How to Buy a Gun Online

How to Buy a Gun Online: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

The process to buy a gun online is not as difficult as you may think.

In this modern age, it's not uncommon to buy many of the things you need online. We admit, we sometimes find ourselves taking the lazy option of simply ordering and having things shipped to our house rather than heading out to the local store. It may surprise many other countries, but in the United States, it's perfectly legal to buy firearms online.

Online firearms sales are a little different than what you may be used to just picking one up at the local gun shop, but it's not as difficult as it sounds at first glance.

Today, we'll talk you through the steps of this process and bust some of the myths about gun sales on the Internet in general.

Why buy a gun online?

There are both benefits and disadvantages to purchasing a firearm through the Internet. We'll start with the bad. This being that you don't get the chance to handle that firearm in person to see if it's a good fit or not. It can be a little frustrating to purchase a new Glock or Sig Sauer concealed carry handgun and then find out after the fact it's not as slim as you thought or that you like the feel of the competitor's grips a little more. If you're buying a used firearm from a dealer, you also must rely on the photos and the description to be accurate. It's harder to spot any potential issues than it would be at the local pawn shop. Another downside are the transfer fees, but we'll touch on those later.

The benefits are that you may be able to get a better price than you could in a brick-and-mortar location. The selection of firearms online is almost always going to be better than your local gun store. There's also the convenience of not having to leave your home to shop. Plus, it can be easier to grab a particularly hot new firearm that's otherwise selling out instantly. You don't have to drop everything and run to the store as soon as your favorite retailer calls and says they just got a new shipment in.

Do I need a background check to buy a gun online?

The answer to this question is a resounding "YES." There seems to be much confusion out there about online sales being a "loophole" to get around the standard federal laws and background checks for firearms ownership. This is simply not true. It doesn't matter whether you're looking to buy an old-school Winchester long gun or the latest Taurus or Ruger semi-automatic handguns in person or over the net, you WILL have to pass a background check before you can take your new firearm home. Anyone who says otherwise is giving you bad advice, or worse, breaking the law.

Buying a gun online can be a little misleading because you won't do the background check via the computer. Firearms are one of the few things that cannot be shipped directly to your house. You must pick them up from a dealer with a federal firearms license (FFL). It's when you go to pick up the gun that you will complete the required firearms transaction paperwork for the check, also known as ATF form 4473. This may be a physical paper copy you fill out via pen, but some big box retailers have started to use computers and tablets to help you complete the process electronically and streamline things. Either way, there's no getting around it. There are no shortcuts to gun ownership. Whether you want to buy in person or online, you must have a clean record that shows when they perform the check.

What's the process of buying a gun online?

The initial part of buying a gun online is not much different than buying a new pair of boots or some groceries, just with one major difference. Your new firearm is not going to arrive at your doorstep via UPS. Firearms can only be shipped directly to a federally licensed firearms dealer. This means you're going to have to find a gun store that's convenient to have your purchase shipped to. Depending on your area, you may have to contact the store yourself and let them know you want a gun you bought online shipped to them.

The firearms dealer then sends proof of their FFL license that you provide the online retailer so they can ship the gun. Fortunately, as technology has advanced, this step has mostly been eliminated unless you live in an extremely remote area with few FFL options. Most online retailers will now give you a list of local FFL dealers during the purchase process where you can have the gun shipped. If there isn't one close, many online retailers will also provide a number to call to get a local FFL added to the list.

This is the point where we do need to mention a major downside to online gun sales and that's the extra fees. When purchasing a gun from an online gun retailer and having it shipped to a completely different firearms dealer, you will often incur a "processing fee." This is usually going to be in the $20-30 range, but it could be much more depending on the dealer. It's worth inquiring with your pickup point what these fees are going to be ahead of time to avoid being hit with any huge "surprises" at checkout.

You may also get hit with double fees for some big box stores. For instance, a quick look at my local Sportsman's Warehouse shows the outdoor retailer charges a $20 fee to ship to an FFL that's not another Sportsman's store. That means you could potentially pay double fees. One to the online retailer and another to your FFL of choice. Do the homework to avoid being hit with these surprise fees on checkout and pickup.

One option to avoid the fees is to purchase online and pick up from the same FFL dealer. Last year I bought a Savage Model 110 in .450 Bushmaster from Sportsman's Warehouse online after I couldn't find it in stores. They shipped it right to my local Sportsman's store and I avoided the fees completely. Most of the big box names like Cabela's, Bass Pro Shops, etc, will have this free "ship to store" feature if you buy directly from them.

Once you've completed your purchase, sit back and wait for a message that your firearm has arrived at your FFL pickup point. They emailed me once mine was ready. One thing I should mention here, on the Savage rifle purchase I mentioned earlier, Sportsman's didn't charge my card after I added the rifle to my shopping cart. In fact, the charge didn't come in until the gun finally shipped a few weeks later. Just something to keep in mind if you're on a tight budget. I also had to wait about 18 business days before it finally got to the store. That's a long time, so take that into consideration if need the gun quickly. However, I do believe most of that delay was due to supply and demand at the time and not the online purchasing process.

In any case, once the firearm arrives at your FFL, you simply go in, fill out the background check paperwork, pay any firearm transfer fees and you're done. You then take the firearm home with you.

Buying a firearm online is usually simple.

How to Buy Guns Online

Travis Smola

If you're following all applicable local laws and using proper FFL dealers, the process of buying a firearm online is usually simple and easy. In my own experience it doesn't cut a lot of time from the process. For that Savage rifle, I still ended up standing in the store for over an hour while waiting for the background check process to be completed. It wasn't much different from my last firearms purchase, which was done entirely in-store. However, it was worth it because the rifle I was purchasing was not one they had on their shelves otherwise.

The process of buying a firearm online sounds complex and intimidating when you're reading about it. However, it's just a different way of purchasing a firearm. Give it a try and see for yourself sometime. At the very least, it will expand your options greatly when it comes to your next big gun purchase!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels