Getting Guns Online? Shockingly Easy

A 2017 Small Arms Survey indicates that the US is way ahead in terms of guns ownership.

Countries Firearms per 100 residents
United States 120.5
Yemen 52.8
Montenegro 39.1
Serbia 39.1
Canada 34.7

Most of you recall the opening scenes of the Michael Moore’s movie “Bowling for Columbine”, which depicts a bank in Michigan that gives clients a free hunting rifle whenever they open a CD account. There are some disagreements about the credibility of that scene. But the fact is that, other than buying firearms at one of the 55,000 legitimate gun stores in the U.S., potential gun buyer has other less formal ways of getting firearms.


As a cornerstone of American gun regulation and a logical continuation of the notable Gun Control Act of 1968 and Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, the FBI has launched and run the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It’s purpose is to execute a background check to people buying firearms at any
Federal Firearms Licensed dealers (FFL). The potential buyer has to complete the “Form 4473”, which includes 16 questions regarding his Social Security number (Optional), background, drug use, and criminal history.

Under the law, it is prohibited to sell handguns to any person under the age of 21 nor rifles/shotguns to any person under the age of 18. Also, there are 12 official categories of prohibited purchasers, but we will mention only several most common cases the people are being rejected.

Most common cases for NICS rejections

  • Person currently under indictment for a crime punishable for more than a year in prison
  • Person having previously been convicted of such the above crime
  • Person havingBeen committed to a mental institution or adjudicated as “mentally defective”
  • Person subjected to certain domestic violence restraining orders
  • A fugitive from justice
  • Person convicted of illegal possession of a controlled substance
  • Person dishonorably discharged from the armed forces

While there indeed are loopholes, the NICS system is government’s first line of defense against gun crime that had blocked more than 2.5 million people from buying a firearm after failing federal background checks (1998-2015). It has also screened more than 273 million cases during the period.

A Brief Glance at how to Acquire Guns Online

Along with traditional firearm sale at licensed brick-and-mortar stores, firearms can also be advertised and sold over the Internet. We’ll take an overview look on these relatively new ways to acquire guns.

  • Online firearms purchase through federal firearms license holders – go through a background check, same as brick-and-mortar stores
  • Online auctions – Some restrictions are involved for both the buyer and the seller, laws differ from state to state.
  • Online marketplaceUntil 2016 Facebook, the world’s most extensive social network, was the most prominent platform for arranging gun sales online. Now the biggest online gun marketplace is “”.
  • Buying gun parts online – Buy parts then assemble the weapon of your choice, fastest growing segment of arms industry, offering an enormous sea of possibilities
  • Download and print guns at a 3D printer – Free plans for the 3D-printable firearm are downloaded tens thousands of times per day.


Buying firearms from a licensed business

For most people, buying firearms online from a licensed business is the most politically correct way to obtain a weapon as licensed dealers always have to do a background check, online and off. Purchasing guns online is perfectly legal in the US, especially if you buy from one of the nation’s 130,000 or so gun dealers with Federal Firearms License. Note that some pawnshops and collectors may also have FFL licenses.


The process of buying guns online from an FFL dealer

  1. Choose the firearm of your choice
  2. Check whether the product is legal where you live
  3. Locate a local gun store or a Federal Firearms License dealer near you for an easy pick up
  4. Contact them to make sure they’re willing to facilitate the transfer, the transfer costs around $25-$50
  5. Give your local gun store / FFL dealer’s address to the seller for shipping
  6. Choose between paying right then or later when you pick up – If you need to pay right then, using a credit card is advised, as you can ensure a refund in case you don’t pass the background check.
  7. Take the confirmation number or tracking number from the seller to your dealer. The FFL dealer needs to verify his/her license to the seller.
  8. When the FFL dealer get the gun, he’ll contact you to come pick up
  9. When picking up, you’ll need to fill out the ATF4473 along with any state forms
  10. Pay for the gun (if you haven’t), transfer fee and tax
  11. Get the gun

Like any legal seller, the FFL dealers are required to run background checks on all the firearms transaction done through them. There is no background check loophole in this method of acquiring guns.

Pros Cons
✓ Trustworthy, Safe & Secure ✗ Mostly prepaid, might pose a trouble if you don’t pass your NICS background check
✓ Big selection ✗ Delay on background check possible
✗ Background check fee needed

Even though the NICS is designed to be an instantaneous process and vast majority of gun background checks take just minutes, there are cases when the FBI takes more time to investigate. A normal cause for this is that if you, the buyer, happens to have a very common name. When your name happens to be the same as a criminal, your gun background check takes much longer time.

The FBI is required to complete the background check within 3 business days. When a check requires more information and a decision can’t be made within three days, a licensed dealer is permitted by law to go ahead and sell the gun with an incomplete background check.

If the check comes back negative, the agency sends out a retrieval order to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to get the gun back.

