How to Buy a Gun Online

by Ryan Cleckner

April 10, 2022



Purchasing firearms online is perfectly legal under federal law!

You read that right – contrary to what some believe, if you can purchase a particular firearm in your local gun store, you can also purchase that same firearm on the internet.

In this article, we’re going to tackle two common questions we are asked (especially by folks who may be new to firearms):

  • Wait… buying guns online is legal? and
  • “How do I buy a gun online?”

You already know the answer to the first question… yes, buying guns online is legal.

For the answer to the second question… read on because we’re going to answer that with this article.


Getting started with, or increasing, your gun ownership by buying a firearm online is easier than you might think – and no, internet gun 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), it is a completely safe process, and often the best way to find a good deal.

To make sure you have a good experience with your firearm 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

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’ll have it shipped to a gun store. They are often referred to as FFL dealers because they have a Federal Firearms License (FFL), which permits 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 where one private seller sells the firearm to another person in a private sale which doesn’t require using a gun dealer. These private gun sales are legal in most states, without using a licensed gun dealer to conduct the transfer process, under state law. Conducting a gun sale online typically requires an FFL dealer under the laws of the United States, so we’re only going to focus on Federal gun laws here. 

Firearm Purchases/Transfers

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 Form 4473 (the firearms transaction record), and satisfying the background check requirements.

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 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 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 through their own law enforcement agencies, 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 – 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’ll 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 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 finding a willing FFL (although usually very easy), and the chance that the FFL may charge too high of a transfer fee, many people are getting their own FFLs. One personal benefit of starting your own firearms business is that guns can be shipped straight to you; no need to rely on another FFL. If you get your FFL at home, you can have guns shipped directly 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. It will also help to understand any particular state laws that might affect what you can purchase, whether it be a long gun like a rifle or shotgun, or whether it is a handgun.

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, they’ll sometimes want to give a 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 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 of our favorites are:

For a more comprehensive list, click HERE or check out our list of the best gun shops for online sales.

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

“Prohibited persons” may not possess firearms or ammunition. It is also unlawful to knowingly give prohibited persons firearms or ammunition. Those restrictions seem straightforward, 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 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 [1]:

  • is a felon,
  • has been convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year in prison (whether they were ever sentenced to, or served, a day in prison),
  • is under indictment for any crime punishable by more than a 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 a prohibited person, 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 possess 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 punishments of 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 they received the punishment or not) by over a year in prison.

Unlawful User of a Controlled Substance

With the recent legalization/decriminalization 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.

Firearms / 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.”[2] In simpler terms, this means that if a projectile (bullet) is shot out of it because of an explosion (gunpowder), 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 possess 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 propellant powder designed for use in any firearm.”[3] 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. 

[1] 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) [2] 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(3) [3] 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(17)(A)

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About Ryan Cleckner

Ryan is a former special operations sniper (1/75 Ranger) and current firearms attorney, firearms industry executive, university lecturer, and bestselling author of the Long Range Shooting Handbook.

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  1. If you’re a gun merchant on Magento or BigCommerce, you can make the process of finding an FFL dealer simple and easy for the customer by installing the Automatic FFL extension. It also gates your checkout so that no guns will be shipped to residential addresses.

  2. Now I know that the laws governing the acquisition of firearms vary depending on the state (some states have additional regulations) and whether it is a private party transaction or a purchase from a gun store or dealer. My dad should know about this before he buys a rifle of some kind because it’s important that what he does is legal. I also think that a [SPAM LINK REMOVED] can help him navigate his way through the thing,

  3. It was interesting when you said that it is required to pass a background check when purchasing a gun. This is a helpful piece of information for my uncle who is interested in finding a gun store where he can buy a pistol and a hunting rifle. It will make sense for him to have proper expectations when it comes to the timeline of the buying process.

    1. I recently purchased a online shotgun from Sportsman’s Warehouse. I Purchased it in Arizona I thinking it was in Arizona shotgun. I purchased and picked it up. I only found out aft I tried to return it that it was California compliant. It did not clearly listed in the ad that it was California compliant. The store mgmt refused to accept my return. Do I not have any gun rights when the ad was misleading?

