Shipping Firearms Guide [2021] How to Ship a Gun

by Ryan Cleckner

January 17, 2021

11 comments

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There are two main reasons people ship firearms:

  1. Sales or repairs, and
  2. Travelling

If you’ve sold a firearm, there’s a good chance you’ll need to ship it to the purchaser. Or, you may need to ship a firearm back to a manufacturer for repairs.

When traveling, we cover how to fly with a firearm but it is sometimes easier to ship the firearm to yourself. As long as it is your firearm and it is not prohibited by local laws where you’re traveling, it is legal to ship a firearm to yourself (even across state lines).

Regardless of why you’re looking into sending a gun to another destination, there are specific rules you must follow and a few tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way.

In this guide on how to ship a firearm, we’re going to cover:

  • Shipping Firearms
  • How to Ship a Gun
  • Shipping Firearms to Yourself
  • Tips and Tricks for Shipping Firearms

SHIPPING FIREARMS

Shipping firearms may seem complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

There are federal laws and individual rules by different shipping companies that will determine how you do it.

The federal laws for mailing guns depend a bit on whether the gun is being shipped within your home state or out-of-state. There are also rules set by each shipping entity (US Mail, FedEx, UPS, etc.) that you’ll need to follow.

FIREARM SHIPMENTS ACROSS STATE LINES

If you’re going to ship a firearm interstate, that is, from one state to another, you need to use a Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL).

The federal government, specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), regulates all interstate transfers of firearms. A transfer of a firearm is a change in possession of a firearm from one individual to another (or company). When this change in possession crosses state lines, the feds get involved.

Whether you’re a gun-owning individual or you have your own FFL, if the destination of a firearm is to another person or company in another state, then you MUST ship the firearm to an FFL in the destination state.

From there, the recipient can then appear in-person at that FFL and have the firearm transferred to them.

Note, there’s a difference if you’re shipping the firearm to yourself. More on this below.

FIREARM SHIPMENTS IN YOUR OWN STATE

Under federal law, an FFL is not required if you are shipping a firearm within your own state.

As the firearm is not crossing state lines, the ATF does not regulate the transfer – even if you are shipping the firearm to someone else.

However, even though it is legal under federal law (your state’s laws may vary), we always recommend using an FFL as your destination when shipping a firearm because there are too many things that can go wrong.

CARRIER’S RULES REGARDING SHIPPING FIREARMS

Depending on which carrier you use, US Mail (USPS), FedEx, or UPS, there are extra rules you’ll need to follow if your shipment contains a firearm.

When it comes to the USPS, their rules are technically laws (or regulations) because it is the federal government. However, with Federal Express (FedEx) and the United Parcel Service (UPS), their rules are company rules. Although they aren’t laws, if you want to use their services you’ll have to follow their rules. Also, shipping any item in violation of their rules could be a crime.

We’ll cover each shipper’s rules in detail below but will summarize them here. Be sure to check the full instructions for each method of shipping.

Shipping Guns by US Mail:

Long-guns, rifles and shotguns, are the only firearms that can be shipped via US Mail by non-FFLs. If you have an FFL, however, you can ship handguns.

When it comes to shipping guns, the US Mail is our favorite service. Their rates are often the best and their insurance is, believe it or not, the easiest to work with.

Shipping Guns by UPS:

UPS company rules require that the shipper and receiver must be an FFL if you’re using the “UPS Store.” If you’d like to use the UPS Store and you’re not an FFL yourself, we recommend going in to a local FFL and asking them to ship your firearm for you.

However, you can use a UPS for shipping a firearm to an FFL as long as you don’t use a “UPS Store”

Shipping Guns by FedEx:

Non-FFLs may ship firearms with FedEx as long as the firearm is being shipped to an FFL.

Shipping Rules by Firearm Type

ServicesHandgunsRiflesShotguns
USPSFFLs OnlyAnyoneAnyone
FedExAnyone to FFLAnyone to FFLAnyone to FFL
UPSFFLs OnlyFFLs OnlyFFLs Only

HOW TO SHIP A GUN

If you’re shipping a firearm to another person (or company) across state lines, you must ship to an FFL. This is the same whether you’re an individual or whether you have your own FFL.

Step 1: First, you should package the firearm for shipment. You do not want to walk into a shipping location with an unboxed firearm.

The best method is to package the gun inside a gun case (the factory case or box is perfect) and then package that case or box inside an outer box with no markings that identify that the package contains firearms.

If you have a case meant for transporting firearms, like a Pelican case, you can use this for shipping. These are much sturdier for shipping than most factory cases.

If you’re shipping the firearm to an FFL, either include a copy of your FFL or a copy of your driver’s license inside the packaging along with any special instructions if necessary (e.g. the purchaser’s name and phone number).

Ensure that the firearm is UNLOADED. And depending on the shipper you are using, you may need to check to confirm that no ammo is anywhere within the package.

Step 2: Confirm the destination for shipping.

Double check and confirm that you have the correct address. This applies even if you have a copy of an FFL for the shipping destination. To ensure that you aren’t being scammed with a fraudulent FFL copy, you should take the FFL number and run it through the free FFL eZ Check system.

It is wise to call the destination to confirm they are ready to receive the firearm. This is especially true if you are shipping the firearm to yourself at a hotel.

Step 3: Confirm the shipping origin.

Reference the rules below to ensure you are following the specific shippers instructions and call ahead to make sure the particular location is wiling and ready to receive your package.

