The Federal Firearms License (FFL) allows individuals to engage in business related to the manufacture of ammunition or firearms or the interstate or intrastate sale of firearms. Holding an FFL to pursue these activities has been a legal requirement in the United States since 1968, with the passage of the Gun Control Act. Prior to the 1968 Gun Control Act, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 required manufacturers and sellers of firearms or ammunition engaged in selling or buying ammunition or firearms as part of interstate or foreign commerce to have a license. So, the federal system originated in 1938, but our current system has been in place since 1968. It is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which is housed within the U.S. Department of Justice. There are eight different types of Federal Firearms Licenses, though their actual numbers extend from 1–11. All types allow individuals to pursue a range of ammunition and firearms-related manufacturing and selling activities, and deal with a range of specific products. For example, a Type 1 FFL is for gun dealers or gunsmiths “not dealing in destructive devices.” The federal government has grouped certain products, such as firearms that require explosives, including cannons and artillery equipment, as well as armor-piercing bullets into a class requiring particular types of FFLs—Types 9–11 to be exact. The types in between are for pawnbrokers, curio and relic dealers, and manufacturers, dealers, and importers.
How to Get an FFL License?
The application for the FFL is extensive. There are three documents that must be completed—the Application for Federal Firearms License, a Certification of Compliance, and a Fingerprint Card. The Application for Federal Firearms License is 18 pages long, but is split into four separate copies, including two for the ATF, one for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) in your community, and one to be retained by the applicant. (The ATF does notify state and local law authorities of FFL applicants within their jurisdiction through the application document.) All four copies must be completed by the applicant. The forms ask for contact information, business details, answers to a variety of questions, and signatures to verify certain information. Each form also requires applicants to attach a headshot photograph (2″ x 2″). If an applicant is seeking licensing for a business, the application must list all owners, co-owners, partners, and other “responsible persons” involved with the business. The last two documents are shorter, but still complex. The Certification of Compliance is one page, and asks applicants to verify U.S. citizenship status, and certify that their application is accurate to the best of their knowledge. The Fingerprint Card is two pages, and was developed by the FBI. It asks for fingerprints of all ten fingers, along with height, weight, eye and hair color, sex, race, and place of birth. Once the application is submitted and received by the ATF, the ATF is mandated under the Gun Control Act of 1968 to act upon it within 60 days. Officials at the ATF’s Federal Firearms Licensing Center (FFLC), in Martinsburg, West Virginia, will review all three documents included in the application, and conduct electronic background checks on all of the individuals listed on the main application. The written application may be followed by a phone call from an ATF agent to the applicant. In all cases, the written application is forwarded to the applicant’s closest ATF office, and an in-person interview is scheduled by an Industry Operations Investigator (IOI). The IOI will discuss all federal and state licensing requirements with the applicant. Following the interview, the IOI will prepare a report recommending the ATF issue a license or deny the application. If the application is approved, the FFLC will complete processing of the application and issue the applicant a license. All of this happens within 60 days of the ATF’s receipt of the initial application. Applicants for FFLs must be at least 21 years of age and otherwise not prohibited from owning or handling ammunition or firearms. Application fees range from $30 to $3,000, depending on the type of license sought, and all licenses are valid for three years.
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 effectively changed the licensing system in that it raised application fees and extended the license period. For example, the Brady legislation raised the cost of a dealer license from $10 per year to $200 for every three years. Everyone who holds an FFL is also required to follow all firearms licensing laws in their resident states. In addition, all FFL holders are required to keep meticulous inventory and sales records, including using ATF-approved inventory software. Holders are required to maintain records for at least 20 years from the date of generation. If a licensed manufacturer or dealer goes out of business or closes shop, their records are to be shipped to the ATF’s Out-of-Business Records Center for filing. Finally, licensed holders may be asked to supply transaction records to law enforcement officers as requested for investigations. You know you want an FFL, but you’re not sure how to get one. Follow these four steps and you’ll be up and running in no time.
Step 1 – Ensure You Meet FFL Requirements
If you can possess a firearm and are at least 21 years old, then you can get an FFL. The requirements for getting an FFL are that easy. The ATF, and possibly your state, have minimum requirements that you and your business (if applicable) must meet before you’ll get your license to be a licensed firearms dealer or manufacturer. There are certain classes of people who can’t possess firearms or ammunition, and therefore can’t get an FFL. These people are considered “prohibited persons” by the ATF and they include anyone who:
• is a felon
• has been convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year in prison (whether or not they were ever sentenced to or served a day in prison)
• is under indictment for any crime punishable by more than a year in prison
• is a fugitive
• is an unlawful user of any controlled substance
• has been adjudicated as a mental defective
• has been committed to a mental institution
• is an illegal alien
• has a dishonourable discharge from the military
• has renounced their U.S. citizenship
• is the subject of a restraining order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner, or
• who has been convicted of a misdemeanour crime of domestic violence
There’s a few nuances that you might need to be aware of if you think that any of these apply to you especially the “convicted of any crime punishable by more than a year,” “unlawful user of a controlled substance,” and “restraining order” provisions. There are also some location requirements that may vary depending on your state of residence. Yes, you can get a home based FFL under federal law but your state may have special rules that prohibit it. For example, if you’re living in an apartment building in New York city, you probably aren’t going to get an FFL. As long as your local zoning approves of you having a firearms license at the address you choose, then the ATF will give you an FFL! There are a few tricks to getting your FFL at your home – I share all of these and more in the Get Your FFL Guide.
