Some of the finest firearms ever designed were made before or during World War Two: the majestic M1 Garand, the indestructible Mosin Nagant m1891/30, the Swiss clockwork masterpiece K31, the German engineered K98, the original m1911… The list goes on. What most Americans don’t realize is that for the low price of $30 they can have the privilege of being able to ship these firearms straight to their door, taking advantage of extremely cheap online prices (rather than the gun store markup) and skipping an FFL transfer fee (which can cost $40 or more in my area). What’s even better is that the same neat trick will get you a discount at gun stores online. What’s the secret? Become a Federal Firearms Licensee. Here’s how . . .

First, as always, a disclaimer. I AM NOT A LAWYER. The information published in this article is as complete and accurate as I understand it at the time of publication. Laws can change and local ordinances may change the rules where you live. If obtaining a C&R license is something you want to do I strongly recommend you do your own research as well into the rules, and consult more than one source before following the instructions provided. That said this is the process I used and the rules I follow, so if I’m doing something wrong I’m in just as much trouble as you will be. Now on with the show . . .

A Federal Firearms License (FFL) is a piece of paper from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that grants the holder permission to receive firearms from anywhere in the United States without going through a background check. So if I (in Virginia) wanted to buy a Tokarev pistol from a guy in Texas, for example, all I would do is send the seller some money and they would ship the pistol straight to my front door. No mucking about with 4473 forms or running out to the gun shop to pick up a transfer, and the seller doesn’t even have to be a gun shop or FFL themselves.

There are different levels or “Classes” of FFLs. There are dealer licenses (for gun shops), manufacturer licenses (for gun makers), and a few others. The type of FFL we are concerned with today is the “Collector of Curios and Relics” license, which is issued to individuals and far less expensive and onerous for people to obtain. Unlike the full “dealer” FFL (which requires their premises to be zoned properly, comes with some extra special ATF attention, and costs a good bit more), the C&R as it’s called only costs $30 every two years and can be obtained even if you live in a residential apartment building. In other words, it’s a license that any American citizen can obtain provided they can pass a background check.

There are one or two small caveats: the license is only good for firearms manufactured more than 50 years ago. That means that while you can have Mosin Nagants by the crateload, you won’t be able to have the same convenience with the shipping options of a Bushmaster ACR. The ATF publishes a list of firearms that meet the requirements of the C&R license, but technically anything that’s not a machine gun, silencer or destructive device produced before 1961 is fair game.

Also, the license does not allow you to engage in the business of dealing in firearms. That means you can’t make a profit from the sale of firearms. This rule is a bit hard to enforce (what with having to prove intent and all) but in general as long as you don’t start buying Mosins by the crateload and then immediately selling them off you should be fine.

Before we get any further into how to obtain one of these, I just wanted to clear some things up real quick. Just because you have a C&R it does NOT mean the ATF can come in and inspect your residence anytime they want. The ATF can arrange to inspect the records of any C&R holder a maximum of once per year, and even then the meeting time and place is at the discretion of the licensee (you). If you want to meet them at their offices instead of having them show up at your doorstep that’s fine by them.

Now that you understand what a C&R can get you, here’s the process to obtain one.

Step #1: Meet the requirements.

In order to apply for a C&R license, you need to meed a set of requirements. Those criteria are:

  • Be 21 years of age or older.
  • Must be legally allowed to posses a firearm (not a felon)
  • You must not have willfully violated the Gun Control Act
  • You must not have willfully falsified the application or made false statements on it

That’s all there is to it. I have fond memories of filling out the application and waiting until 12:01 AM on the morning of my 21st birthday to drop the application in the mail…

Once you’ve fulfilled the requirements (or are reasonably close, like 20 years old) you can start the application process. Unfortunately, there’s a good bit of waiting involved.

Step #2: Obtain an application.

A good number of ATF forms and applications (like the form 1 and form 4) can be printed out directly from the ATF website on your home printer, completed, and mailed in. With the C&R Application, there’s some question as to whether you can print it out as well, or whether it needs to be ordered. Just to be safe, I recommend ordering the form and filling it out on the original application sheet.

The C&R Application can be obtained here in PDF form: http://www.atf.gov/forms/download/atf-f-5310-16.pdf

To order the application (and any other forms you need), visit: http://www.atf.gov/forms/firearms/

The ATF distribution center only seems to like to send out 2 C&R applications per package, so be aware that they’re probably not going to send you the 30 you asked for.

