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How difficult is it to buy a handgun online without a firearms license?
April 17, 2007 11:45 PM   Subscribe

How difficult is it to buy a handgun online without a firearms license?

Current federal gun laws seem to make it difficult to ship guns if both the shipper and receiver do not have a federal firearms license. Also, most online gun stores seem to have a notice that they will not ship directly to the buyer but rather to a nearby local dealer. And eBay doesn't seem to have handguns at all.

Still, the fact that it's against the law doesn't mean people won't do it. Do FedEx and UPS scan for firearms? How well do these laws against shipping guns work? Can anyone get a gun online if they search enough?

I have no personal interest in owning a firearms. I just recently had a discussion with a friend related to the VT shootings and am curious.
posted by ignignokt to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I know it was a pain in the ass and took nearly two months to ship my pistol from my gun dealer back east to a licensed dealer out here.

I think someone can get a gun if they want one bad enough, either online or off. Offline is probably simpler and easier.

Also, there's an eBay for guns, its called GunBroker.
posted by fenriq at 12:05 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do you have a federal firearms license, though? Could you get that pistol shipped to you without one?
posted by ignignokt at 12:10 AM on April 18, 2007


I am pretty sure you can't ship guns legally unless you are a licensed dealer or something. I've always had to check them as baggage. You used to be able to ship ammo by air but since 2002 or so it has to go ground.
posted by fshgrl at 12:16 AM on April 18, 2007


I believe the poster's actual question is how difficult handguns are to obtain illegally online.

I don't know how hard it would be to get a gun illegally online, but it seems like it would be fairly risky, since sellers would need to display somewhere that they have a gun for sale. More importantly though, it would probably be far simpler to get a gun illegally locally, especially somewhere like Arizona, since, for example, I can buy a gun right now and gift it to you, and there is no burden on me to check if you can legally own it.* This is a straw purchase, which is illegal, but it'd be easy to do. I can also buy a gun and then later decide to sell it to you, again with no need to verify that you can legally own it, and also without any documentation of the sale.

*I will not do this. You shouldn't either.
posted by !Jim at 12:32 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, I couldn't get the pistol shipped to me at all, it had to go to the dealer who ran a background check on me.

And !Jim has it right, it would be simpler and harder to trace to buy a gun offline. Or get someone else to buy it for you and give it to you though that puts them at serious risk of prosecution.

And fshgrl, not even Snoop Dogg can fly with his gats!
posted by fenriq at 12:38 AM on April 18, 2007


"I can buy a gun right now and gift it to you, and there is no burden on me to check if you can legally own it.* This is a straw purchase, which is illegal, but it'd be easy to do."

Then there is a burden? Otherwise it would be legal? (this is not a snark)
posted by onshi at 3:10 AM on April 18, 2007


I think the real answer is "why would you buy it online, when it is so easy to buy locally?" I don't know what state you are in, but generally private transactions, conducted face to face, are completely legal and unregulated. There are no paperwork requirements, no background checks, nothing. In some places gun shows fall into that same category. Unless you have "I am a felon" tattooed on your forehead, you simply have no need to go to the lengths of meeting an illegal arms dealer in a sketchy bar and so on -- you can just do this legally and locally. (Well, I say "legally," but maybe "outside the purview of the state" would be more accurate -- there is simply no assessment of the transaction's legality at any point.) A couple of big cities (mostly New York, DC, and Chicago) have much stricter gun laws, but if you live in those places, driving a few hours will solve your problem (albeit not legally).

The question of whether any shipping companies routinely xray looking for guns is interesting. I'd guess not, but I don't know that to be true at all. They deal with such a huge volume of packages that it is hard to imagine any systematic scanning, but in the age of "homeland security" nothing is too outrageous.
posted by Forktine at 3:25 AM on April 18, 2007


I've worked for UPS, and I can tell you firsthand that many things, of anything you imagine, gets shipped and UPS is none the wiser. There are basic security protocols in place, but most of those are to keep the "A1" workers there from taking stuff, not to keep them safe.

My wife, who works there currently, was just telling me about a situation they had the other day where a driver found (what was later identified as) human blood dripping out of a box. The box ended up containing a human organ.

This is one of the oddest stories I've heard, but not the most odd. So, I'm imagining that people probably get guns shipped via this manner all the time - all the perks of the mail, none of those (as far as I know) pesky felony laws for shipping stuff they don't want to ship, if you get caught.
posted by plaidrabbit at 4:11 AM on April 18, 2007


It would be very difficult to find an online dealer who will ship to someone without an FFL. It is illegal and puts their entire business in danger. You might find a private seller who is unfamilliar with the laws and would ship to you directly.

