By Mike Keleher

Well, I had occasion to ship a firearm this week, and as always, my sketchy post-COVID brain could not remember the best way to ship this item. Why I remember back in the day, just turning a rifle over to the stagecoach conductor and asking him to drop it off- and he could certainly use it along the way if road agents were a problem. Heaven forbid shipping rules could change over time…or I don’t remember them correctly. I had to go find the “new” rules. I try to learn something new every day-I figure I am forgetting at least that much daily and should try and keep pace.

I remember the U.S. Post Office being pretty restrictive. I believe their shipping of guns policy was presided over by old, retired schoolteacher nuns, who had no interest in “tomfoolery.” I kind of remembered shipping with private carriers with less hassle, raps on the knuckles or perceived guilt.

So, I had to research it via the interwebs this week. All I wanted to do (a private citizen with no Federal Firearms License or FFL) was send a pistol, to a FFL holder in a different state. Legally. Via UPS. But it was a pistol- different rules kick in. Not so easy. Not so peasy.

Turns out, the Post Office won’t accept pistols for shipping. UPS does, and FEDEX might, but definitely not the Post Office.

I then followed all the UPS rules, having the item inside a hard sided container, unloaded and no ammunition present. I placed the container inside a single wall cardboard box and put enough shipping tape on it to survive a high altitude drop onto a neighboring state like Indiana from a passing UPS 767 Jet like a WWII B-17 bombing run. I placed a homemade label on the box and did not put any marks on the outside that would lead a nefarious no-good-nik who happened to stroll through a UPS controlled area to think there was a firearm inside and he was thus entitled to take it home.

I presented myself to a UPS “Store” in my local community well versed in the rules, and ready to take advantage of such convenience. They nabbed it up and started weighing and figuring untiI I said in a loud and rules compliant voice, “It contains an unloaded firearm and no ammunition, and I need to send it per your rules to a FFL using Next Day Air.” At which point every thing, and every clerk in the shop stopped and stared like I was the 12th 9-11 terrorist. The box came back across the desk so fast I saw trails of smoke coming off the clerk’s hands. “Uhhh. We can’t touch that here.” Slightly befuddled, but being an experienced and educated man of the world who knew all the UPS rules per their website, I was able to formulate a dialogue which would advance this mission and I asked politely, “Why?”

“Um, we uh, can’t.” This was the definitive answer I was provided. One clerk called out “Palatine”, “Palestine” or “Palladin” I’m not sure which, and he quickly averted his eyes so as not to get caught up in any more difficult “Why?” questions. I was unsure how either the holy land would figure in or just how to Wire Palladin-San Francisco for “Have Gun Will Travel” (although I was intrigued for several minutes) I finally figured Palatine would be the right answer If only I knew what they were talking about.

Turns out, a “UPS Store” isn’t really all that UPS-ish. They are more of a private store which receives and ships packages for UPS…without actually being too much UPS, when you want it to be one. Oh, they look all UPS-ish, just not so much. Going back online, I found what I needed was something called a UPS Customer Center…you could see how I could easily believe a “Store” would be akin to a “Customer Center” for my oh so simple needs.

Keeping the dream alive, I found such a Center listed in Palatine, Rockford and Sturtevant WI, and could drive my $3.59 a gallon self, to any one I so chose. I called Palatine first (who says I’m not teachable?) and a live human assured me they were the place to go, and they knew what the heck they were doing.

I got there the next day and was ushered in by an employee with a let’s just say undetermined accent (Minnesotan? Ancient Latan?) who also mumbled at the same time. He also wore UPS logo clothes which looked like they must have been worn daily for the last 30 years, and laundering was clearly optional. I was pretty sure my package would be headed out to parts unknown-maybe via some UPS Bodega system of associated vendors who are all cousins, or handed off to a wandering bum with a wobbly shopping cart for eventual delivery.

