Travelling and Shipping NFA Firearms
Written by Jason M. Wong Monday, 02 March 2009 00:00
Moving NFA Firearms Safely and Legally
Going to the range to shoot is an easy task, right? Toss the guns into gun cases, put the cases into the truck, and drive to the range. Not too difficult. Title 1 firearms can be freely moved within a state and between States with few legal restrictions. Transportation of NFA firearms presents additional challenges and legal requirements.
Transporting NFA firearms can be classified into four categories – movement of NFA firearms within the state of residence or interstate on either a temporary or permanent basis. First and foremost, owners of NFA firearms should always ensure that a copy of the registration paperwork is with the firearm at all times. The original Form 4 registration should be kept in a safe place and a copy of the original kept with the NFA firearm. The Form 4 is the owner’s proof of registration and should be made available to ATF or law enforcement officers upon request. Having a copy of the form may prevent unnecessary legal expenses for defending against otherwise legal conduct while travelling away from home.
In-State transportation of an NFA firearm is the least problematic situation. Temporary trips (regardless of length of time) do not require prior approval from ATF. Similarly, owners of NFA firearms are not required to notify ATF of a change of address for in-state moves. Interstate moves require a little more effort, but are still relatively easy.
Individuals wishing to move NFA firearms between states on a temporary basis must abide by two rules. An individual must obtain prior permission from ATF to move machine guns, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns or destructive devices between states. Permission is requested from ATF via ATF Form 5320.20, and is generally approved in a timely manner. Disapproval generally occurs only when the destination state prohibits NFA firearms. Approval from ATF may be for a specific location and period of time, or may be broadly construed to include a number of states, as long as NFA firearms are permitted in each of the listed destination states. Approval for interstate transportation of NFA firearms will generally be granted for a maximum of one year.
Individuals are not required to file a Form 5320.20 with ATF prior to a transporting AOWs or suppressors interstate on a temporary basis. Nevertheless, individuals are advised to be aware of the laws within the destination state. For the cautious, a Form 5320.20 may be submitted for suppressors and AOWs, even though prior ATF approval is not required for these types of NFA firearms.
A permanent change of residence to a new state requires notice to ATF. Again, a Form 5320.20 is used to document the permanent interstate move, with notice provided to ATF for all types of NFA firearms – AOWs and suppressors included. Similar to a temporary move, ATF will generally approve the permanent change of address if the destination state allows NFA firearms. In some cases, certain NFA types of firearms may be permitted, while other types are not. For example, Washington State allows the possession of Any Other Weapons, suppressors, and destructive devices, but prohibits the possession of machine guns, short barreled rifles, and short barreled shotguns. A request to transport any of the three prohibited types of firearms to Washington State on a temporary or permanent basis would be denied by ATF. When in doubt, seek advice from ATF directly or competent legal counsel familiar with NFA firearm regulations.
Since individuals are not always able to drive to their final destinations, on occasion NFA firearms may need to be shipped via common carrier, or as luggage on a domestic airline. In these instances, the NFA firearm owner has several additional responsibilities. In the post-September 11th world, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been charged with physically examining all cargo carried on aircraft originating from the United States. If an NFA firearm is shipped as aircraft luggage, be aware that the regulations for shipping a firearm are consistent, regardless of the type of firearm being shipped. All firearm owners travelling by air are required to ship firearms within locked, hard sided case. The case could be as small as a pistol case, or could be hard sided luggage, as long as the case can be secured with a lock.
NFA firearm owners travelling by air should be prepared for a physical inspection of the firearm by TSA officials, and in rare instances, additional security screening. In several instances, passengers have been detained or delayed while TSA officials verify that the NFA firearm is legal. Having multiple copies of all ATF documents may prevent a potentially volatile situation, and may assist in getting the situation resolved in a timely manner. If travelling with NFA firearms as checked aircraft luggage, plan to arrive at the airport early, be patient, and follow all directions from TSA and other law enforcement officers.
If travelling by air is not practical, it is permissible to ship firearms to yourself, or to a licensed firearms dealer via common carrier. This is particularly convenient when seeking to avoid luggage fees and the threat of lost luggage by the airlines. In other instances, an NFA firearm may need to be shipped to a licensed dealer for repair or sale. Owners of NFA firearms should be aware that many common carriers (UPS and FedEx included) have specific requirements for the shipment of machine guns and other NFA firearms. Often, common carriers will require that firearms be shipped via overnight delivery, resulting in additional cost. If the correct shipping procedure is not followed, private carriers have been known to deny insurance claims for loss, theft, or damage. It pays to know the limitations and restrictions prior to shipping firearms via a common carrier.
The United States Postal Service allows rifles to be mailed, but “pistols, revolvers, or other firearms capable of being concealed” cannot be mailed by anyone but licensed federal firearms licensees. Presumably, short barreled shotguns and short barreled rifles could be mailed if the firearm is not capable of being “concealed.” Although time consuming, shipping a firearm via USPS Registered and Insured mail is probably one of the most secure methods of shipping a firearm. Due to the internal procedures used by the postal service, it is highly unlikely that a piece of registered mail will be lost. If registered mail is lost or misplaced, the postal service will generally pay the insured amount without complaint.
Although there are added restrictions and requirements for the transportation of NFA firearms, the requirements can typically be overcome with a little prior planning. This article is a synopsis of the legal requirements needed to transport NFA firearms, and is not intended to address all potential legal issues that may arise during intra or interstate movement of NFA firearms. Again – when in doubt, seek advice from ATF directly or competent legal counsel familiar with NFA firearm regulations.
Jason M. Wong is an attorney licensed in the State of Washington. Mr. Wong is the managing partner of the Firearms Law Group, a law firm that represents manufacturers, importers, and exporters in the firearm and defense industries. The firm currently maintains offices in Washington, D.C., and Tacoma, Washington.