How To Get An FFL: A Brief Step-By-Step Guide

how to get an ffl

courtesy quietriotfirearms.com

How do you get an FFL? There’s a procedure to be followed in order to get there, as with licensure of any kind. Not only that, it’s actually pretty easy.

Well, it’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world, but getting a Federal Firearms License from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – which some people argue should be a store rather than a government agency, but that’s for another time – isn’t really very hard. If you manage to get your taxes done each year, you pretty much have the wherewithal needed to get an FFL.

Bear in mind that we are not lawyers, we don’t play them on television and this is not legal advice.

So, how is that done? You follow these steps:

Anyhow, the application process isn’t complicated. You don’t even have to really do a whole lot for most of it, as most of your time will be spent waiting. Bear in mind that each step in this application can be much more involved than this brief description; this is just a general overview of getting an FFL. Anyone holding an FFL should feel free to sound off in the comments in greater detail; we’d love to hear from someone what their first-hand experience was like.

Step 1

Decide on which FFL you wish to hold. There are 9 different varieties of license, each with its own different focus, so it behooves you to know what kind you’re interested in getting.

You’ll notice the phrase “Destructive Devices.” This includes grenades, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, cannons, and any gun with a bore diameter in excess of .500 inches. However, rifles and shotguns with a bore larger than this can escape this classification if they have a “legitimate sporting purpose” and are deemed to fit that exception by the ATF. That’s how elephant rifles and shotguns aren’t thusly classified.

What Is The Correct Way To Shoulder A Shotgun?

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That said, license types include:

01 – Dealer in Firearms Other than Destructive Devices. This means someone who sells guns for a living, including a person who works in a gunshop (the typical firearms dealer) or a gunsmith. To sell NFA/Title II firearms, that requires you (as sole proprietor) or the gunshop you work in to be registered as an appropriately-classed (Class 3) Special Occupational Taxpayer.

02 – Pawnbroker in Firearms Other than Destructive Devices. The same thing, but as part of a pawn operation.

03 – Collector of Curio and Relics. This is a non-professional license; it basically lets you buy curio and relic firearms with a bit more freedom than typical firearms. You cannot, however, conduct business with this license. You may buy more freely, but not sell.

06 – Manufacturer of Ammunition for Firearms Other Than Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition. A maker of ammunition other than explosives and/or armor-piercing ammo. Want to sell people your handloads? This is what you need.

07 – Manufacturer of Firearms other than Destructive Devices. Self-explanatory.

08 – Importer of Firearms or Ammunition for Firearms other than Destructive Devices. An importer of guns and ammunition other than Destructive Devices, ie grenades, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, cannons, etc.

09 – Dealer of Destructive Devices. Pretty self-explanatory, really.

10 – Manufacturer of Destructive Devices, Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition. You get the idea.

11 – Importer of Destructive Devices, Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition. Speaks for itself.

After you’ve determined which license you’d like to obtain, move on to Step 2:

Download and complete ATF Form 7/7CR and ATF Form 7/7CR Part B, which is the Responsible Person Questionnaire. Fill out both to the best of your ability, and attach a 2″ by 2″ photograph of your ugly mug that gives a full view of your face, no hat or obscuring your receding hairline. You also need to provide fingerprint cards (obtainable through local law enforcement) and the application fee.

However, those applying for a type 03 license – Curio and Relic collectors – don’t need to provide fingerprint cards nor a photograph.

If you’re applying for a license to engage in the business of firearms, you will need to provide a business address. It is up to you to ensure that all local laws are complied with regarding the place of business, including zoning ordinances and so on. If you do not, the ATF will almost certainly find out and deny your application.

The license fee for type 03 and type 06 FFLs is $30, but $200 for all dealers, pawnbrokers or manufacturers that don’t deal in destructive devices, ie type 01, 02, 07 and/or 08. Types 09, 10 and 11 must pay a licensing fee of $3,000. Payment may be by check or money order to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or by credit card. The renewal period, regardless of license type, is three years.