Inside the tiny barren “Customer Center”, I was advised my home printed label was no good. I then was directed to a UPS computer that…you guessed it prints labels. OK. I got my info into the computer and very clearly identified the parcel as having an unloaded firearm in the comments section. I printed the label, which now had the same exact information as my home-made label and was directed to affix it- next to my label. Yes, they were handsome, those two labels with the same information shining there, side by side.

At the Covid preventative sneeze shield plexiglass register, I handed over the box and in a loud, legally compliant voice pointed out it contained an unloaded firearm and no ammunition. This of course led to an argument between three employees which lapsed into at least two languages-on how to proceed. I was able to correctly tell them and finally get a quorum vote, on the rule that says it needed to go out Next Day Air. I thought they were a bit over the top when they made me put it into the form of a Jeopardy Question “What is Next Day Air, and How Much does an Arm and a Leg Cost?”

Turns out, I could pay $105 to get it there the next morning by 10AM (…and a whole bunch of fine print exceptions in case they could not get it there and it was still their fault.) Or I could get the more casual “Saver” rate arriving by 3PM but only $65. The hypothetical Saver package could miraculously arrive the next morning by 10AM too, if it rode along with the other non-marked $105 packages and was not required to ride in the back of the jet (Now boarding, Group 8, Group 8 packages.) Makes my head dizzy to consider lesser $65 packages rubbing up against $105 packages. Mixed package marriages may result.

UPS will take long guns and pistols, if they are being shipped between U.S. importers, manufacturers, dealers and collectors. The receiving party must possess a FFL. Repeat that part aloud to any UPS employee who will listen. The receiver has a FFL. No shipping private party to private party.

1. It must ship Next Day Air. Apparently too much temptation is not a good thing in the private shipping industry.
2. You can ship individual gun parts without the hullabaloo of the “firearm” definition from the federal statutes.
3. No tricky schemes allowed. You can’t put enough parts in the box to assemble a functioning firearm to avoid the “Firearm” status.
4. Suppressors are considered “Firearms” under the fed law and must be shipped according to all gun rules. Of course, in Illinois you can’t have suppressors any way. All of the Chicago based legislators who run the state legislature voting blocs lo these many years, have kept them illegal and out of the hands of law-abiding citizens- for fear would suddenly use them in an inspired manner to shoot people in the street and knocking 20 or 30 decibels off the noise would help criminals escape arrest. Whew, we really dodged a bullet there, didn’t we? No shooting of people in Chicago. No-siree. Chi-raq finished 2021 with only 4542 citizens shot by other citizens. No suppressor crimes were noted.
5. UPS won’t ship Full Auto guns…they don’t care who you are or what licenses you may have. They also won’t ship any type of guns overseas.
6. Firearms will need an adult signature at the receiving end of the U.S. based deal.
7. Surprisingly, you can supposedly schedule a UPS driver pick up your identified firearm package or go to the Customer Center. Drop boxes and the fanciful “UPS Stores” are verbotten. NO. Negative. Un-uh. That’s right out.
8. Ammo can be shipped via UPS in the U.S. only. Caliber can be up to .50 and shotgun up to 8 gauge (has that rule been around since 1901 with punt guns needed to be shipped?) No ammo can be packed in the same box as firearms. Ammo also has HAZMAT rules, stickers and fees which kick in when you ship. Bring a credit card with a large dollar limit.

They state they will only take customers with a FFL, or law enforcement agencies. They used to be much friendlier about shipping guns, but on their current website it says “Non-licensee”- you know, regular old law-abiding gun owner with no FFL license- “are prohibited.” Squinting down to read between the lines I am pretty sure I saw the following “NO. TAKE YOUR BUSINESS ELSEWHERE”. If you meet their criteria, you can drop pre-packaged, prelabeled at FEDEX offices or schedule online for a pickup.

Not as stuffy as you might imagine. They will take long guns, but not pistols. Registered Mail required and ambiguous packaging. That is, no markings on the outside that indicate a firearm is inside. I think handing over a long rectangular brown paper wrapped gun case pretty much takes care of that. It looks like to all the world…well, a gun case.