      1. That’s not a “gun rights” issue but rather an issue with the company and their advertising as it would be with any other product. I’m sorry that happened.

  4. As a gun owner, you’ll no longer have to worry about someone breaking into your home and putting your family’s life in danger. Similarly, you’ll feel prepared if a crisis situation breaks out when you’re in public.

  5. I find it helpful to know that I would need to have the gun I bought online shipped to a local Federal Firearms Licensee for them to perform the background check requirement before giving you the gun. My dad plans on buying antique firearms online to start his gun collection. I’ll share this with him to know he can’t have the guns shipped directly to his house. Thanks.

  6. What is the chances of acquiring the FFL and the Firearm tax if that person can already purchase and own firearms and can pass all requirements with one exception 30yrs ago that person got a misdemeanor marijuana possession at 18 yrs old that didn’t exceed that one year sentence in that state. A Level 8 and or does that apply to all 11 levels for the FFL ?

    1. This is not the answer you’re likely looking for, but it is the best answer I can give:

      If someone can pass all of the requirements but one, then that person doesn’t pass all of the requirements.

      Drug charges are a grey area with the DOJ/ATF when it comes to firearm possession. It can be argued that a past charge does not have anything to do with presently using a controlled substance. However, we have seen issues, depending on the specific state charge, that ban firearm possession forever.

      As absurd as we think this is, you MUST seek out an attorney licensed to practice in the state where the charge is from to help determine if it makes you a prohibited person because, if so, this has greater implications than getting an FFL.

      As far as an FFL goes, there are 9 types of FFLs and each of them have the same background check requirements.

      We wish you luck and hope this works out – let us know if it does!

  7. Can I buy a gun on line and someone else do the transfer, it a gift for my son
    He is 26 and has carry permit (Florida) is this legal?

  8. I was guilty of Menacing and was on Probation for 2 years will that stop me from being able to get a 02 FFF ? Thanks

    1. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a definitive answer. The best thing I can do is to say that if you can legally posses a firearm, then you won’t have an issue with getting an FFL. If you aren’t sure whether you’re a “prohibited person,” please check with an attorney in your state that will be able to help.

      1. In2005 I received a withheld judgment on a procession drug charge. I was given 5 years probation which I completed in 1 year and was given early release because of my fulfilling all requirements without any setbacks. Can I own a gun?

        1. Sorry, if it is unclear to you, you should refer to an attorney in your state for help. Avvo is sometimes a great help for this.

        1. No, sorry, we can not check your background for you. The NICS system can only be used by FFLs as part of an actual firearm transaction.

          However, you can check the list above (in the article) about what a prohibited person is to see if you’d be qualified to posses a firearm.

  9. Left out at what point you need the background check etc. done. Do you have to wait for that when you first choose the FFL, *then* order the gun?

    1. No, the background check will be completed (if needed) at final pickup of the gun (transfer) at the local FFL.

      1. That makes no sense so I pay for all the fees pay for the handgun not knowing if I’m allowed to have it. Did I read that right? So what happens to all my money and my gun if I can’t have it. Is it Xmas for the place I got the gun shipped to

        1. If you suspect that there’s any reason you can’t have it (felon, etc), you should no the purchasing a firearm. If, however, you are not one of the prohibited categories of people, there is no reason to suspect that you aren’t allowed to have it.

          If you don’t complete the transfer, however, you could return it (according to the store’s return policy) or sell it to the local gun shop for them to sell.

  10. It makes sense that some states require extensive background checks in order for you to legally purchase a gun. My uncle is going on a business trip this month and wants to ensure that his wife can defend herself while he is away, but they have no experience when it comes to buying guns. Maybe they should learn how to purchase a gun so that they can find one before my uncle’s trip.

  11. Thanks for explaining that parts of a gun are treated as a firearm. My brother and I are wanting to get more guns so we can take them shooting at our cabin this summer. I’ll be sure to keep looking online and where I can find some good used guns that fit my budget.

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