Where I live, it is not difficult to have a firearm shipped to a gun dealer. It costs about $ 30 for the service, you get a call when your firearm or parts arrives, you go pick it up at the store. Other states might be different.

This is a straw purchase, which is illegal

I believe what !Jim is refering to is the practice of one person giving a gift to another person that gives them a gift of a specific dollar amount back. I don't know if it is illegal in AZ or not.
posted by yohko at 4:28 AM on April 18, 2007


You can purchase and ship black powder, non cartridge, hansguns interstate. The federal goverment did not include them in their definition of a firearm.
posted by Raybun at 4:51 AM on April 18, 2007


Thanks, guys. It seems pretty clear to me that buying a gun online without a license is no mean feat. I don't know if this is against the rules, and if so, don't answer, but I have a related followup question.

Many of you have mentioned that it is easier to buy a gun illegally locally than via the internet. How easy is it for a white collar individual with no connections to the black market or unethical legal gun owners to make the necessary connections and obtain a handgun?
posted by ignignokt at 9:22 AM on April 18, 2007


There was an article in the NYT 3 or 4 years ago, very detailed, about sting operations the police were conducting to shut down illegal single-handgun sales in the NYC area. Given this, there's an aura of distrust and suspicion permeating the whole deal. So what you've got is:

1) An aura of distrust and suspicion.
2) The distrustful guy has a gun, maybe more than one.
3) The distrustful guy with the gun isn't afraid to break the law.

This is just not a climate that's good for doing business. The same types of people - often, the same people - who deal drugs deal in black market firearms. Can you find them and do business? Yes. Is it shady as all hell? Yes.

Finally, even if you believe that there may be a legitimate reason from time to time to shoot someone with a gun: if you shoot someone with THAT gun, how's it going to look to the jury?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2007


If you are in a place with relative loopholes around gun shows, it could be very easy to buy a gun illegally. If not, it would probably be around the same difficulty as a similarly non-connected person seeking to buy illegal drugs: in other words, it depends, not easy, and with definite legal dangers, but quite possible for any motivated person.

I don't know whether it is relevant to you or not, but the report I read states that VT killer Cho's gun purchases were done legally.
posted by nanojath at 10:30 AM on April 18, 2007


Many of you have mentioned that it is easier to buy a gun illegally locally than via the internet. How easy is it for a white collar individual with no connections to the black market or unethical legal gun owners to make the necessary connections and obtain a handgun?

Well, if the person didn't mind filling out an FBI form and having their details read out over the phone, and maybe having to deal with a waiting period, they could just buy the gun at any firearms store. But I guess we are assuming that this person doesn't want to be run through the system in that way?

Is that white collar person a convicted felon? A mental patient? Planning to rob a bank? If not, then there is nothing illegal about buying a firearm from a private party. And even then, it is not the job of the seller to ascertain whether or not the buyer is a felon, etc -- there is no paperwork, no licensing, no reporting, no oversight. (Again, there are a few cities and states that make things a bit more complicated, but those are the exceptions, not the rules.) Gun shows are the classic examples, but people also advertise firearms for sale in the classifieds in the local paper (usually under "sporting goods"), bulletin boards, etc. If you live in a state or city that isn't friendly to gun owning, then you just drive over to a state like Virginia or Arizona that is.

So it's as easy as phoning someone who advertised in the paper, or who advertised online, or who had a flyer up on the wall of the sporting goods store, and exchanging cash for the gun. There is no more complications than if you were buying a used bicycle (well, except that firearms are theft magnets, and attract some real weirdos, so everyone involved can be a little paranoid.)
posted by Forktine at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2007


Many of you have mentioned that it is easier to buy a gun illegally locally than via the internet. How easy is it for a white collar individual with no connections to the black market or unethical legal gun owners to make the necessary connections and obtain a handgun?

In the US, it wouldn't be at all hard for your hypothetical white collar guy to just go to a gun shop and buy a gun legally from them. I assume that people file serial numbers off of legally purchased guns just as easily as illegally purchased guns. It seems to me that it would be harder for your hypothetical guy to buy a gun on the black market than it would be for him to buy one legally.
posted by nerdcore at 11:31 AM on April 18, 2007


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