Despite public perception, internet sales of firearms are very regulated. If you’re a first-time FFL merchant, you’ll need to obtain legal counsel from an attorney familiar with the purchase and shipping laws and regulations both at a federal level and for every state or territory to which you ship, particularly the Gun Control Act of 1968, which effectively prohibits the shipment of firearms across state lines to anyone except a licensed FFL dealer who can then complete the transaction.

What this means in practice is that you cannot sell and ship directly to consumers, but rather that you must complete the sale by shipping the gun to a licensed firearms dealer near your customer who will provide it under the terms required by that state, including background checks and any applicable waiting periods or fees. The good news? You are not required to do everything yourself. The bad news? There are a few extra hoops to jump through to complete an online sale.

A few essential things to know:

  • Please do not rely on websites as alternatives to legal counsel, we are not lawyers. Get an attorney familiar with the laws that regulate firearms sales
  • Please do feel free to contact us anytime for some free friendly advice on payment processing and FFL friendly gateway solutions
  • You must have an FFL license in order to commercially sell firearms and to process payments
  • You must abide by state and federal minimum age requirements when processing a sale
  • You can only ship to an FFL dealer – you should never dropship directly to the consumer
  • Your customer’s state and local laws apply when shipping firearms
  • Handguns cannot be shipped through the US Postal Service. Special shipping regulations apply
  • Firearms are at higher risk for theft during shipment – special precautions are advised, contact us for fraud prevention tips
  • Not all credit card processors will provide services for firearms dealers and of those that do, not all integrate with important partner websites
  • It’s imperative to find FFL-friendly partners
  • You will generally need a payment processing and payment gateway that uses a common gateway such as NMI, an FFL friendly Authorize.Net account or eProcessing Network

Although it sounds complicated, the process is quite manageable if it is set up properly. Read on for more details about each of these knowledge areas.

FFL Licenses
Although non-licensed individuals can sell weapons depending on the jurisdiction, only FFL dealers can sell commercially or cross state lines. The distinction between a private seller and a commercial dealer mostly has to do with the origin of the firearms. If the guns are from your private collection, you are a private seller; if your “private collection” is regularly replenished from wholesalers, you are a commercial dealer.

If you do not already have an FFL license, you will need to apply for one with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Carefully review the application instructions here, then fill out the Application for Federal Firearms License.

Note: You will need to be licensed before you can finalize a merchant account from any reputable credit card processor. Make sure you get your license well in advance of when you would like to start offering firearms for sale. If you are “not ready yet” it is ok to get the ball rolling early, just be aware that your account will not be activated until the FFL is in place and on file.

Minimum Age Laws
Firearms are considered “adult” products and are regulated by federal and state minimum age laws. The federal minimum age for purchasing a long gun (e.g. shotguns and rifles) is 18. However, the minimum age to buy a handgun is 21.

State laws may also apply. For example, the following locations have more stringent laws than the federal guidelines require, making the legal age for purchasing a long gun also 21:

  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Washington D.C.

To prevent underage customers from purchasing a weapon (they would ultimately not be able to pick up from the receiving FFL) and to minimize your riskiness before potential credit card processors, you should consider age verification before making a gun sale. This is usually done through software that will match the customer’s driver’s license number with a government database.

FFL-to-FFL
Dropshipping guns when such a shipment would cross state lines is generally prohibited by federal law. The practical effect of this law is that most FFL dealers do not ship any guns to anyone (in or out of state) directly. Instead, all sales must go through the FFL dealer of the customer’s choice.

In most cases, the checkout process for gun sales is similar to that for any other item. The customer makes his selection, puts it in the cart and pays for the purchase using a credit or debit card. However, before he completes the purchase, the customer must also choose an FFL dealer and provide the shipping address for that business. The dealer receiving the shipment must then send his FFL license to you for verification (unless you allow your customer to choose from a list of pre-verified dealers).

An easy way to verify a dealer is to use ATF Online’s FFL EZ Check. This free service will verify all licenses except those for ammunition or antique weapons dealers.

State Laws
Although the dealer receiving the shipment is responsible for making sure the finer points of state and local law (including fees, waiting periods, background checks, etc) are performed, it’s both responsible and financially prudent for you, as the merchant, to put safeguards in place that will prohibit the sale of illegal firearms. Such firearms will be rejected by the customer’s dealer and you will have to refund the customer and pay for the return shipping for such items.

Illegal weapons vary by state, with 15 states having notably more stringent restrictions than the rest (as of the publication date of this post). These states include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Washington DC.

Some common characteristics of a restricted firearm include a high-capacity magazine (over 10-15 rounds) or a combination of features that the state defines as constituting an “assault weapon,” such as a semi-automatic firing system, a pistol grip, and a detachable magazine.

Shipping Requirements and Suggestions

It’s important to note that the U.S. Postal service generally can legally transport long guns, but not handguns. To transport handguns, you will have to ship via a carrier service such as UPS or FedEx. Always review your carrier’s firearm regulations before shipping, and did we mention… get a lawyer?

Most major carriers require firearms to be shipped express to the receiving FFL with signature confirmation (an adult signature). The firearm must be unloaded and shipped separately from all other items, especially ammunition. The box cannot bear any markings identifying the contents. Even your branding (if included) should be non-descriptive. Part of the reason behind such restrictions is the increased risk of theft if the contents are identified; therefore some merchants also try to hide the product identity in other ways not required by their carrier, such as packing a small handgun in a disproportionally large box or using used boxes from an unrelated company. Particularly when shipping handguns, always try to make the box difficult to hide. Such boxes are less likely to be pilfered.

FFL-Friendly Payment Gateways and Credit Card Processing

A final crucial component of selling firearms online is finding a credit card processor and a firearms friendly payment gateway that are welcoming to your business. The majority of processors find online firearms sales too risky even to attempt to support, and many of the ones who do support such industries do so with burdensome restrictions. The key to success is finding partners who not only accept, but understand and support your industry so you can conduct business with the least number of hindrances possible.

Tasker Payment Gateways can help you find just such processors and gateways. With payment processing resources that are on your side, you can have increased confidence that your sales will always be supported.

If you sell firearms of any type, call us first before setting up your online payment environment. We look forward to answering all your questions. Contact us here.