Many firearm enthusiasts believe that it's impossible to send firearms through the mail. While this is not completely correct, there are many strict regulations that do pose significant hurdles to shipping firearms. In addition to federal laws targeting illegal firearms trafficking, shippers must also comply with applicable state laws, as well as the rules of the carrier.
Because dealers and carriers are responsible for complying with the law, they will often refuse to ship firearms in situations that may technically be legal to avoid unintentionally breaking the law.
The federal laws related to the shipment of firearms were passed under the Interstate Commerce Clause and generally only deal with shipments that cross state lines. Shipments for a new firearm purchase must either originate from or be sent to a licensed dealer, manufacturer, importer, collector, or government agency. All new individually purchased firearms must be transferred through a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer, and the individual must fill out an ATF 4473 form.
Unlicensed individuals may not send firearms across state lines. This includes disassembled firearms that can readily be assembled into an operable firearm. Firearms may be sent directly from an individual to the manufacturer or gunsmith for repair, and they can be sent directly back to the same individual.
US Postal Service
The United States Postal Service has additional regulations on the mailing of firearms. Pistols can only be mailed by a licensed dealer or manufacturer. Long guns, such as the AR-15, can be shipped between non-licensed dealers, but only within the same state. If an unlicensed individual mails a firearm out of state, it must be sent to a licensed dealer, manufacturer, or gunsmith.
The Post Office recommends that firearms be sent by registered mail and reserves the right to inspect them to ensure that they are unloaded and otherwise comply with the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Private carriers such as UPS and FedEx apply even stricter regulations because they are liable if a shipment violates federal or local law. For example, UPS refuses to ship firearms unless the package is sent to or from a licensed dealer. In addition, packages must typically be sent via an expedited service with a signature required on delivery.
State laws often provide the strictest requirements and are the bar to many firearms shipments. States with strict firearm control regulations virtually outlaw firearms shipments except between licensed dealers. In addition, they may hold a carrier responsible for adhering to other laws such as those involving the possession of a firearm. For this reason, dealer and carrier policies may vary widely depending on the destination or origination states.
All new individually purchased firearms must be transferred through a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer, and the individual must fill out an ATF 4473 form.
Unlicensed individuals may not send firearms across state lines.
Within the US Postal Service, long guns, such as the AR-15, can be shipped between non-licensed dealers, but only within the same state.
Private carriers require packages to be sent via an expedited service with a signature required on delivery.