On a not too rare cases, buyers get mistakenly denied the purchase of a firearm. They have to appeal for their cases if they are sure that they are in the right.

This is how you appeal for your rights for firearms.


Online Auctions

Auctions have turned into a massive marketplace for new and used firearms and a grand bargain to add to your growing collection. Online auctions, like eBay, are a great place to find good deals on various items, including authentic firearms.

Auction and bidding vector

Similar to a brick and mortar store, if your seller is an FFL dealer you would have to go through the NICS background check. But if it’s a same state private sales, you can forego background check if you live in these 32 states. In these instance, seller can deliver the item him/herself or same state ship unloaded rifles and shotguns directly to the purchaser via United States Postal Service.

A popular auction websites like host auctions for private, unlicensed parties, with more than 130,000 firearms currently listed.

The auction route is a fantastic way for a screaming deal or finding something rarer for your collection. Since you will be dealing with individual sellers, the general advice is to stick with well-rated one to avoid potential fraud.

Pros Cons
✓ Chance to get “interesting” weapons ✗ Vulnerable to fraud
✓ Might get outstanding deals ✗ Some sellers will not accept credit cards (or will charge 3%)
✗ Possible errors in product description


Armslist and Forums

If we compare online gun retailers like Grab-a-Gun or a to Amazon, and or Gunbroker online auctions to eBay, then the parallel to the online sales platforms such as Craigslist undoubtedly will be Armslist claims to be the most prominent private sales online firearms marketplace.

In 32 states, same state private firearm sales are allowed with no obligation to perform any background check. Again, seller can deliver the item him/herself or same state ship unloaded rifles and shotguns directly to the purchaser via United States Postal Service. There is only 1 restriction, sellers must not knowingly transfer a firearm to anyone who is prohibited by federal law.

On the other hand, between states sales need to pass through FFL dealers as required by law. This means a background check just like buying from a gun store.

Private firearms transactions could be one of the gun loopholes as it theoretically allow for a quick and easy way to get around restrictions. True, Armslist states that buyers and sellers are obligated to make sure that all transactions through the site are legal. But private firearms sale with no background check is legal in some cases. Plus there is no enforcement on illegal buying whatsoever. The majority of people trading on Armslist are certainly honest people, some might even voluntarily use an FFL dealer to complete the transfer. That said, some people (especially the ones who need a quick buck) don’t do that, hence a discreet felon/mentally ill can get his/her weapon this way.

One NYPD investigation in 2011 speaks as a confirmation that some firearm online sites function as unregulated bazaars giving ample opportunities for criminals to obtain weapons. Pretending to be buyers who stated they couldn’t pass a background check, police agents contacted a number of ads on Armslist and found that 62 percent of sellers they approached said they were willing to sell them a weapon anyway.

As an illustration, let us mention a case from 2012. Known as the Wisconsin spa shooter, a husband with a restraining order was not legally able to purchase a firearm, but bought the pistol through the website, and used it in the massacre .

Note that on private transactions like this, you have to be wary. Scams can happen, and you have no other protection than yourself. Here are the tips for safe private firearm transactions :

  1. Check the laws in your state regarding private firearm transactions and ownership.
  2. Skip the too good to be true deals, as they probably are.
  3. Confirm the serial number with the manufacturer if possible.
  4. Meet in a place with other people that also allow you to try out the firearm, like the range.
  5. Don’t go alone. And preferably arm yourself and your friends.
  6. Make sure that the firearm is as the seller claim, before handing the money.

Other than marketplace platform, discussion forums like, or also often have sections dedicated to buying/selling of guns.

Pros Cons
✓ Very convenient – no account needed on some sites ✗ Vulnerable to scam, Less secure
✓ Anonymous ✗ Some sellers will not accept credit cards
✓ Not much regulation ✗ Possible errors in the product description
✓ Large selection of guns online
✓ Cheaper transaction – no middleman fees


Buying parts

The overall firearms industry has advanced in manufacturing techniques that involve standardized, interchangeable parts making possible purchasing gun parts and gun accessories to build or personalize your gun.

A schematic showing the workings of an AK47 (Chinese type 56)

As a result, the DIY guns market absolutely exploded as a favorite hobby. It is supported by many vendors particularly in the online domain. The modular nature of many modern firearms makes it possible for designers to concentrate on perfecting a construction that would enable easy and straightforward parts changing and upgrading.

Most of the guns parts and accessories in the USA are free to purchase without any restrictions, but there is one critical part of a firearm which the ATF tightly regulates possession.

Usually, that would be the gun receiver or the frame where manufacturer assigns a unique serial number before it enters the stream of commerce. Legally speaking, the part with a unique serial number counts as a complete firearm. This component serves the same role as the chassis of a car and the online gun sales websites will only ship it to your preferred FFL (federally licensed gun dealer), not to you directly. So there’s no loophole here as you have to pass background checks done by an FFL dealer.