Step #3: Fill out the application

This step you will have to do twice. Once for the ATF, and once for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) of your area. That would be something like the county sheriff or chief of police. Both forms need to be identical, so no cheating. The CLEO doesn’t need to do anything in order for you to get your license, but if you’re a well known troublemaker (or, I suppose, if the CLEO just doesn’t like FFLs in their city) they can tattle to the ATF.

Here’s the questions and how to fill them out:

  1. This one is your name. I’m pretty sure you know it. Last name first please.
  2. This is your home address, your current residence.
  3. If your current residence is not your mailing address, then enter the mailing address here.
  4. This is the name of the county your collecting activity will take place in. Make it easy: this is where your guns are stored.
  5. Your personal telephone number. Put one that you check regularly or have an answering machine attached to in case the ATF comes a calling.
  6. Trade or business name. You should be filling this out as an individual, so this is unnecessary.
  7. This question asks you if you’re doing this as an individual or a corporation. I suggest getting this as an individual. You’re not a business and there’s no real benefit from a trust or anything.
  8. This is the credit card information section. You need to give the ATF some money somehow, and credit card will let you know fastest that they got your application and charged you (but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re approved). You can also send a check, and if you choose to use a check you should leave this bit blank.
  9. If you’re filling this out as an individual, just list yourself. This is the information for the background check.
  10. If you’re a non-immigrant alien then you have some more paperwork to do. Fill out the listed information.
  11. Have you ever had an FFL before? Ever been denied an application? Be honest.
  12. Remember those questions from the 4473? Yup, your friends are back. I’ll give you a hint: the answers should ideally be “no.”
  13. More things you should probably answer no to. BE HONEST! This is a legal document, lying can get you in trouble.
  14. INITIAL each box. DO NOT check them. Then list your CLEO’s name and address (office, not home).
  15. This paragraph states that by signing you certify that the answers are correct and you give the ATF permission to investigate your background. Specifically, this grants them permission to get your employment, military, medical, police and criminal records. Sign and date.

That’s it, the form is done!

Step #4: Mail the application

Remember, you need to mail two different copies of this application. One copy should be in an envelope addressed to the ATF and include a check or credit card information, and the other should go to your CLEO. DO NOT mail them both in the same envelope to the ATF, one needs to arrive at your CLEO’s office.

Step #5: WAIT

The ATF is very good at making you wait for things. In this case, the wait should be about 4-6 weeks. More than shipping from China, but much less than if you’re waiting for a Form 4.

You may see that the ATF charges your credit card or cashes your check within a few days of sending the forms off. Don’t get excited, this just means that they got your stuff and not necessarily that you’ve been approved. You still will have a little while to wait.

Step #6: Rejoice!

If you’ve led a good life, then in a few weeks time you will be rewarded with a C&R license. Your license will come first in its own envelope, followed a few days later by a gigantic package full of legal manuals and the latest official “approved” list of C&R firearms.

Before you go opening that envelope, remember one thing: Do not sign the original license. Let me say that again…

DO NOT SIGN THE ORIGINAL LICENSE.

That would be unfortunate. Every time you buy a firearm from an FFL using your C&R, you need to hand them a “wet” copy of your license. That means a copy that you have signed, in ink, with a pen. You only have one original copy of your license, so your next move should be…

Step #7: Make Copies. Lots of copies.

Like I said, every time you buy an eligible firearm from an FFL you need to hand them a wet signed copy of the license. Sometimes they’ll let you fax or email a scanned copy (especially if it’s an online seller), but there are going to be times when you want to buy a really nice M1 Garand from the gun store down the street. Those times, you’re going to want a copy of your license. I recommend making 100 or so copies and socking them away somewhere safe.

Your license needs to be on display somewhere on the premesis where you do your collecting (your house / apartment / cardboard box in the park), so use one of those copies and put it in a frame somewhere. Your original (UNSIGNED!) license should be socked away in your safety deposit box.

Step #8: Start your Bound Book

Because you’re now an FFL, you need to keep something called a “bound book.” The bound book is the record of firearms you have purchased and sold using your new C&R license. It records things like serial numbers, calibers, where you picked up the firearm and who you sold it to. This is a legal requirement that the ATF will probably ask to see at some point in the future, so don’t skimp on the record keeping.

What goes in this bound book? Any C&R eligible firearm you purchase using the C&R license. So while that new Nagant revolver gets a line in the book, the Mossberg 930 SPX you picked up from your gun shop and filled out a form 4473 to buy doesn’t go in the book. Also, any C&R firearm you sell while you have the license goes in the book. Even if you’ve had that Mosin Nagant m1891/30 years before you applied for the C&R, if you sold it while the license is valid it goes in the book.

