May 15th, 2015

Helpful Hints for Shipping Your Guns and Gear Safely

Gunsmith Nat Lambeth (“RustyStud” on our Shooters’ Forum) offers the following advice for readers who need to ship rifles or major gun components (actions, barrels etc.) to gunsmiths or repair facilities.

You have several options when shipping your guns to and from a gunsmith. Nat Lambeth has tried them all and had problems with them all. Here are some pointers:

1. Always package your unloaded firearm so that it is not loose and can’t work itself loose during transport. I recommend, at minimum, you use a hardcase inside a cardboard box. You can order a hard case from any of the major gun gear web vendors or get one at Walmart. It will come in a nice cardboard box. Just open the end and slide it out. Put your gun in the plastic hard case (after oiling the metal parts) and slide it back into the box. Then tape and relabel the box. Make sure marking on the box does NOT identify the contents as a gun. (You may be required to identify the contents to the shipping company or U.S. Postal Service clerk however.) For a very expensive gun, consider using a wood shipping crate. I will be making some shipping cases from plywood and foam line them. I will have to charge my customer a deposit and when they return the shipping crate I will return their deposit.

2. Pack individual components carefully, and enclose them in separate bubble wrap (or styrofoam) if there is any chance the parts can contact one another. Your editor had an experience where the finish of a fine, blued handgun was ruined because the repair facility had placed old, replaced trigger parts loosely in a foam-lined case with the handgun. During shipping these spare parts worked back and forth, gouging and scratching the pistol.

3. Confirm the recipient’s address BEFORE you ship. Individuals and businesses change locations all the time. Don’t assume an address you used a few months ago is still valid. It’s tempting to use old addresses that are pre-configured in the UPS or Fedex web-based shipping programs, but you should always confirm address validity prior to shipping.

4. Always put the sender’s and recipient’s telephone number on the outside of the box with the address. I have neighbors call me all the time saying I have a box that was delivered to them by mistake. If there is any way the label could be torn off or ripped, write the number on the cardboard with a felt pen.

5. Always send your packages insured for full replacement value. Take time-dated pictures of the contents before you ship. (This is yet one more reason to get an inexpensive digital camera; if you don’t have on use the camera in your cell phone.) If you’re shipping a firearm with special collectors’ value, deluxe wood, or engraving, be sure you have detailed, high-quality photos of the item so you can prove its worth.

6. Always send firearms and expensive components “Adult Signature Required” if by FedEx, UPS, or DHL. If they are sent via U.S. Postal Service, send them restricted delivery. This insures a tracking number and verification they got to their destination. If you ship USPS, it’s not a bad idea to pay a little extra for the green return receipt. That’s one more piece of evidence that works in your favor if the recipient claims non-delivery. The green card also reminds the carrier to confirm the address.

7. Keep all your shipping documentation for a year after the package has been received. There could be a unseen damage that turns up several months down the road. This illustrates the importance of carefully inspecting items you receive immediately. Don’t let a box sit around for days before you open it.

8. Handguns are by law required to be sent by common carrier (unless you are an FFL holder). Most of the common carriers have their own rules requiring overnight or next day delivery. Long guns can be sent by ground and you can use the U.S. Postal Service. Companies such as FEDEX and UPS may try to stick you with a higher cost shipping bill by claiming that rifles and shotguns must go next day or air. That is not true. Long guns can be shipped via ground. Do check local laws however–California has special rules regarding ARs and registered “assault weapons”.

9. Keep an eye on your gun by monitoring the tracking number. You can do this online with FEDEX, UPS, and USPS. If your package does not reach its intended destination, when it is supposed to be there, then initiate a traceright away. Don’t wait.

When Something Goes Wrong–Filing Claims
In my experience it takes from 7 days to 10 months to get a settlement on a claim. Don’t hesitate to take a shipper to small claims court if necessary. If the shipper gives you the run-around, filing a small claims action may be the best $40.00 you can spend. It only costs $40.00 to start a small claims action and the subpoena is another $5 bucks. Usually sending a subpoena to an officer will result in a rapid settlement. It is cheaper for the carrier to settle than have their corporate bigwig stuck in some small claims action. Realize the carrier usually is not the insurer. And remember, no matter how carefully you pack, eventually you’ll have a loss/damage claim. In 2008 I had a barreled action double-boxed inside a piece of schedule 80 PVC pipe and the transport company still managed to break it.

The four major carriers — FEDEX, DHL, UPS, and U.S. Postal Service — all have their pros and cons. You need to use a carrier that is convenient and reliable in your area. Many shippers like USPS because of the flat-rate shipping option. Your editor prefers FEDEX as he has found that FEDEX has the best tracking, and FEDEX has been more responsive than other commercial carriers on insurance claims. As for the U.S. Postal Service, Nat Lambeth says: “One thing for sure, if you use USPS you have the Postal Inspectors and the BATF looking for your gun if it is lost.”

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