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RECEIVING & RETURNING FIREARMS, &
THE DAMAGE CLAIM PROCESS
By Wayne McLerran
Last updated 8/19/16

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.



Wishing you great shooting,
Wayne