But the Post Office will take them and not blink an eye. As the shipper, you don’t need to have an FFL like FEDEX requires. You can ship it to a FFL like a gun shop or manufacturer etc. just not to a private citizen…unless you reside in the same state. Wha? Inside the state shipping? It’s on their website! I had never heard of it but would be very careful to mention that part of your proposed plan to any counter clerk to insure they are in agreement with both you and their posted rules. Avoid the later worrisome visit by Postal Inspectors or BATF. Be verbose at the counter, explain everything and be sure the government representative agrees you are doing nothing wrong before waving good-bye to your package.

Another Post Office oddity, you can ship a long gun to yourself in another state for hunting or what they call “lawful activity” according to their rules. They won’t ship ammo, SBR rifles or short NFA shotguns. The do have excellent tracking and signature requirements. You can’t ship serialized frames (yes they are considered to be Firearms). You can ship parts-no problem.

Curio and Relic (C+R) license holders can send direct to other C+R license holders, and air guns can be mailed but concealable air guns need adult signature for delivery. Museums can send relics and museum pieces to other museums, but if you are reading this and already have your own museum, you probably know this.

I shipped some shotguns for repair to another state a year or so back, to a FFL holder/gunsmith via the U.S. Post Office. All in all it was a great transaction. They were courteous, did not treat it like it was a big deal, and it was much cheaper than a private shipper…. you just can’t ship pistols through them. Walking into any post office with large butcher paper wrapped gun still makes me sweat a bit, and I always remember this was the place where the term “Going postal” originated, but they are very professional.

Do your research before dealing with any shipper. Don’t take my word on it. Get to know the stated rules. Call and confirm they believe what you believe based upon their posted rules, and when you are in-person be very verbal about declaring “this is an unloaded legal firearm in this package” and where and how you are trying to ship it legally. Bring your patience along and try to remind yourself as I do, some of these package professionals don’t have the same level of interest you do or see this job as their lifelong calling. They will push your package along if they can.

6 thoughts on “Shipping Guns 2022”
  1. No mention of any problem sending just a serialized frame via Fedex or UPS. So then, what if one disassembles the pistol into two parts so that it is no longer a functioning firearm, and sends it in two different packages? Sounds like according to them neither package would any longer meet the definition of a firearm, so they could be sent regular ground service with no declaration?

    1. Gipper, it’s a trap! The frame with serial number by federal law is a “Firearm” even when disassembled. All rules and laws including declarations apply to a serialized frame just the same as if it were the entire gun. It’s the law.

  2. Great article, as an FFL Dealer in Oak Lawn, IL, I’ll leave a few tips. USPS is the most cost effective way to ship firearms but their delivery times are subpar, sometimes its cheaper to use a FFL Dealer because many of us have accounts with the carrier or accounts with 3rd party shippers, even though UPS says all handguns must ship ‘Next Day Air’ they still accept ‘2Day Air’ shipments from FFL Dealers, and it’s better to find a random UPS parcel delivery driver and give your firearm shipment to him. Please let him know it’s a firearm shipment and going to a FFL Dealer, currently, I still run into issues every now and then dropping off firearms to UPS Customer Care Centers. Many of these employees are anti-gun and try to find any reason to deny accepting your firearm shipment.

  3. I sent a rifle to a manufacturer for warranty service. I used FedEx, who said priority overnight signature delivery was rquired. When the rifle came back, it was UPS 2nd day adult signature.

  4. I have been expecting ordered parts via FEDEX for 10 days now. Nothing fancy, just parts. They picked them up at dealer in UTAH and then sat in one location in UTAH four five days. Then it moved to another UTAH location for couple of days. After a week or so it moved to Colorado. Still hasn’t crossed the Mississippi in 10 days. Computer access, complaints, trackers and calls to FEDEX customer service…in Paki or India have not disclosed “Why?” “oh the tracking people will have to get back to you on that.” Never did. Not a happy FEDEX customer today.

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