A client recently asked this question. He specifically wanted to know if the rules differ when the customer is in a different state than the manufacturer or gunsmith.
Given the myriad laws and regulations which govern both the transfer and shipment of firearms, it is hardly surprising that this is an area of some confusion for both gun owners and licensees.
I should also note that I will answer the question based upon federal and Virginia law. Other states may have additional state-law requirements of which I am unaware.
Having said that, the ATF answers this exact question from a federal law perspective in their Top Ten Firearms Questions document (embedded below):
The relevant question is # 7 (emphasis added):
The code section referenced is 18 USC § 922(a)(2)(A) which reads in part:
“this paragraph … shall not be held to preclude a licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, licensed dealer, or licensed collector from returning a firearm or replacement firearm of the same kind and type to a person from whom it was received”
This exception is also mentioned in the Code of Federal Regulations § 478.124(a) which states in part:
“a firearms transaction record, Form 4473, shall not be required to record the disposition made of a firearm delivered to a licensee for the sole purpose of repair or customizing when such firearm or a replacement firearm is returned to the person from whom received.”