You must also provide a copy of your application to the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in your area, be that the chief of your local municipal police or your local sheriff.

Once you’ve got these ducks in a row, it’s time for Step 3:

Mail in your application, application fee and your copy to local law enforcement. This one is pretty self-explanatory. At this point, you begin The Wait, though it shouldn’t be long.

The standard FFL application process, according to the ATF is 60 days from “receipt of a properly completed application,” so – provided you get all of your ducks in a row – the process isn’t too terribly long.

The application is goes to the nearest field office for processing. At this point, the ATF conducts a background check on the person listed on the Responsible Persons form. (Which is probably you, if you’re applying for an FFL.) They will then contact you to set up the in-person interview with an Industry Operations Investigator, or IOI.

Before that occurs, however, you’ll have time for Step 4: preparing your place of business as an FFL.

At bare minimum, you’ll want to set up safe storage of some sort. If your intention is to conduct business as a home-based FFL or as a collector of curios and relics, you should get a gun safe. Consult the ATF website for more guidance.

While this step is rather mundane – like child-proofing a home prior to your newborn becoming a toddler, aka the absolute worst thing on earth next to certain folks from the comments section –

Step 5 is the IOI interview.

The ATF will schedule you for an interview with their Industry Operations Investigator, or IOI, for the next stage in the FFL license process. Granted, the IOI interview involves more than just a sit-down.

First, your place of business (be it your home, garage/shop or retail location) will be inspected by the IOI. You need to provide safe storage within ATF guidelines, which mandate a lock be between the public and any firearms or ammunition. If operating out of your home, the lock on your front door could technically qualify, but investing in a gun safe will likely be much more satisfactory.

The IOI will also go over your application. At this point, the application can be changed for a different FFL license type if needs be.

Apart from the application, the IOI will also be going over ATF rules, regulations as well as paperwork, which will probably constitute the bulk of the IOI interview.

The firearms business is not hugely complicated, but does require attention to certain details, especially paperwork. When you sell a gun, you are responsible for making sure that the ATF form 4473 is properly filled out. Should you be granted an FFL, you are required to keep records of every gun you sell for 20 years.

Should you wonder, that last bit puts paid certain myths about gun shows. While a private citizen can sell firearms at gun shows in some states without needing to conduct a background check, a person holding an FFL cannot. Doing so will not only result in the loss of the license but also could possibly result in criminal charges, which is something the anti-gun media doesn’t like to disclose. It could be that they’re lazy, but it’s more likely because creating a panic sells papers.

Anyhow, after going over the appropriate federal regulations, the IOI will inform you of anything that needs to be done to get your place of business in compliance with ATF and local codes and ordinances, be that a home-based FFL or a gun shop. You will be given 30 days to get into compliance or your license application will be denied.

After the interview, the IOI makes a recommendation to the Federal Firearms Licensing Center to grant or deny your application for a Federal Firearm’s License.

There may be additional licensing or other requirements in your city and/or state, which must also be complied with.

Step 6 is the review process, where the FFLC considers the IOI’s report on your application. The IOI recommends that you be granted or denied the application for your license, and then FFLC reviews their report plus the paperwork. If you’re deemed acceptable, the FFL is granted and you hold a federal firearms license.

Typically, the application process is only 30 days after the IOI interview, so it doesn’t take too terribly much time. Good luck!

comments

  1. avatar GS650G says:

    What a lot of work for people to exercise their 2 A rights. Or at least for someone to facilitate them .

    1. avatar WhiteDevil says:

      Doesn’t seem like a “right” after all, huh?

  2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Hmm… if you’re deemed unacceptable do they give you your $200 back?

    1. avatar Bing Crosshair says:

      Ha, in a pig’s eye!

    2. Yes. You get your money back if denied.

  3. avatar Anner says:

    Solid article. Summarizing all the steps and types of FFLs into plain English is pretty handy. I’ve witnessed the process once and it’s not too bad once you know it.

    The jab at commenters—that was a good one.