The best “bound book” for the money is offered by Brownell’s. It costs THREE DOLLARS and has all of the information you need to record already printed in the book — you just need to fill in the particulars.

Step #9: Enjoy your new superpowers

That’s all there is to it. If you followed the steps, you now have the ability to buy and sell firearms produced more than 50 years ago without needing a background check, without going through an FFL, and even across state lines.

Remember, you need to renew the license every two years. Also, if you move, you need to alert the ATF 30 days before the move takes place.

Be safe, and enjoy being free of FFL transfer fees and the gun store markup. Or, if you miss spending all of that extra money, you could send it my way…

20 Responses to Ask Foghorn: How Do I Become a Collector of Curios and Relics (C&R) (FFL 03)

  1. Phenomenal guide/article sir! Cuts through the arcane fog that is ATF formology.

    Hadn’t considered the possibility, but admittedly now you have me thinking.

    • I think as long as it is in-state FtoF then it would be like any other private sale, except that you need to record it in your book.

    • From my reading of the law, you can sell to anyone legally allowed to purchase that firearm. C&R holders don’t have the ability to do NICS checks, though.

      Paperwork is essential. I sold an M44 to a friend, and even though I didn’t have a NICS check I still made him fill out a 4473.

  2. Great job Nick, I’ve been thinking about getting a C&R for several years but I never got around to it so far. I’m going to review all this info and hopefully I’ll send in my app. sometime soon.

  3. When I got mine several years ago I carried the copy to the county police for signature. They turned me away, just not interested in dealing with it. As I recall the clerk/officer said “that’s a Federal thing, we don’t care.”

    So when I did the renewal I wrote on the form that the county police do not care. ATF sent the form back indicating I had to file it with the county. So I mailed the form to both the county and the ATF. Two weeks later the renewal came in the mail. I’m sure the one I sent to the county went straight in the circular file but ATF has a procedure you are going to follow it come H*ll or high water.

    So lesson here is even if you toss the local copy in the trash, just don’t tell ATF about it, let them think you did what they want.

  4. I had a C&R for 6 years, and bought almost everything that was available. I had the most fun with the “scratch and dent” ones. They look like hell when you unbox them, but a couple nights of detail stripping / scrubbing, and rubbing the stock with boiled linseed oil restores them beautifully. You need a $20 headspacing gizmo to ensure that they won’t go kaboom, although none of the 50 or so guns I bought had a problem.

  5. Great article…..let mine expire this will make me renew it. Nothing like a minty 59/66 showing up at the front door. 🙂

  6. No idea if I’ll get a response at this point, but I’ll ask anyways.

    Is there any clarification on buying C&R machine guns and if you have to go through the NFA hassle? They list several full auto weapons on the approved C&R list and all that the ATF says on the matter is”

    “Q: May a licensed collector obtain NFA firearms in interstate commerce?

    Only if the firearms are classified as curios or relics, are registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, and are transferred in accordance with the provisions of the NFA.”

    I’m in the process of filling out my C&R paperwork right now, but I’d love to get some clarification on this for future reference.

  7. What are the requirements for display of the license–must it be displayed in a publicly “accessible” place (like the outside of your house somewhere), or can it be displayed, for example, on the wall inside your home office or workroom?

    • There is no requirement to display your license. Some ignorant BATF inspectors have invented this “rule” because they do not understand the difference between a retail FFL and a C&R FFL.

      • Thanks for clarifying that, I have had a C&R for almost six years now (just completed my second renewal) and I never heard of that requirement. I was just going to ask for a reference when I saw your post. I think the inspectors (or someone) are confusing an 03 FFL with an 01 FFL, which does have that requirement!

    • I have known one C&R collector that was “audited” by the BATFE, and even he said it was pretty straightforward and easy.

      You have to fill out more info on a 4473 so why not avoid the hassle and get an 03 FFL and save yourself the time and money of having to go through an 01 FFL?

      And I hope you don’t not file taxes because you’re afraid of giving the same info to the IRS! 🙂

  8. Are you able to buy directly from C&R Distributors? Are there any tips and tricks for buying things like Mosin’s by the case?

  9. The form makes it look like you need to have it signed off by local LEO then sent to ATF. Is this true or just send a copy to the ATF and local LEO?

  10. I was told by the ATF (1-866-662-2750) to find the name and address of my local (Fairfax County) sheriff and put that in the CLEO field on both copies and mail them, and ATF in Atlanta, a copy of the form along with payment.
    I did just that and now the wait begins.

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