Step 4: Ship your gun.

When shipping your firearm, you must declare that your package includes a firearm. Do not try to get cute here and avoid a hassle – it is actually. requirement that you notify the shipper.

SHIPPING FIREARMS VIA USPS / US MAIL

If you’re an FFL, you may ship rifles, shotguns, and handguns via US Mail. However, if you’re a non-FFL individual, you may only ship rifles or shotguns.

The rules for shipping a firearm via US Mail are as follows:

  • The firearm must be shipped with tracking,
  • No markings are allowed that indicate the shipment contains a firearm,
  • Include a “Return Service Requested” endorsement, and
  • Require a signature upon delivery

As a final rule, ammunition may NOT be shipped in the mail.

You can learn more about the US Postal Service’s rules here.

SHIPPING FIREARMS VIA FEDEX

FedEx now prohibits the shipping of firearms by non-FFLs.

So, if you have an FFL, you may use FedEx to ship firearms.

The only shipper specific rules for FedEx are that the packaging must not have any marking that indicate a firearm is inside (this is a good practice anyway) and ammunition must be in a separate package (as hazmat and not from a FedEx retail location) if shipped.

You can learn more about FedEx’s rules here.

SHIPPING FIREARMS VIA UPS

Shipping firearms via UPS requires that an FFL is somehow part of the transaction. For example, an FFL may ship to another FFL. Also, a non-FFL may ship a firearm to an FFL.

UPS requires that handguns are shipped with overnight service and they recommend (not require as FedEx does) that the package not contain markings identifying the shipment as a gun.

You can learn more about UPS’s rules here.

SHIPPING A FIREARM TO YOURSELF

Contrary to popular belief, you may ship a firearm to yourself in another state.

It is important to ensure that the firearm is legal in the destination state and that you are shipping the firearm to yourself.

To do this, you ship the firearm to yourself and in care of (abbreviated “c/o” on the shipping label) the destination that will hold your package for you.

For example, if you are traveling to another state, you can ship your firearm(s) to your hotel before you board the plane for your trip. Calling the hotel in advance to ensure they’ll receive and hold your package is important. When you arrive, you can pick up your package and you’ll have your firearm.

It is important that the firearm is actually shipped to you. The person or company holding the package for you (the “care of” line) may NOT open the package. After all, it is not theirs.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR SHIPPING GUNS

Call Ahead: If you’re a non-FFL using UPS, you should call ahead to the UPS location you plan to ship from as not all UPS locations will handle firearms. As a general rule, “UPS Stores” do not handle firearms. It is almost always safest to use an actual UPS shipping hub.

Don’t Fully Seal The Package: When you’re dropping off your firearm for shipment, you may need to show a copy of the destination FFL to confirm compliance with shipping rules. You should already have this within the package and it’d be a shame to have to open your sealed package and be left with no way to re-close it. So, I recommend leaving one end of the box open and bringing some tape with you. Once the shipment is ready to go, you can put the FFL copy back in the box, tape it up, and send it off.

Return Shipping Label: If you’re shipping the firearm to yourself for a trip, it is a good idea to print out the return shipping label and include it in the package. This can be very handy when you are out of town in a hotel and looking to get the firearm back home.

FIREARM SHIPPING FAQ

Q: Can I ship a firearm to myself in another state?

A: Yes, under federal law, you may ship a firearm to yourself in another state as long as the firearm is being shipped to you in care of a recipient.

Q: Can I ship a firearm to myself in another state?

A: Yes, under federal law, you may ship a firearm to yourself in another state as long as the firearm is being shipped to you in care of a recipient.

Q: Can I ship a handgun via US Mail?

A: You can only ship a handgun through US Mail if you have an FFL.

Q: Do you need an FFL to ship a gun?

A: No, an FFL is not required to ship a firearm as long as it is going to an FFL or to yourself.

Q: Can I ship a firearm to someone in another state?

A: Yes, you can ship a firearm to someone in another state as long as you ship the firearm to an FFL in that state.

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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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11 COMMENTS

  1. Is this still accurate? It’s a year old now, and some FedEx locations seem to require 2nd day air to ship handguns.

  2. I see nothing in USPS handbook or otherwise that implies a firearm must ship priority express. Priority express is 5x the price of priority.

    1. You’re correct. As tracking and signature is required, I believe that used to be the only service that had those options. Now it appears every service does. I have updated the article accordingly. Thank you!

  3. So, to clarify, I can go to UPS and ship a handgun to myself, c/o someone else? Even to a home address? Planning on a trip to a relative, that I know has a license, but not an FFL.

  4. I’m still a bit confused. So how would I ship a handgun to myself in another state without involving a FFL? I live in Florida but still own a home in Ohio and travel frequently and would like to ship my firearm instead of dealing with airport check in.

  5. I need to send my handgun back to the manufacture for warranty repair. They sent me a 2nd day air prepaid FedEx label to send it back. I am not an FFL. Am I still able to send this through FedEx back to the manufacture?

  6. Hello,
    Can you clarify for me please? I work for an airline that receives firearms in our baggage service office from inbound flights but we require the gun owner to personally pick up their guns. We are not permitted to send by courier like we do for late bag delivery. What does the law say is permitted? Is this an individual airline rule or TSA? Thank you.

      1. I am selling a rifle. I am not an FFL and it would most likely be shipped to another state. I know to ship to a FFL. But ups or fedex or eves usps, can I ship thru them? Im finding conflicting articles today

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