Can I Buy a Gun Across State Lines?
Can I Buy a Gun Across State Lines?
In the eternal hunt for quality guns, many shooters eventually stumble across a great deal, available but with a catch: It’s for sale in another state, and you aren’t sure if you can buy it.
Here’s an overview of how that process works — but remember, laws are constantly changing and you should always consult a lawyer for legal advice.
Can You Buy a Gun from Another State?
Broadly speaking, you can buy any gun that’s legal in your state from out of state, provided you go through an FFL (Federal Firearms Licensee) for the paperwork and background check. Even restrictive states like California allow this — simply pick out the gun you like online, and give the dealer the information from your local FFL shop. The dealer will then process your payment online and ship the gun via FedEx, since it’s illegal to send a gun through the mail via the Postal Service.
The package should arrive at your FFL’s location a few days after the purchase. After that, the transaction goes normally, just as if the gun had been in stock all along, though you probably have to pay a $25 to $75 transfer fee. This is actually pretty fair, since you’re effectively asking an FFL to sell you their competitor’s gun.
If anything goes wrong with the sale — maybe the gun you purchased isn’t on California’s absurd handgun roster, or the rifle you bought has a detachable magazine — the FFL who received the gun will refuse to sell it to you, and you’ll probably have to pay a restocking fee. This is just another good reason to always be sure that whatever your buying complies with local and state laws before you make your purchase.
Assuming you pass all the controls and have your firearm safety certificate, REAL ID identity papers, non-amputated right thumb for printing and so on, you’re ready to wait 10 days before picking up your gun.
How Does It Work in Free States?
If you live in a state that‘s relatively unrestricted, the process is usually smoother. Just buy the gun online and go to your FFL. It should be a normal purchase after that. Bear in mind that you cannot have a gun shipped directly to your house anymore (you can thank Lee Harvey Oswald for that one).
Can You Buy from a Store in Another State?
If you don’t feel like shipping your guns across the country, then you have the option of driving into another state to buy your gun. Most states allow interstate sales, provided a few rules are observed. First, it really helps to have an address in the state where you’re buying. This doesn’t have to be a residence; in most states, a rented office will do just fine. From the store’s point of view, it’s just selling to a normal customer.
In some states, they can accept your out-of-state driving license or ID card, but there could be a catch. In Alaska, for example, the gun store can sell you any guns that are legal in your home state. That means if you walk into a gun shop in Fairbanks and ask for their second-cheapest assault rifle, the clerk will want to see your ID. If there’s anything on there that says California, you’re limited to rifles that you could have gotten in San Jose, or to handguns on the roster.
As to the legality of importing a gun across state lines… It’s complicated. If it’s at all possible, you might want to email your DOJ and ask them for a letter specifically approving you for bringing a gun into the state.
Seriously — be sure to ask first.
Have You Heard About the Gun Show Loophole?
This wouldn’t be America if we didn’t have a few loopholes to get around the FFL/transfer fee limbo the law puts us in. One of these is private sales across state lines. One of the nice things about private sales is how the states that allow them don’t require background checks, though smart sellers absolutely will make you fill out a record of sale.
Of course, you can forget about doing this if you live in a gun control state. California leads the way here again, with private sales being totally illegal. Under California law, all person-to-person transfers must be done in an FFL shop, where you will have to pay a transfer fee, pass a background check, get printed, register your gun and wait 10 days.
There is a major exception to California’s handgun roster that prevents gun importation, and it’s carved out for law enforcement. California has a million-and-one dos and don’ts you’re officially supposed to live by, but there’s always a way around it if you know somebody. In this case, there’s no law against a sworn law enforcement officer buying a gun from out of state (which doesn’t have to be on the roster at all) then deciding he’s tired of shooting the gun and putting it up for sale on consignment. This is how Gen-5 Glocks get into California legally; a police officer orders it from Arizona for $750, shoots it for a month, and then puts it in the consignment counter with a list price of $1,350. Done right, this is a decent side business. Done wrong, it’s a straw purchase and your cop buddy is going to prison. There’s generally no penalty for buying the consigned gun, however — just the shame of spending nearly double what you should on a Glock.
What about Accessories and Suchlike?
As a rule, you can get everything that isn’t a lower receiver with a serial number shipped to your house like anything else you buy on eBay. Hilariously, this includes vintage black powder revolvers and the $200 conversion cylinders that turn them into modern .44 Magnums after about 30 seconds of fiddling with them at the kitchen table. As for optics, stocks, grips, lights and so on, go nuts. There’s no law against that.
Except in California, where legislation is in the works that would outlaw 80% lowers. In fact, the California state government is also currently suing the ATF to make them ban 80% lowers nationwide. So if California’s Department of Justice gets its way, it will soon be illegal for people in Arkansas to buy unmarked hunks of metal from people in Missouri.
And while that hasn’t happened yet, it’s a good illustration of just how fluid the situation is when it comes to gun laws. As such, it’s always a good idea to check your local laws (and California’s too, evidently) before buying anything gun-related across state lines.