It's been the future for a while now, and everybody buys everything online.
Most especially since COVID-19 hit people have even been ordering such mundane things as socks, lettuce and potting soil to be delivered directly to their front door. But guns are a different matter.
It’s possible that as many as a few million people in the United States would like to bargain shop for a gun online given the option, but the dense tangle of state and federal laws makes this problematic.
In some ways, the law governing internet gun sales is a half-century behind the tech curve, and plenty of people approach buying a gun online with a great deal of uncertainty.
Here's a quick rundown on what you can expect when you make your first gun purchase online.
Online Gun Sales: Federal Law
There was a time when basically anybody in America could order a machine gun from the Sears catalog.
Prior to the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, anyone who could afford a $15 mail order had the option of sending away for a fully automatic Tommy gun and having it delivered right to their home and the delivery guy probably looked like Mr. McFeely from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
That all started to change when the NFA was passed — after that, you had to pay a $300 tax to the federal government before getting your automatic weapons delivered.
This state of things continued until 1968, when Congress passed the Gun Control Act.
This was a reaction to the discovery that Lee Harvey Oswald had ordered his guns by mail under an alias before the Kennedy assassination.
After the ‘68 act, all new gun purchases had to be made at a federally licensed gun shop, rather than having guns sailing through the mail to possibly sketchy former-communists with a history of defecting to the Soviet Union (like Oswald).
The 1968 law still stands, and for all practical purposes, your internet gun purchase is basically a fancy catalog sale.
No matter which state you live in, and no matter how much freedom you enjoy up in Alaska or whatever remote place you may choose to call home, you can expect the gun to arrive at your local gun shop rather than accidentally showing up on your neighbor’s porch.
Buying a Gun Online
Assuming the gun you want to buy online can be sold legally, the process can be reminiscent of both normal online shopping and checking into a medium-security prison, depending on the state you live in.
In most states, you can browse online for a gun you like and make your purchase through the website checkout.
After the sale, you'll have to pick a local gun shop that holds a federal firearms license (FFL) and ask the store to fax its license number to the online retailer.
Once the retailer verifies the shop's license, the gun gets shipped via FedEx — not the U.S. Postal Service — to your shop, which may or may not be able to call you and let you know it's arrived.
If you live in a more lax state like Arizona, the deal is done right there — just drive to the gun shop and pick up your gun, minus the $30 to $60 transfer fee the shop charges for selling you a competitor's product.
All state laws apply to the pick-up, the same as if you had bought one of the guns the store already has in stock.
In safety-first states, such as New Jersey, you might have to do the paperwork for a state license and/or ownership permit.
Whatever the rules are in your state, you and you alone are responsible for knowing and following them all.
States with Online Gun Buying Hurdles
Many states restrict the size of your gun's magazine; others impose requirements to buy a trigger lock within 10 days prior to picking up your gun.
Your purchase might also be limited by the configuration of your gun. Pistol grips, flash hiders and chainsaw bayonets are all illegal or tightly regulated in certain states, such as New York.
If you live in one of these states, be sure the gun you buy online is listed as "NY Legal," "Massachusetts Legal" or the equivalent for your state.
If you happen to order a gun that's illegal in your state, you might wind up with a notification telling you that the sale can't go through, an email telling you the sale was canceled or a rejection at the gun counter when you go to pick up your purchase.
You will then probably be charged the cost of returning the gun via FedEx.
As bad as this is, it's arguably better than being handed a felony-level gun and then driving home with it in Chicago.
Some states maintain a fairly draconian gun registry that limits what you can buy.
The California Handgun Roster functions a lot like the Medieval Church's index of prohibited books — you can get all the normal guns, but only if you're career law enforcement, independently wealthy or special and exempt in some other particular way.
Otherwise, you have to check the state's list of allowable handguns before you click the “Checkout” button.
Special Rules for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement officers can get Gen-5 Glocks, Taurus Curves and a number of other guns from out of state off-roster, but you'll have to prove you're really a police officer before picking up your gun.
Returns, Recalls and Other Hassles
Not every gun ends up a winner. Some guns come with faults; others have defective parts; still others are Kel-Tecs.
Whatever the problem is with your internet-sold gun, returns shouldn't be a problem.
While the details of each company's warranty vary (from the solid-gold lifetime warranty you get with a Smith & Wesson to SAKO's 2-year drop-dead policy for manufacturer defects), the return process functions the same just about everywhere.
If you need to return a gun you bought online, it's generally acceptable to take it into any FFL gun shop and ask them to send it back for you.
You may have to pay the shipping cost for the gun, which again will be sent via FedEx, though the return shipping is usually paid for by the company.
In rare cases, when your gun is a total write-off, some companies will send you out a new gun. Smith & Wesson is famous for this kind of excellent customer care, though it's also common among other American gun companies.
One nice thing about returns is that, if your original gun can't be repaired and has to be replaced instead, you almost certainly won't have to pay another transfer fee or re-register for it as if you were buying the gun for the first time.