  4. avatar Kyle says:

    And if you want to have one of these in CA, you can also do the following…

    https://oag.ca.gov/firearms/dealer-vendor

  5. avatar TheUnspoken says:

    Are they still cracking down or discouraging “kitchen table” home based FFLs as much? It seemed before they both wanted to make sure you weren’t selling 2 or more guns without being an FFL, while also trying to cut down on everyone having an FFL just so they could more easily order guns.

    1. No. It is a “SHALL ISSUE” license…as long as you meet the legal requirements. Home businesses are fine.

      1. avatar matt says:

        To expand, “kitchen table business” is fine. However, they do make sure you have an actual business. Some of the state level requirements were a bit more optional years ago where you could basically get an FFL because you wanted to buy guns easier, or get post Hughes MGs, or just MGs in general much easier (FFL04 which isn’t mentioned in the list above). I mean, stuff that does make sense that there should just be a friggen license for and not have to be “in the business”.

        So you do need to be running an actual business. Sure, it can be as simple as you doing a few transfers a year, or a small amount of gunsmithing work or whatever. The ATF probably will end up denying a renewal even if you check all of the boxes on state and federal requirements to get one if all you are using your FFL for is building your own collection.

        I know several FFLs where all their business is doing some transfers. They post some business hours a day or two a week for a few hours, take some “vacations” in there too. But they are legitimately “open for business” most weeks for a few hours. They’ll do internet transfers and stuff or person-to-person transfers. Generally not “drop in”, but “by appointment”. You want to order that rifle from Bud’s Gun Shop? Talk to him first, order it, have it shipped to him and he’ll do the 4473 for you the next Wednesday between 6pm and 8pm that he is open and he’ll give you a call when it arrives to confirm. He probably does all of 100 transfers a year at $40 a pop (if even that many), it isn’t really much of a business, more of an excuse to have an FFL. But you can’t say he doesn’t have a business doing it.

        But yes, if you have an FFL you better be prepared to do at least a small amount of business. That didn’t used to be true with FFL01s where you could just get a license and call it a day.

        1. avatar Totmacher says:

          The Struggle is more so on the Distributor side. The ATF just want to ensure you follow the law which is “intent to” run a business. The Distributors are pretty hard core about allowing a Kitchen Counter FFL into the ranks. I somewhat get it because of the strict signature required shipping situation. But its actually the Distributors not the ATF that are more burdensome towards running an Actual Kitchen Counter FFL intent on making money.

  6. avatar SoCalJack says:

    I have a buddy who wanted to still buy bulk ammo online without going through a local FFL (so much cheaper than buying from the LGS). So he got his FFL type 3 and a California Certificate of Eligibility (COE). It took a few months to recieve both. July 1, 2019 the ammo background check law goes into affect. If you’re a CA resident, go through +10,000 rds/year, this might be the way to go.

  7. avatar Gunrunner says:

    “…and local codes and ordinances, be that a home-based FFL …”

    If you’re thinking about a home-based FFL, this is the first thing to look into before applying with the ATF. If your community has ordinances and a home-based firearms business is not permitted, you’re wasting your time with the rest of it. The zoning is a question on the application, so you’re going to need to know that stuff anyway.

    1. avatar matt says:

      Never planning to live in CA…but that’s actually cool that they’ll recognize an FFL-03 for ordering ammunition.

      Usually FFL-03s get the shaft on laws in most states. Like Maryland with handgun transfers and stuff the law deliberately says “federal firearm licensees IN THE BUSINESS…” when it comes to transfers. So even though I have an FFL-03 and Maryland law and the AG has confirmed that I can have handguns shipped to my door or acquire them out of state and not have to go through the onerous MD background check process and waiting period…if I try to get a C&R from a local shop, my FFL is ignored and I have to go through the 7 day wait, the $10 filing fee, the state background check process, etc.

      I also can’t buy a C&R handgun from an individual like I can in almost any other state if I am within the bounds of MD. Take it to an FFL “in the business of selling firearms” or the MDSP barracks and do all of that waiting period, filing fee, etc. crap.

