4 – Coordinate the Firearm Transfer
- Step 5 – Pick up Your Online Gun Purchase
STEP 1 – CHOOSE AN FFL IN YOUR STATE
The first step to purchasing a gun online is finding a willing FFL in your area!
Trust us, we know that you just got done reading one of our gun reviews and can’t wait to buy your gun online, but it’ll help if you already know where you’re going to have the gun sent (and how much it might cost you).
You need to confirm that the local FFL is willing to accept transfers shipped in to you. Some FFLs don’t like this because they see online gun sales as competition.
However, most FFLs also charge a fee for their time and service. So, they should see it as extra money that they may not have had otherwise, but some don’t.
Because of potential issues of finding a willing FFL (usually very easy) and the chance that the FFL may charge too high fo a transfer fee, many people are getting their own FFLs so that guns can be shipped straight to them and they don’t need to rely on another FFL. If you get your FFL at home, you can have the gun shipped straight to your house.
You can buy the firearm online first, but it’ll help during the checkout process to know where to ship the online firearm purchase.
STEP 2 – ARRANGE THE FIREARM TRANSFER
Once you’ve confirmed that the FFL is willing to accept the online firearm for transfer to you and you are ok with the fees, you should arrange the transfer.
This is done by simply letting the FFL know that you plan to purchase a gun online and have it shipped to them. Give them your contact information so that they know how to get a hold of you once the gun comes in.
Often, they’ll give you a copy of their FFL to use. However, sometimes, they will want to give the copy of their FFL directly to the online gun store.
Even better, online gun sales are so common that the online firearm retailer might already have a copy of your local FFL’s license.
STEP 3 – PURCHASE THE GUN ONLINE
After you’ve researched the gun you’re looking to purchase online, purchase the firearm and arrange for it to be shipped to the FFL you chose.
We recommend only dealing with reputable online firearm retailers.
Some our favorites are:
STEP 4 – COORDINATE THE TRANSFER FROM THE ONLINE STORE TO THE FFL
During the online checkout process, or sometimes shortly after via email, you’ll need to confirm that the store that you bought the gun from has a copy of the FFL to where they’ll be shipping your firearm.
Also, let the local FFL know which gun you purchased and from where so that they know to keep an eye out for it and give you a call once it arrives.
STEP 5 – PICK UP ONLINE FIREARM PURCHASE FROM FFL
The gun that you purchased online arrived at your local gun store!
It’s time to go to the gun store and have it transferred to you. Make sure that you bring a government -issued photo ID with your picture and current address.
If you’d like to learn about some more topics for those new to guns, check out our main guide: Gun 101 – Beginner’s Guide to Firearms
“Prohibited persons” may not possess firearms or ammunition. It is also unlawful to knowingly give a prohibited person firearms or ammunition. Those restrictions seems straight-forward, but there are unique definitions and exceptions that apply. These details should be understood so that you know exactly who is a prohibited person and precisely what they are prohibited from possessing.
Below, you’ll find a discussion of who is a prohibited person, what prohibited persons are prevented from possessing, and what to do if you are a prohibited person.
WHO IS A PROHIBITED PERSON?
The definition of who is a prohibited person includes many categories of people. The definition of a “prohibited person” is included below. Some of the categories, like “felons,” are simple. If someone is a felon, then they are prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition. Other categories, however, aren’t so clear and have specific details which are included below.
A “prohibited person” is anyone who :
- is a felon,
- has been convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year in prison (whether or not they were ever sentenced to or served a day in prison),
- is under indictment for any crime punishable by more than year in prison,
- is a fugitive,
- is an unlawful user of any controlled substance,
- has been adjudicated as a mental defective,
- has been committed to a mental institution,
- is an illegal alien,
- has a dishonorable discharge from the military,
- has renounced their U.S. citizenship,
- is the subject of a restraining order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner, or
- who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
Domestic Violence / Restraining Orders
Most of the questions I receive about firearm possession by prohibited persons concern restraining orders or domestic violence charges. Unfortunately, some people have restraining orders against them even though they’ve never done anything wrong. If the restraining order is to prevent the harassment, stalking, or threatening of an intimate partner or their child, then the subject of the restraining order is a prohibited person and may not possess firearms while the restraining order is in effect. It is important to note that an “intimate partner” does not need to be from a long-term relationship. Also, if there has been any conviction based on domestic violence, then the convicted person may not posses firearms. To see a detailed definition of what is considered a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, and exceptions to the prohibition, see the ATF’s guide on the topic
Felons / Misdemeanors Punishable by Over a Year in Prison
Generally, crimes punishable by over a year in prison are felonies. All felons are prohibited persons. However, there are some misdemeanors that can have a punishment over a year in prison – especially repeat offenses. This can be tricky. For example, if a person has been convicted of a misdemeanor that has a listed punishment of 1 – 14 months in prison and the person’s sentence didn’t include any jail time, then they are still a prohibited person because they were convicted of a crime that was punishable (whether or not they received the punishment) by over a year in prison.
Unlawful User of a Controlled Substance
With the recent legalization/de-criminalization of marijuana in some states, the use of a controlled substance part of the prohibited person definition is going to become a bigger issue. Remember, just because your state may allow you to smoke marijuana, the federal government doesn’t (yet). Use of marijuana, although not unlawful at the state level, may still make you a prohibited person. Be careful.
FIREAMS / GUNS
It is important to note that this is the federal definition only – some states have stricter definitions on what firearms are and who is prohibited from possessing them. The basic definition of a firearm is: “any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” In simpler terms, this means that if a projectile (bullet) is shot out of it because of an explosion (gun powder), then the object is a firearm.
It is not just the complete gun that counts as a firearm – the frame or receiver (or any object that can be readily converted into a frame or receiver) is also considered to be a firearm even though it can’t fire a projectile by itself. Be careful here – this means that certain parts of a gun are treated as if they were complete firearms / guns.
Also, silencers and “destructive devices” (grenades, explosive projectiles, etc.) are included in the federal definition of a firearm. These additional parts of the definition aren’t worth discussing in this guide, however, because if you are not permitted to possess a shotgun, you clearly aren’t allowed to posses silencers and grenades.
There are some exceptions to this definition. For example, black powder / muzzle-loading firearms aren’t technically “firearms” within the definition of federal law because they are exempted as “antique” firearms even though they may have been manufactured yesterday. Air rifles (pellet guns, BB guns, etc.) are not firearms under federal law because they fire a projectile with compressed air and not an explosion. Be careful with air rifles – some states define them as firearms.
The term “‘ammunition’ means ammunition or cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellent powder designed for use in any firearm.” This means that every part of a cartridge of ammunition is considered “ammunition.” Therefore, if a prohibited person is in possession of just an empty shell casing, then they can be in trouble. This is a likely area for trouble. A prohibited person likely knows to get rid of their guns, but they may forget to get rid of all of their ammunition as well.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE A PROHIBITED PERSON
If you are a prohibited person, stay away from firearms for as long as you remain a prohibited person.
Possession of a firearm is enough to get you into trouble – it doesn’t have to be your firearm. Also, be extremely careful near firearms even if you’re not physically holding one.
Depending on the situation, having access to a nearby firearm might be enough to get you into trouble. If you want to regain your right to possess a firearm, you should contact an attorney in the state where the event happened that keeps you from possessing firearms.
You may be able to overturn your status as a prohibited person. It is rare, but it can happen.
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