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How To Buy a Gun Online: A Legal Guide [2023] preview image
Oct 31 2023
10 min read

How To Buy a Gun Online: A Legal Guide [2023]

You can pretty much buy anything online these days. But can you buy a gun online?

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I’ve bought multiple guns online, and yes, you can as well!

But you need to be careful of the rules. Plus, the rules change all the time, making things even more complicated. That’s why you need to understand the ins and outs of how to buy a gun online. 

Once you understand the process, it will make a lot more sense. But it won’t be as easy as some in the media try to make it seem

You can’t just order a gun online and select an option for home delivery! It is possible to buy a gun online, but you need a local, licensed firearms dealer to assist you in completing your shipment. 

Keep reading, and you’ll understand everything you need to know about buying a gun online legally.

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You might hear friends or people in the media or government complain that it’s too easy to buy a gun online. That’s up for debate, but don’t be deceived by political talking points. 

Buying a firearm online is no different than buying one from a brick-and-mortar store. You are still subject to all local, state, and federal laws that govern firearm purchases. And you can’t take delivery of the weapon directly from the online vendor. 

When you go to a local firearm supplier for an in-person purchase, you can’t buy a gun without a background check. When purchasing a gun online, you need to undergo the same background check through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Plus, you can’t buy a weapon from out of state that is illegal in your area. There are restrictions in place that prevent you from doing so. But, since you’re not standing in the gun store and you’re instead using an online gun store, the process is a little different. 

For most online purchases, the process starts with finding someone in your area with a Federal Firearms License. That might be your local gun store, a neighborhood reseller, or even a large chain store that sells firearms. You might even have a friend with an FFL

Then, you have to confirm that the FFL dealer will help customers process firearms transfers. Not every FFL will perform these services. 

If they do, they will charge you a small fee to receive the gun you want to buy online. For some FFLs, the fee might be higher, especially if you live in a state with very complicated laws or if the legal landscape is in turmoil.

Then, your order ships to the FFL. Federal law prohibits shipping firearms directly to an individual. When it arrives, you go to the store to submit to the standard background check, just like everyone who shops for guns in person.

This check includes filling out a federal questionnaire, attesting to it by signature, and signing that you understand that lying on the form is a federal crime. Then, your questionnaire heads to the FBI for processing and checking your criminal and mental health background. They ultimately give your purchase a thumbs up or a thumbs down. 

After the form is submitted, the FBI runs the background check through NICS. Sometimes the response is immediate, but you may get a “delayed” response extending the process. Once approved, you can take possession of the firearm.

So while you can go online, enter a credit card number, and attempt to purchase a gun, it’s a lot harder than some would make it seem. In fact, receiving a gun in the mail is probably illegal and you could face severe penalties if you do so.

How The Gun Act Of 1968 Affects Buying Online

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a gun control bill at the White House on Oct. 22, 1968
On October 22nd, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill to control the sale and usage of firearms in America’s Terriories under his administration which was known as The Gun Control Act.” via: Associated Press

The Gun Control Act of 1968 made it illegal to ship shotguns and rifles to a purchaser directly. It also put in place certain restrictions on who could purchase guns legally and defined some people as ineligible to buy guns. This law was passed in reaction to famous political killings where the shooter used a mail-order rifle. 

Accordingly, you can’t ship a gun to your home if you order it online. Instead, you’ll need someone with an FFL  to facilitate the transfer and perform a check to make sure you’re eligible to buy the weapon and handle the transfer. 

Some states have restrictions on the shipment of ammunition via mail. This issue is another place where an FFL may be able to help you with your firearm purchasing needs. 

Do You Need a Background Check?

In most cases, you will have to undergo a background check prior to taking the delivery of the gun. Some transfers may be exempt from this requirement, but they are few and far between, and most pertain to antique firearms or those that no longer function. Replicas and decommissioned museum pieces usually do not require a background check. 

Steps to Buying a Gun Online

Since buying online is often a convenient way to shop, it may be appealing to search for online gun sales. But since gun laws vary significantly from state to state, you need to follow a detailed process to make sure that you are making your purchase legally. 

1. Select a Local FFL

The first step to buying guns online is to select a local FFL. Head to your local gun store or any reputable vendor for gun sales. They will be able to explain the process a bit. They’ll also be the ones who ultimately submit the information for your background check under federal law. 

Keep in mind that some sellers might not accept transfers. Others will charge a fee for the service. You may want to shop around a bit. 

2. Contact FFL and Confirm Firearm Transfer

Once you know what you want to purchase, strike up a conversation with your chosen local FFL. Explain in detail what you want to do, show them the product you’re looking at online, and ask for their help completing a firearm transfer. Make sure they’re willing to accept your transfer and that you agree to their fee. There may also be some paperwork to fill out. 

Don’t forget to ask about ammunition, magazines, and accessories. For example, the weapon may normally ship with a standard capacity magazine. That’s illegal in some states with capacity restrictions. Your FFL can help make sure you get a magazine that is legal in your state. 

3. Buy Guns Online

Head online to your chosen vendor. There are many very good online stores, but there are also some that aren’t so great. It’s best to stick with reputable, proven sellers. 