      All because FFL-03s cannot be “in the business”.

  8. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

    i’ve seen a couple kitchen table dealers run off to okie- and they were outside cook.
    one acquaintance who soldiers on within cook merely stated, ” you need like a ten thousand dollar safe for them to consider you.”
    seems plausible, if onerous.

  9. avatar JR Pollock says:

    One other thing to consider, assuming the ATF is still letting “kitchen table” dealers set up shop, is where you’re going to be when the FedEx/UPS man comes by with your inventory.
    If you have a a stay-at-home spouse, they can sign for deliveries. If not, you’ll be making a lot of trips to the facility. If you’re retired, it helps, but you still need to be home when your merchandise is expected to be delivered.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    “03 – Collector of Curio and Relics. This is a non-professional license . . . You may buy more freely, but not sell.”

    Not being able to sell their firearms will come as a great shock to collectors.

    1. avatar Mad Max says:

      I think he means selling and shipping a C&R firearm to another person without using a FFL dealer (Class 01, etc.).

      Does having a C&R prevent you from selling a long gun privately (at s gun show, etc.) within your state of residence (when otherwise permitted by state law)?

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        Sure, you know what he meant, and I know what he meant, but the post was written for people who don’t know what he meant.

      2. avatar matt says:

        Up to your state laws. MD I cannot sell a handgun directly to someone. You have to be “in the business of selling firearms” per MD law and C&R licensees are not allowed to be “in the business”.

        Long guns are face-to-face in MD, so I can, but my C&R has nothing to do with it (other than I have record keeping requirements for C&R disposals per ATF, which is fine).

        I can sell firearms out of state to an FFL and that includes an FFL-03 C&R license holder. A sale to a non-FFL would have to go through an FFL (who is properly licensed, an FFL-03 isn’t to facilitate transfers) when interstate.

        Perfectly legal for me to drive to PA and sell a handgun or long gun that is C&R to someone who is a C&R license holder. Or for me to ship it to them.

        I can sell whatever I want to in my collection using my FFL (so long as state law doesn’t prohibit it). the license specifically says sales are allowed “to enhance your collection”. IE I could go and buy 10 Polish P64s at a deep discount and turn around and sell them at a profit, so long as I was using those funds to enhance my collection (which I sure as shit would be doing).

        That said, if you are buying and selling a BUNCH of C&R firearms and the ATF hears about it, there is a good chance they are going to look at the “to enhance your collection” as well as “not in the business of” stuff REALLY closely. So I don’t recommend buying a ton of C&R guns and churning to make a bunch of money, whether or not you are really turning around an investing it all in to buying more guns for your collection.

        Buying 2 or 3 of something when you can find it and at a great price, ATF isn’t going to care if you sell off the spare(s) down the road. A crate…well different story.

  11. avatar RF s a BFBD says:

    Written by a guy who doesn’t have an FFL.

  12. avatar WadeJ says:

    Anyone in the world with an internet connection can conveniently search for every/any FFL in the US and even see a map showing locations with directions. So, if you are using your home as your FFL business location, you have a world-wide target painted on your house. So step 1 should be to consider the risks and costs of involving your family and personal property with your FFL business.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I’m a MA certified firearms instructor — and my name and address is published by the Commiewealth of Massivetwoshits for all to see. Somebody might just figure out that an instructor could maybe possibly potentially have guns on the premises,.

      I’m not worried.

    2. avatar GS650G says:

      Darwin’s law kicks in too once in a while.

  13. avatar Cooter E Lee says:

    How can I get an FFL that lets me manufacture prototype automatic weapons? If it’s just $3000, that’s a deal compared to what any pre 1986 runs.