Step 2 – Choose Your FFL License Type
The type of FFL you get depends on what you intend to do with it. If you want to deal in firearms and/or be a gunsmith, then you’ll only need a Type 1 FFL. If you want to manufacture firearms, then you’ll need a Type 7 FFL. It’s important to note that a Type 7 Federal Firearms License also lets you be a firearms dealer – therefore, if you want to manufacture and sell firearms, a Type 7 FFL covers both! The Type 1 FFL is, by far, the most popular followed by the Type 7 FFL. Here’s a breakdown of the number of each type of FFL from the ATF for 2016:
Step 3 – Take an Online FFL License Course
The actual process of getting your FFL License can be difficult. However, thanks to online FFL certification courses, it’s never been easier. However, it’s incredibly important that you take the right one. When choosing an FFL License course, you should look to make sure that you are getting:
• legal advice from an actual firearms attorney that has the appropriate certifications,
• guidance from a true industry insider/professional who knows the ins-and-outs of both the firearms industry and the ATF,
• professional course software that helps you track your progress,
• automatically notifications of any updates in the law, and
• available follow-on training and certifications for both you and your employees
Step 4 – Apply for Federal Firearm License
Upon ensuring you meet the requirements for an FFL, have chosen the right type of FFL, and taken your course, you’re finally ready to apply for your Federal Firearm License. Now, the steps to this can be very difficult and may require multiple forms and extra steps depending on your location.
The FFL is one page, often watermarked with the ATF official seal. The most prominent pieces of information on the page include the license number, expiration date, and type of license. Less prominent are other elements on the document, including licensee contact information and ATF contact information. There are also details about what the license, based on the type, allows the licensee to do. Finally, the license is signed by the licensee.
Interviewing for and Receiving Your License
Wait for your background check to clear. After receiving your application, the Federal Firearms License Center (FFLC) will record the information in it and check it for correctness. They will run a background check on every responsible person listed in the application. When the background check clears, your application goes to your local ATF field office.
Prepare for an in-person interview. An Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) will be assigned to interview you. The IOI will call you and arrange a time to meet that works with both of your schedules.
Ensure that your application information is correct and current. Be knowledgeable about federal, state, and local laws and requirements for your business. Make sure that your business premises, even if that’s simply your home, meet ATF security regulations. The ATF requires that there be a lock on the entrance to your premises and a lock on the storage location of your firearms. While a gun safe isn’t strictly necessary, it’s a good idea to invest in one to make your application stronger.
Attend the interview at your business premises. The IOI will discuss federal, state, and local regulations in detail with you. The two of you will go through your application together to make sure that all the information in it is correct and current. The IOI will also inspect the premises of your business to ensure you meet safety standards for gun storage. The longest portion of the interview will likely be spent going over relevant laws and regulations. The IOI will prepare a report and make a recommendation to approve or deny the application.
Receive your FFL in the mail. If your application is approved, the FFLC will send your FFL to the premises of your business. You should get your FFL approximately 60 days after the ATF receives your completed application, though the process can sometimes take longer. Call the ATF for more information if it’s taking a longer than usual amount of time to receive your license.
First review and background check
Once the application fee is processed, the Federal Firearms Licensing Center (FFLC) will enter your application information into its database and commence a full review of your application. For all license types, except type 03, required supporting materials, including fingerprint card(s) and photograph(s) will also be reviewed. As required by law, the FFLC will then conduct an electronic background check on all the Responsible Persons you have identified on your application. ATF defines a Responsible Person (RP) as a sole proprietor, partner, or anyone having the power to direct the management, policies, and practices of the business or activity as it pertains to firearms. In a corporation this includes corporate officers, shareholders, board members, or any other employee with the legal authority described above. All responsible persons must complete their own Part B – Responsible Person Questionnaire of the ATF Form 7/7CR. For all license types, except type 03 (onsite inspections are not required for Collector of Curio and Relics FFLs), the FFLC will then send the applications to the nearest ATF field office having responsibility for the area in which the business is located.
Interview and final review
The field office supervisor will issue an assignment to an Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) who will conduct an in-person interview with you. The IOI will discuss federal, state and local requirements with you, and go over your application with you to ensure the information is correct and current. The IOI will then prepare a report of his/her interview, the inspection and make a recommendation to either issue you the license or deny the application. Some reasons for denial may include failure to comply with State or local law (such as zoning ordinances), evidence of previous willful violations of the Gun Control Act, or falsification of the application. The field office supervisor will also review the report and then submit his/her recommendation to the FFLC. Assuming that all background checks have been completed and your business address and proposed business operations are in compliance with state and local law, the FFLC will complete the application processing and issue you the license. This process will take approximately 60 days from the receipt of a properly completed application.
Applications, Licenses, and the Freedom of Information Act
Because these licenses are federal documents, their applications may be publicly requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). To do this, the requester makes an FOIA Request. That is simply a written request in which the requestor describes the information wanted, and the format he or she wants it in, in as much detail as possible. Additionally, the ATF maintains a state-by-state listing on its Web site of all FFL holders. As of August 2013, there were 138,186 FFL holders across all states. Within the state-by-state listings, one can see license holders, contact information, and what type of federal license they hold. International Commerce The federal system outlined here generally applies to domestic commerce and manufacturers and sellers of ammunition and firearms. International matters of the same kind are governed by the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR). These rules are administered by the U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Anyone wishing to pursue international commerce must first obtain an FFL, then submit a separate application to the Directorate, and pay an additional application fee ($2,250 in 2013).
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