Although I’ve had a Federal Firearm License (FFL) for the past 35 years, I did not seriously start selling firearms until 20 years ago. Since then the vast majority of sales have been the long heavy-barrel Miroku manufactured Browning and Winchester 1885 Black Powder Cartridge Rifles (BPCR). Due to the weight, length and design of these rifles, they are susceptible to damage during shipping. In my book on the Browning BPCRs, I dedicated a chapter to packaging options, shipping and cracked stocks, the part of the rifle most likely to sustain damage during shipping. The information is also posted on this website in the article titled: Shipping Heavy Long-Barrel Black Powder Cartridge Rifles. Although, in most cases, the recipient of firearms shipped across state borders (interstate) must have an FFL and is usually a dealer providing transfer services, the majority of end customers have little or no knowledge concerning the procedures involved in returning firearms, especially damaged firearms.
Now is a good time to offer a word of advice. Since most buyers do not have an FFL, they must employ the services of a FFL dealer to transfer the firearm, referred to hereon as a transfer dealer. When a transfer dealer is selected, ask them to explain their procedure in checking out firearms for damage. Since the dealer is being paid for transfer services, they are responsible for not discarding the shipping box and all packing material, which is required for inspection by the shipping company, referred to hereon as the carrier, to substantiate a damage claim, more on this later. Also have them explain the procedure for returning an undamaged firearm in case you refuse to accept it or later decide to return it during the inspection period for reasons other than damage. The transfer dealer may not provide return packaging and shipping services. In that case you must complete the transfer process and take legal possession of the firearm to ship it back yourself.
Ok, your transfer dealer has received a firearm for you and it’s not damaged, but you’ve decided to return it immediately for various reasons. The selling dealer agrees to accept the return, having made it clear prior to the purchase that you will be responsible for paying the return shipping fee. I’m not aware of all state laws governing the transfer of firearms, but in most states you have a choice. Assuming the transfer dealer offers repackaging and return shipping services, pay your dealer to send it back or take possession of the firearm and send it directly back to the seller yourself. Should you choose the latter, in most interstate shipping situations, as long as the receiver has an FFL the sender is not required to have one. But you should obtain and verify a signed copy of the selling dealers FFL prior to shipping the rifle back. Fortunately most selling dealers include a signed copy with the firearm for the transfer dealer’s records. If one is not available, it can be faxed, scanned and attached to an email or mailed to you. To check if the license is valid, go to https://www.atfonline. gov/fflezcheck/. Here again I’m assuming the firearm will be shipped interstate. If it’s an intrastate shipment, the ATF (Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) does not require either party to have an FFL, nor do most states, but the carrier may require a copy of the FFL regardless. It’s a good idea to check with your transfer dealer who should understand your state laws governing intrastate shipments of firearms.
Before discussing what happens when a damage firearm is received, let me make it absolutely clear that it makes no sense for a firearms dealer to ship a damaged firearm to an unsuspecting customer, especially with the speed and widespread communication capabilities of the Internet. Certainly there are a few (thankfully very few) unethical sellers that will take advantage of buyers when selling one or two firearms. I have been on the receiving end of a couple of these transactions and I spent a considerable amount of time spreading the word around, and advertising the names and addresses of the individuals on the Internet and firearm discussion forums. Therefore, before assuming that a dealer knowingly shipped you a damaged firearm, ask yourself why would the selling dealer risk damaging their reputation to take advantage of you?
Remembering what I said earlier about a transfer dealer having the responsibility for not discarding the shipping box and all packing material, following is an example of what should not happen. I shipped a $1,700.00 Browning BPCR to a transfer dealer. Upon receiving the shipment, the transfer dealer promptly unpackaged the rifle. After a cursory inspection, the shipping box and packing material were discarded. A few days later the end customer arrived, filled out the necessary paperwork, paid for and left with the rifle, also after a brief inspection. Later, after arriving home, the customer realized the stock wrist had a thin crack and he immediately contacted me. Assuming the transfer dealer did not drop the rifle and crack the stock, it was most likely damaged during shipping. Needless to say, the customer was very disappointed and requested a refund, which I would have complied with once the damaged rifle was inspected by the shipping company. Unfortunately the carrier would not accept a damage claim since the shipping box and packing material was not available for inspection. UPS, FedEx and the USPS all have the same requirement. Although the customer understood my position, due to the ignorance of the transfer dealer, we both ended up with a very unhappy customer.
Before moving on, I’d like to make a recommendation to transfer dealers. I’m primarily a seller so I rarely serve as a transfer dealer. But when I do, I try never to open the shipping box until the customer is present to watch. If the firearm is damaged, it clearly eliminates any thought in the customers mind that I damaged the firearm after unpacking it. I also tell the customer to keep the shipping box and all packing material until they are sure the firearm is not damaged and they are keeping it. But due to Federal law, generally the manufacturer, model, serial number of the firearm and selling dealers FFL number must be logged into the transfer dealer’s Firearms, Acquisition and Disposition record, commonly referred to as the “Bound Book”, within the close of the next business day, hence in some cases I’m forced to unpack the firearm without the customer present.
So let’s discuss what happens if a firearm is lost, stolen or damaged in transit. Assuming it was insured, the end customer should understand that any claim settlement will be paid to the selling dealer who paid the carrier for insurance, not the end customer. Depending on the carrier and type of damage, the claim settlement process can be long (typically 6 to 8 weeks, but can be much longer) and somewhat complicated. From experience, I can confirm that all three carriers, especially the USPS, can be hard to deal with if an item is damaged. If the outer shipping box was not damaged, the dealer that shipped the firearm will have an extremely hard time convincing the carrier to pay a settlement. Following are the typical steps: • Selling dealer, transfer dealer or customer initiates a claim process by contacting the carrier via phone or the carriers Internet web site. The carriers tracking number will be required to identify the item. • Assuming the shipping box and packing material are available for inspection, the carrier will generate a pickup request, commonly referred to as a pickup tag or call tag, and pick up the firearm and packing material for no additional shipping fee from the transfer dealer. If the firearm has been transferred to the end customer, the customer must work out the shipping details with the carrier. • Once the firearm and packaging material are inspected, all is returned to the selling dealer. • If the carrier refuses to settle a damage claim, there are avenues to contest the decision which lengthens the claim process. • Assuming the carrier accepts responsibility for the damage, the carrier requires proof of value and repair costs from the selling dealer. This step can significantly lengthen the claim process sense the carrier normally will only accept an official repair estimate from the firearm manufacture or repair facility. This means the firearm must be shipped to the repair facility, which may have a substantial turnaround time prior to evaluating the damage and sending an estimate. For example, it’s common for Browning to take 4 to 6 weeks to send a repair estimate. Therefore, it’s realistic to expect the claim process to take as much as 3 to 4 months to complete.
Once the firearm is inspected by the carrier, and it’s unlikely that the transfer dealer or customer damaged the rifle, it’s my policy to reimburse the customer immediately and not wait for the carrier to settle the claim. If the carrier ultimately refuses to pay a settlement, than I consider the cost to repair and resell the firearm as a cost of doing business.
By the way, it’s also my policy to refuse the return of a brand new undamaged firearm because of “seller’s remorse” or the firearm does not function properly. I make it clear up front in my sales advertisement or web site listing that the new firearm is fully warranted and should be sent to the manufacturer for warranty repairs.
There you have it. I hope this helps to clarify the shipping and damage claim process.