    1. avatar Random NYer says:

      My understanding is that would require an SOT, although I do not know offhand if that would be a type 3 (which I know lets you transfer post ’86 machine guns, but I do not know about manufacturing.) As for prices, if I remember correctly an SOT requires a hefty annual tax to discourage people from getting them (the value that pops into my head is $12,500/year, but that’s probably wrong. Anyone here know the actual numbers?) If that tax isn’t paid for a year, you lose your license and must destroy any of those machine guns in your possession. It’s unfortunately not simple, and I’ve never looked into it (NFA items of any sort are a non-starter in NY, with the possible exception of destructive devices if memory serves) but I hope that gets you pointed in the right direction and you find what you’re looking for. If all works out, I hope you get to enjoy the freedom I can’t.

      -RandomNYer

      1. avatar Totmacher says:

        Incorrect, it’s just $500 for the current ATF fiscal year to add the SOT. The ITAR $2,000 fee was clarified in a BATF letter last year as to the difference between gunsmithing and manufacturing. So unless you are legitly manufacturing, chances are you do not need to pay the ITAR fee. This would make you a type 7 / class 2, not a type 1 / class 3. I always chuckle when people think a Class 3 is better then a class two.

        1. avatar matt says:

          Keep in mind to have a SOT, you also have to be one of the FFL types that it could apply to.

          FFL-03 need not apply for a SOT of any type.

          It is well and dandy and isn’t that hard to get once you have an FFL. But that was part of the “crack down” on the kitchen table stuff. You’ll have to be running some kind of firearms business, even if it is extremely part time. And you don’t really own the guns, in that if your SOT/FFL ever expire, you must destroy or legally transfer all of the firearms that fall under the SOT. Like before it has expired (there may be some sort of very short grace period, don’t know).

          So yeah, you could buy a Kriss Vector for not too much with an FFL01 and a SOT3. But some day you’ll have to transfer or destroy it and your kids or next of kin can’t ever have it.

          A pre-86 MG that is legally transferable is still going to be expensive, and IIRC you cannot buy it with your FFL/SOT and then transfer it in to your name. It is property of your business/FFL and the same deal if you ever lose your FFL/SOT. You can go through the regular process to transfer a pre-86 MG to you personally, tax stamp, background check again, etc.

          So a SOT is nice and if you really want a business selling guns, do it. Like yesterday. But it comes with a lot of limitations and not something I think many would really want to do just to be able to “buy machineguns for cheap”. You are paying a SOT and FFL license fee annually until you get rid of that MG, plus keeping up with all of the other requirements to have an FFL.

        2. avatar Totmacher says:

          Depending on how the Business was structured any tax stamp items (this would exclude post 86 stuff) rolls to the owner without a tax stamp fee so in theory if you planned to buy 2.5 NFA items per year it is worth it. Post 86 can be transfered when the FFL shuts down to any other class 2/3 ~~~without a law letter~~~ and since SOT’s shutting down is rare, there is actually a very strong 2nd hand market for this since for many SOT’s this is the only viable way to bring a MG into there books.

  14. You CANNOT use “fingerprint cards” from local law enforcement. You have to use the cards provided by ATF included in the application package. They also do not accept Electronic prints transmitted by any law enforcement agency.

    1. avatar Sua Sponte says:

      Not quite true. I had mine done at the sheriffs office and sent those in with my packet, no issues.

      1. avatar Totmacher says:

        Correct, its the FBI Blue card, provided for free from most law enforcement agencies that fingerprint.

  15. avatar Sua Sponte says:

    Hardest part of the whole process for me was getting through the city ordinance pencil neck. The IOI was awesome, FYI, have all your paperwork, regs, directives, A&D book, business information, etc.. already in a binder for presentation, it makes the process so much easier and shows the IOI that you’re serious and professional.

  16. avatar Totmacher says:

    The costs are a little off, I only bring it up because its funny how they do it. Price is for 3 years, type 1 is 200, type 7 is 150, however renewals are 90 for year 4 for type 1 but stay 150 for type 7… never understood that…

  17. avatar JD says:

    Recently got my type 03. Simple process, not at all expensive, and relatively quick. Now I can have that Mosin sent straight to the house.

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