4. How to Transfer to Your Dealer

During your purchase, usually, after you’ve filled your online shopping cart, you will have to enter information identifying your local FFL. Depending on your online source, the process may vary.

If you have a local FFL you know, and you can do so on your online store, you’ll simply enter the local FFL’s identifying information in a box on the order form. 

If you don’t already have a local FFL, some online retailers offer a search function to help you find one. You’ll enter your zip code, and the site will show you Federal Firearms License holders in your area. It’s still a good idea to contact them before shipping a gun. 

Some FFL holders don’t want to give out too much information to their customers. For example, they may have a secure shipping address that they don’t give out, or they may refuse to give you their FFL number for the order form. In this situation, just ask them to email your online vendor. 

The bottom line is that your local FFL is the middle-man for your transaction. You have to get them on the same page with your online source. 

5. Go Get Your New Gun

When your gun arrives at the FFL, they’ll let you know. Then, you need to head over with all your documentation. At a minimum, you’ll need a valid, government-issued photo ID, as well as any permit or licensing your state requires. Depending on the exact weapon you buy, the requirements may vary.

For example, a handgun purchase requires the buyer to be at least 21 years old under federal law. Long gun purchases have a minimum age of 18. Some states set higher age limits.

In addition, a handgun purchase may require a state or county permit, whereas a long gun purchase might not. Your out-of-state purchase must also comply with your local laws.

What You’ve Heard About Buying Online

Contrary to much of what you hear in the news, buying a gun online isn’t quick and easy. It’s actually a fairly intensive and highly-regulated process. 

If you know someone who’s purchased weapons online in your area, it may be a good idea to talk to them about their experience. They might be able to point you towards a website and FFL that have a strong relationship, making the process easier and helping to ensure that you don’t run afoul of any rules, regulations, or laws. 

Keep in mind that laws can change from one day to the next, and even law-abiding gun owners can be caught off guard. 

Pros & Cons of Buying Online

When you’re shopping online, there are some pros and cons to be aware of. 

  • The online selection is much more robust than at your local store
  • Buying online is often less expensive up front, but don’t forget about your FFL’s fee
  • Some taxes may not apply if you buy from an online vendor outside your state
  • You can order accessories without paying local markup
  • You can’t handle and check the weapon prior to purchase
  • You will have to wait for the weapon to ship
  • The buyer/customer dynamic is missing
  • It’s harder to develop a relationship with your local store
  • You may have trouble finding help if you need a gunsmith for a quality-control issue – It’s harder to confirm the purchase complies with state and local laws

Prohibited Persons

A prohibited person is someone who is not allowed to own or possess a gun. In the United States, there are several categories of prohibited persons, including felons, fugitives from justice, drug addicts, people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, and more. In most cases, prohibited persons are prohibited from buying or possessing guns through federal law. 

However, some states have additional laws that further restrict the rights of prohibited persons. For example, in Ohio, a prohibited person is also prohibited from possessing ammunition. As a result, prohibited persons must be careful to check both federal and state laws before attempting to purchase or possess a gun.

Best Places to Buy Guns Online

We’ve done extensive research on which online gun stores have the best customer service and inventories. You can check out our full guide here on the best online gun stores.

We’ve got a great relationship with the guys over at GrabAGun and enjoy their online gun shop, but you can check out some others below as well.

grabagunlogoGrabAGunShop Now
palmetto state armory logoPalmetto State Armory (PSA)Shop Now
sportsmans warehouse logo Sportsman’s Warehouse
Shop Now
brownells logo BrownellsShop Now
guns.com logo Guns.comShop Now
sportsmans guide logo Sportsman’s GuideShop Now
Primary ArmsShop Now
cabelas logo Cabela’sShop Now
gunbroker logo GunbrokerShop Now
eurooptic.com logo EuroOpticShop Now
basspro logo Bass Pro ShopsShop Now

Buying Guns Online: Now You Know

That’s it! You know all there is to understand about buying guns online. If you shop with reputable online sources and develop a relationship with a local FFL, the process is fairly straightforward. Since the laws vary significantly from state to state, having a helpful FFL to work with is essential.

However, with a changing legal landscape, don’t be surprised if you encounter a few hurdles along the way. Be patient, and always remember that it’s best to lean on the expertise of your sales team and your local FFL rather than trying to tell them how to do things. 

If you do all this, follow the five steps above, and pass your background check, you can order guns online today!

Brady Kirkpatrick photo Brady Kirkpatrick is the founder of GunMade.com, the #1 online gun search engine. Recognizing the challenges of finding the right firearm at the right price, Brady built a platform to simplify the process, comparing prices across hundreds of online dealers and providing valuable content from trustworthy bloggers. His commitment to user-centricity and innovation has shaped GunMade.com into a comprehensive resource for gun enthusiasts. In addition to Gun Made, Brady has also lent his firearm expertise to an array of renowned publications, such as The Truth About Guns, CrossBreed Holsters, Cheaper than Dirt, 19FortyFive, We Are The Mighty, and many others.


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