Every other part is merely a part and can be purchased even at general-purpose marketplaces like E-Bay and Amazon or similar sites. In fact, you can legally buy and mail from one domestic location to another all of the parts like a slide, barrel, and magazine or even complete AR upper receivers as long as it is not anything that would require an FFL.


80% Lower

However, you can get around the FFL requirement, by purchasing what we call “80% receivers”, a Partially Complete Receiver – or PCR. Completing “80% lowers” requires quite a bit of work to do, takes a good deal of equipment and some expertise.

Like others non-restricted gun kits you can buy separately ‘incomplete receivers’ online from Brownells, Midway USA or dozens of similar websites. The same companies also sell jigs that assist in completing the milling needed to complete the unfinished lowers.

The unfinished parts are selling separately and they do not require any registration. They also bear none of the manufacturer markings nor any serial numbers enabling the easy building of an untraceable firearms.

Note that NFA firearms, such as machine guns, short barreled rifles and shotguns, are required to be serialized. Other regular firearms do not need to be serialized. If you intend to sell them however, the ATF strongly suggests that you mark the firearms in accordance with regulations to help with tracing purposes.

Since many 80% lower receivers guns require no background check, serial number nor other manufacturer markings, they are often called “Ghost Guns”.

From another standpoint however, it’s easier for a criminal to buy a normal, serialized gun illegally on the street than to buy an unfinished receiver, as they will actually spend $100-200 more to build their own weapon than it would cost them to buy a complete operable firearm.

Furthermore, it is a timely process to construct a complete firearm from parts. Plus, one must also have the know-how to build guns correctly.

If you wish to build your own AR-15, go to and see this video.

Pros Cons
✓ Big options for parts ✗ Time-consuming
✓ Customizability – Perfect firearm for your style & needs ✗ Specialized equipment could be costly
✓ Can get it far cheaper than buying it outright (if you know what you’re doing) ✗ Requires machining skills proficiency
✓ Satisfaction and the challenge of making your own gun ✗ No warranty on the weapon


3D Printed Guns

Gun laws possess multiple layers of regulation, placed under the umbrella of state or Federal law. But a gun-rights activist Cody Wilson has promoted the idea of 3D-printable firearms which found American jurisdictions totally unprepared.

Applying the new technology, Wilson’s Defense Distributed (DD) offered the “Liberator”, a functioning pistol that could be produced out of a heat-resistant ABS plastic with an $8000, industrial-scale 3D printer. Liberator is by the way, also a name of an inexpensive single-shot pistol from WW2, designed to serve as a disposable weapon with the idea of killing the enemy guard then taking his arms afterwards.

To make an unregistered, unserialized and legal polymer 3D-printed handgun, it can be as easy as :

  1. Download the design file from the internet
  2. Print the firearm
  3. Go test the weapon

Defense Distributed subsequently inserted 6 ounces of steel to comply with “Undetectable Firearms Act” insisting that a firearm be able to be traced in a metal detector.

Although the weapon files record 50,000 downloads in one day, the idea of 3D-printable firearm plays an outsized role in the current debate over guns, since it is not so easy to use 3D printers to build your own homemade functioning pistol.

Actually, 3D printing technology is not yet at the stage where the gun would work safely nor reliably for a period of time. A 3d printed gun which can fire 100-200 round before breaking is considered high quality in today’s technology. The risk of backfire and explosion are also high due to the internal damage of smaller parts in the 3d printed guns.

For a criminal, it should be easier and cheaper to acquire firearms from standard firearm market than it would be to set up a printer and print plastic pistols.

Anyway, these guns could be found in criminals possession. There is a fresh example in 2017, Swedish police seized fully functioning 3D-printed firearms made almost entirely of plastic. The hand-made gun resembling the Czech submachine gun Scorpion, use some parts from real weapons, while the rest was 3D-printed and are perfectly usable.

Today, 3D printed guns are rather a proof of concept. In the future however, when metal 3D printing becomes cheap enough and is more readily available at a consumer level, 3d printed guns could become a real game-changer.

Pros Cons
✓ Possibility to make your own functioning firearms at home ✗ Potentially dangerous to the user
✓ Free 3D printed gun blueprints ✗ Limited gun lifespan
✓ Can make Hybrid gun designs incorporating 3D printed components with metal gun parts ✗ Expensive


The Dark Web

I must admit that I don’t know much about this dark web thing. But according to an article by Fast Company, it seems that you’ll not get a bargain from the dark web both in terms of price and varieties.

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  1. It was pretty interesting to read that 32 states allow for private firearm sales with no need to perform a background check. My uncle has been thinking about selling a few guns in an auction here in our own state. Would that mean that if the buyer was from the same state that they wouldn’t have to get a background check?

    • In some states, private firearm sellers do not need to perform background check on same state buyers. Note that you are still forbidden from knowingly selling to a prohibited buyer.

      Also, don’t forget to check with your current state law before performing any transaction as information on this page may not be always up-to-date.

      Good luck!

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