This ain’t legal advice. That said, here’s my best understanding of a confusing topic.
At Kull's Old Town Station, Ltd., (KOTS) we ship and receive thousands of antique and modern firearms. We send guns to our customers from our mail order catalog and this website, and receive guns from folks who need appraisals or want to sell us their guns or have us sell their guns for them on consignment. We’ll start discussing the specifics of shipping to or from KOTS. Some general information on shipping guns appears at the bottom of this page.
... assuming you do not have a Federal Firearms License (FFL)
Long guns can be difficult to pack. You may want to invest $30 or so in a hard plastic gun case from K-Mart or WalMart or such, and use it for a shipping container.
Kentucky rifles and other antique long guns with long slender stocks are especially vulnerable to breakage at the wrist (the area just behind the hammer and trigger). To try to prevent this, you may want to first wrap the gun in a protective material such as bubble wrap, and then tightly tape a piece of scrap lumber (1" x 4" usually works) to the stock to re-enforce the wrist area.
Old wood cases or cardboard boxes – if the wood case or old original cardboard box has some value, remove the gun from the case or box and pack the case and gun/accessories separately. If you don’t, the gun may well rattle around & damage the box or case. Old cardboard boxes should be filled with styrofoam peanuts or bubble wrap to prevent crushing. Box/case and gun can be sent in the same shipping container, so long as they are both well padded.
As an FFL, we’ve found the following to be our best options to combine legal compliance, security of shipment, and cost effectiveness:
AMMUNITION MUST be shipped by common carrier (UPS or FedEx) ground service only, with the package marked "ORM-D" (for small arms ammo). Usually it’s best to ship ammo separately.
LONG GUNS go via UPS 3rd Day. In the continental US, we charge $40 for the first one, $25 each additional.
MODERN HANDGUNS TO FFL DEALERS and ANTIQUE HANDGUNS TO INDIVIDUALS – both go via USPS (post office), insured priority mail for packages valued under $600, registered mail for packages valued over $600. Inside the US, we charge $35 for the first handgun, $15 for each additional.
MODERN HANDGUNS TO C&R FFL COLLECTORS – go via UPS Next Day Saver, at extra cost which must be paid by the buyer. (Fed. law does not provide for mailing to FFL Collectors.)
WHEN TO CHECK ON YOUR SHIPMENT – Please don’t be antsy about your shipment. When a catalog comes out or an auction is completed or the website is updated, we’re swamped with orders and shipments. Each call asking "Did you get my FFL?" "Did my order go out yet?" "What’s my tracking number" "Did you get my check" keeps us away from processing the orders and getting them out the door. Our goal is to ship within three week of receipt of all payment and paperwork. I’d suggest allowing 3 weeks after you’re sure we’ve received all needed material before calling to check.
ANTIQUE FIREARMS (generally, any gun made prior to 1899) under federal law may be mailed or shipped to & from private individuals (non-FFL) by post office or common carrier.
MODERN FIREARMS (generally, any gun after 1898) are subject to numerous restrictions on mailing & shipping. While there are exceptions, generally private individuals (non-FFL) may ship modern firearms by common carrier to Federally licensed dealers or collectors (FFL’s).
MAILING MODERN HANDGUNS – Mailing of handguns is permitted between FFL Dealers. The wording of this permission does NOT include FFL Collectors. FFL Dealers mailing guns to other FFL Dealers are required to fill out a special post office form on each such mailing.
UPS and FED-EX POLICIES ON HANDGUNS – both of the largest common carriers have unilaterally adopted policies that require handguns to be shipped only by the expensive overnight ("next-day") method. Although I have heard some UPS officials have varied on the subject, the UPS officials I have spoken to say that they do NOT differentiate between