How to Buy a Gun online: All you need to know

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How to Buy a gun online

So, you have done all the research and have finally decided on the perfect gun for you. Just one problem, your local gun shops do not carry it or cannot get one for you. Luckily today buying a gun online is easier than ever before. It also opens up a huge amount of competition from big retailers that offer great deals due to their buying power.

It used to be that when you wanted to buy a new gun you would visit the local gun shop. Look at what was on the shelf and purchase whatever the gun shop had available. Today times have changed. The internet has opened us up to a large number of new guns that become available each year. Local gun shops are often too small and cannot afford to keep a large inventory of every new gun that comes to market.

However, we can shop the internet which opens up a vast inventory all over the country. As a buyer, we can often find deals that would just not be available to us through a local store.

Buying a New Gun from big box stores

The big-box outdoor retailers like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Stores, and Sportsman warehouse make it easy to buy a gun online. You can choose from their entire countrywide inventory and often have it shipped for free to one of their stores close to you. One of the big advantages of buying through the big box outdoor stores is their buying power.

Cabelas store front picture
Cabelas offers a large selection of guns that can be shipped to a store close to you.

This is especially prominent at the moment, (December 2020), due to the huge demand for guns by new gun owners. When manufacturers have issues keeping up with demand often smaller buyers will miss out on inventory as it becomes available. This is because big retailers that are placing orders for national store brands will buy in much larger quantities. This will often result in the smaller gun shops that only buy just a small amount of inventory at a time, to miss out.

Doing the paperwork and background check

When you buy through a big retailer and have it shipped to one of their stores all the paperwork will be handled by the receiving store. This makes it easy for you.  As you do not have to arrange for your own FFL holder, (Federal Firearms License holder), to receive the firearm then process it through to you.

You will still be responsible for the fees associated with the background check and transfer. These will generally be approximately $30 to $40 depending on your specific state.

How to buy a gun online, ATF form 4473
ATF Form 4473 needs to be filled out for all firearm transactions

Buying a new gun from an online-only retailer

In the past 15 years or so more and more online-only firearms retailers have popped up. These are stores that can often also be manufacturers that sell directly to the public. Big gun part suppliers like Brownells or Midway have made the buying process super easy. They have created a network of local dealers though out the country that are willing to receive and process firearm sales.

How the process works when buying a gun online

When you purchase a gun online the firearm needs to be sent to a local FFL dealer. So that the appropriate local and federal firearm regulations can be adhered to. Before a licensed FFL dealer can send a gun to another FFL holder, they will need a copy of the receiving FFL dealers’ license. Stores like Brownells and  Midway USA have made this part of the process really easy.

Because these stores have been selling gun parts for years quite often the receiving FFL dealer information is already on file with the store. What they have done is create a list of preferred dealers that are willing to receive guns that have been purchased by locals and then transfer the firearm legally to the purchaser.

How to buy a gun online, browneel dealers list by zip code
Brownells shows a list of preferred dealers along with a cost to perform the transfer

Last month I purchased a new gun from Brownells. In the checkout process, I was shown a list of preferred dealers in my area. Along with an estimated cost to receive and process the transfer. I simply choose a dealer that I liked and had used before and completed the checkout. The firearm was shipped that same day. Two days later the firearm was ready for pick up at my local gun shop.

The process was really simple and streamlined. Although my local gun shop did not make the firearm sale. They charged a small handling fee and while I was there, I picked up some other supplies that I needed. So, in the end, a win-win for all parties involved.

What if your dealer is not on a preferred list?

So, if your local gun dealer is not on one of the already preferred ship to lists you can still have your new gun shipped to them. However, it will involve a little more work. Before the selling FFL can ship the firearm, they will need to have a copy of the receiving FFL’s license on file. Most of the time this means calling your local gun shop and asking them to email a copy of the FFL to the selling dealer.

This is usually not a big deal, but it can slow the process down a little. If your local dealer is busy and does not get a chance to send off a copy of the license for a day or so it will extend the process. Sometimes the selling dealer will take a little longer to enter a new FFL license into their system which can also mean a delay in shipping. All in all, these kinds of delays are just days and in the end, are not a big deal.

Cost of performing a firearm transfer

Not all independent gun shops will charge the same to receive and transfer a new gun to you. In my area, it costs between $25 to $75 to transfer a firearm. So, it pays to shop around if you intend to buy a gun online. Not all gun shops are willing to receive firearms from other shops for transfer to you as the retail end-user. It is always best to call the shop you intend to use before making a purchase. Just to make sure that they are willing to do the transfer for you.

Can I buy a new gun that is not generally available in my city or state?

Just because a particular type of gun is available online does not mean that it is legal to own in your city or state. You need to do your research before purchasing the firearm. If you purchase a gun that is not legal in your city or state and therefore cannot be transferred to you, then you will be liable for all the expenses incurred with the sale. Depending on the seller they may also be re-stocking fees associated with the return.

Gun Rack with AR 15 rifles
Not all guns a legal in all states and cites

Most reputable online sellers will know whether a firearm is legal in any given state. However, with a growing list of cities placing their own bans and restrictions on firearms. It will still pay to do the research first. The other item to pay attention to is the magazine capacity. Though the firearm itself may be legal in your city and state. If it comes with a high-capacity magazine the magazine may not be legal.

What do I do if I have a problem with the gun I bought online?

Warranty issues for firearms are rarely handled by the selling dealer. In every issue that I have ever had with a new firearm, it has always had to be returned to the manufacturer. This is no different when buying a gun online. You would simply contact the manufacturer and talk directly with them about any issues you are experiencing.

The only exception to this would be if the firearm were damaged in shipping. In which case you would need to contact the selling dealer immediately to inform them of the damage. Your receiving FFL dealer will also have to keep the packaging. The shipping company may need to see it before paying a damage claim. This instance is pretty rare as most new firearms are shipped in a purpose-built packing that is designed to prevent shipping damage.

Buying a used gun online

The procedure for buying a used gun online is the same as buying a new one when it comes to the legal requirements. You will need to have a dealer that is prepared to receive and process the firearm to you. It will also require more research from you before making the purchase. Sites like are great places to find used guns. However, often the people selling are just individuals like you and me and will have no idea what is legal in your city and or state.

This means that you could buy a gun that is not transferable to you. Now the gun will have to be held by the receiving FFL while you try to sell it out of state. So once again do the leg work first and check with local law enforcement before purchasing.

Warranties on used guns

Another issue to consider when buying a used gun is the condition. Most of the time there is not going to be any kind of warranty or guarantee on a used gun. If you are spending a large amount of money it may pay to have a local gunsmith in the seller’s area look over the gun before completing the sale. You can then have the gunsmith send the firearm to your gun shop if everything checks out. Sure, it will cost you a few dollars extra. However, this is better than ending up with something that is not safe to use or needs extensive repairs before use.

Damaged HK USP pistol
Severely damaged HK USP Pistol

Conclusion: buying a new gun online

With nationwide gun dealers all competing for your business they have made the process simple and painless. In the end, it only benefits all of us. In that we now have access to more brands and types of firearms than ever before. It also does not mean that it is the end of the local gun shop. There will always be a need for local shops to supply guns and accessories. As well as perform repairs and transfers.

So, in short, if you are looking for a gun and can’t find the one you want locally then you should search it online. The process is simple, safe, and legal.

Stay safe and shoot often

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