How to Legally Buy Firearms Online

Despite what some people say, it is legal to buy firearms online and background checks are made for online purchases. This is how to legally buy a firearm online.

How to Legally Buy Firearms Online Pistol Drill

Contrary to the belief of many, it is legal to buy firearms online. But more importantly, buying a firearm from a dealer online requires a background check for the purchase. An online gun purchase does not ship to the buyer’s home, instead it must go through a “FFL” – or, a “Federal Firearms License” dealer. Even though the firearm purchase was from a website, the gun is shipped to a local gun shop, and the local “FFL” conducts the background check, ensuring the buyer can legally own a firearm.

Here’s how to legally buy a fiStep 1: Add the firearm to your cart & go to the checkout

The initial steps of an online gun purchase is no different than buying from any other eCommerce shop. Navigate to a website selling guns, add the gun to your shopping cart, and begin the checkout purchase. The simplicity of the first step is often where the misconceptions of online firearm purchases come from – you’d think it was no different than buying a book from Amazon, but the first step is the only similarities between online firearm purchases and buying normal products online.

Step 2: Select a local FFL

During the checkout process, shoppers must tell the shop where the firearm is being shipped to. Since the firearm isn’t being shipped to the buyer’s home, a local FFL must be selected. A FFL can easily be found by searching on Google for “(my town name) gun shop” or “(my town name) FFL.” Or check out the Grab a Gun FFL Locator to find a FFL near you.

Be sure to shop around for a good local FFL. Each FFL has a transfer fee for the service of buying a firearm online. These fees vary greatly by state. If the closest FFL has higher fees, shop around to see if there are other cheaper FFLs nearby. However, in some states like California or New York, FFL fees can get very expensive. Due to FFL transfer fees, sometimes it is cheaper to buy a gun from a local gun shop instead of buying a gun online.

Once you select your local FFL, you must provide the online gun shop the address and FFL information of the local shop the gun is being shipped to. Many of the larger online gun shops already have a large list of FFLs in your area and you can select a FFL from their list, particularly in larger cities. If the website you’re buying the gun from does not have your FFL listed, you must provide the name, contact info, and address of the FFL. You need to then contact your FFL and have the FFL send their information to the website you’re buying from. Only after the website has the correct FFL information, will they ship the firearm.

Step 3: Notify the local FFL

Generally, websites provide the FFL with your contact information so the FFL can call you when the firearm arrives. But it’s not a bad idea to call your FFL and ask what their process is for picking up a firearm. Some FFLs appreciate a heads up as to what firearm is headed to their shop, in addition to your name, phone number, and the type of firearm being sent their way.

Step 4: Pick up from the local FFL

When the firearm arrives at your local FFL, they will give you a call. You must drive over to your local FFL and go through the federal background check to purchase a firearm. Your gun shop will charge a small “FFL Transfer Fee” to pay for the background check and processing time.

Once the background check comes back clean, you can take your firearm home.

Note: Some states, like California, require additional steps. If your state has some anti-gun laws providing an additional barrier to exercise your 2nd Amendment right, give them a call and ask what additional steps are needed. It’s beyond the scope of this article to keep up with the changing state laws.

Guns at a Gun Shop

Other common questions for buying firearms online

Here are some other common questions related to online firearms purchases. Have any additional questions? Drop them in the comments below!

How much does the FFL transfer fee cost?

FFL transfer fees vary greatly depending on your region. A FFL transfer fee in a major metro area in New York or California will cost much more than a FFL transfer fee in rural Texas. Generally, reasonable FFL transfer fees will cost between $20 and $30, but your results may vary. Be sure to search around to find a reasonably priced FFL to make your online firearms purchases.

What is a Curios & Relics license? How do I get a Curios & Relics license?

A Curios & Relics license is a license granted by the ATF allowing gun owners to buy old firearms and have them shipped straight to their door without going through a FFL. This allows firearms collectors to more easily and cheaply acquire old collector’s guns. The license costs $30 and is good for three years.

For a firearm to qualify as a curio or relic is must fall within one of the following:

  1. Firearms which were manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas of such firearms;
  2. Firearms which are certified by the curator of a municipal, State, or Federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; and
  3. Any other firearms which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.

Download the Curios & Relics license in PDF format.

What are firearm ship times like?

Firearm ship times vary greatly depending on the online gun shop you’re buying from, and the time of year. During sales like the 4th of July Sales, or holiday sales, small gun shops can get backed up, slowing down ship times. Usually only takes a few days. However, once the firearm gets to the FFL, there’s a 1-2 day processing time depending on the FFL.

Usually you can take the gun home within a week or so.

What about restricted items in my state?

Always pay attention to local and state laws regarding restricted firearms, magazines, and other gun parts. Do NOT attempt to purchase a restricted firearm or firearm accessory online. Most gun shops will prevent a checkout on entering your shipping address, or will cancel the order before shipping. But if a gun shop makes a mistake and ships you a restricted item, you could get in trouble.

Can I buy a firearm online for my friend?

It is not legal to buy a firearm to sell to a friend in order to get around the background check process. That is called a “straw purchase” and is illegal. Do not attempt it – firearms charges are not worth it.

What about gun classified websites like Armslist?

Person to person transfers are still legal in most states. Some states have passed a Universal Background Check requiring all person to person transfers to require a background check, but most states allow an individual to sell a firearm to another individual as long as there is not “intent to do business.” This is a rather grey area with a lot of ambiguity from the government. It’s possible to go to a local gun shop and have them perform a background check for a person to person transfer. It’s also common for people selling their personal firearms to require the buyer to show a CCW license. Know your local state laws before attempting to sell a firearm to someone else.

Written by - always a student, sometimes a teacher.

I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.

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