I've used UPS to ship firearms on numerous occasions; to purchasers who've bought one from me, to gunsmiths for repair or modifications, and to myself, to save the hassle of traveling with large numbers of firearms on airlines.
This week, I tried to ship a firearm to Arizona, and hit an unexpected new snag. The clerk at the regional UPS office informed me that he had to make a copy of the recipient's Federal Firearm License (FFL), and keep it on file at UPS. I immediately questioned this, as I'd never had to provide such a copy before. Furthermore, there are very serious security risks involved in keeping copies of FFL's - that's why many holders won't give out paper copies of their licenses. Consider:
- If a criminal has a contact in a gunshop, or pawnbroker, and can provide a copy of a genuine FFL, the contact can let him have any weapon(s) he wants, and enter them in the shop's books as having been sold to that FFL holder. They can file the copy of the FFL as 'proof' that the guns went to that person or business. Meanwhile, the criminal can take the guns, use them in crime, sell them 'off-paper' in private transactions, and so on. The system of background checks on the buyer has been bypassed.
- If a well-organized criminal gets hold of a copy of a FFL, he can find out the name of the person holding the license (not just the business), and then write to the ATF to inform them that he's changing his business address. This is a routine notification. The ATF will print a new copy of the FFL, showing the new address, and mail it to that location - where the criminal will pick it up. In the few weeks before the actual FFL holder becomes aware that something is wrong, the criminal can order firearms from manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, and have them shipped to the new address on the FFL. As soon as they arrive, he can disappear with them. It's not inconceivable he could get away with dozens, scores, even hundreds of weapons.
That's why I found it so disconcerting that UPS would want to keep a copy of the recipient's FFL on file. I refused to provide one, on the grounds that UPS had no legal authority to ask for it. This resulted in the counter clerk refusing to accept my firearm for shipment.
I demanded to see a supervisor, and complained that this policy appeared to be undocumented by UPS; that such copies had never been required before, even at this location; and that UPS had no legal right to retain copies of such documentation in the first place. The supervisor checked, and rather sheepishly agreed that there was no UPS policy that required copies of FFL's to be kept on file. He let me ship my firearm without providing one, and promised to 'find out' whether the existing file of FFL copies should be shredded. However, I don't know whether or not that will be done.
If you ship firearms via UPS, you might want to check on this. I don't believe it's a nation-wide corporate policy - certainly, I've never encountered it before. It might be the result of some local bureaucratic 'Big Brother' pen-pusher deciding to get too big for their boots. Still, it's a threat to security, and I think any FFL holder will have kittens at the thought of who knows how many copies of their FFL being kept on file where unauthorized persons might have access to them. (Let's not forget that UPS requires us to ship handguns at very expensive next-day-air rates, precisely because they've had problems with temporary and part-time staff stealing them! They actually admitted this when they instituted that policy.)
I'm not at all happy about this, and I'll be following up with the local office. You might wish to do likewise with your local or regional UPS facility.