When you want to purchase a firearm, many transactions involve a step known as a Federal Firearms License (FFL) transfer, also simply known as a firearm transfer. The most common situation where an FFL transfer might be required is when you purchase a gun online. However, other situations may require gun owners to go through an FFL to complete a firearm transfer.
Discover what the FFL transfer process involves, when an FFL transfer is necessary, and how to complete one for an online gun purchase.
What Is an FFL?
FFL stands for Federal Firearms License. Individuals and businesses with a Federal Firearms License are legally allowed to engage in the business of dealing, manufacturing, or importing firearms and ammunition.
An FFL is not required to buy or sell firearms as a private citizen, even if you regularly trade guns for your personal collection. Such firearm transfers are legally considered “occasional.”
A license is only required for individuals who meet the legal definition of “engaged in the business.” Their primary professional activity involves trading, manufacturing, or importing guns and ammunition for profit or a livelihood.
Types of Federal Firearms Licenses
Federal law defines nine different types of Federal Firearms Licenses. All but one of these FFL types fall into three major categories: dealer FFLs, manufacturer FFLs, and importer FFLs.
The most common types of FFLs are in the dealer category. Holders of such licenses can operate a business that buys, sells, trades, or repairs guns. They include the following:
- Type 01 FFL — Dealer in Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices. This is the FFL type used by typical gun shops and gunsmithing businesses.
- Type 02 FFL — Pawnbroker in Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices. Pawn shops that accept firearms will use this FFL type instead of a Type 01.
- Type 09 FFL — Dealer in Destructive Devices. This is the rarest type of dealer FFL. Besides all firearms covered by a Type 01 FFL, a Type 09 FFL holder can sell Destructive Devices (DDs) and armor-piercing (AP) ammunition. DDs are a restricted category of weapons defined in the Internal Revenue Code (Section 5845(f)) that includes firearms with a bore diameter of over 0.500”, grenades, and artillery.
Most gun owners will interact with Type 01 or 02 FFL holders to conduct firearm transfers. Typical holders include regular gun shops, gunsmiths, and pawn shops.
Due to the restrictions surrounding the civilian ownership of DDs, it is unlikely for a typical gun owner to interact with any FFL authorized to deal DDs. For these reasons, military and law enforcement agencies are the most likely customers of a Type 09 FFL business.
Manufacturer Federal Firearms Licenses are primarily intended for individuals and businesses who manufacture guns and ammunition. However, each FFL type in this category grants different rights.
- Type 06 FFL — Manufacturer of Ammunition: This FFL type explicitly only allows its holder to run an ammunition manufacturing business. A Type 06 FFL holder is not licensed to deal, import, or manufacture firearms. They can only be “engaged in the business” of making and selling ammunition.
- Type 07 FFL — Manufacturer / Dealer of Firearms and Ammunition: This FFL type is one of the most comprehensive, allowing an individual or business to be both a manufacturer and a dealer. The holder can legally make, buy, sell, and trade firearms and ammunition.
- Type 10 FFL — Manufacturer / Dealer of Destructive Devices: This FFL functions like the Type 07, with one added benefit: the holder can also make and deal in DDs and AP ammunition.
While most major gun and ammo manufacturers in the United States don’t sell their products directly to customers, many smaller gunmakers choose to be both manufacturers and dealers. These businesses typically hold a Type 07 FFL and are the most likely to interact with customers and perform firearm transfers.
An Importer Federal Firearms License allows the holder to ship firearms, ammunition, and other defense articles from a foreign country into the United States. Two types of importer FFLs exist:
- Type 08 FFL — Importer / Dealer of Firearms: This FFL type is similar to a Type 01 dealer FFL but with the added benefit of being able to import guns legally. A Type 08 FFL holder can, for example, import firearms from Germany or Italy and resell them at their establishment.
- Type 11 FFL — Importer / Dealer of Destructive Devices: A Type 11 FFL is similar to a Type 08 FFL, with one addition: the holder can also import DDs and AP ammunition.
Importer FFL holders can also act as dealers. Because of this, gun owners may conduct firearm transfers with retailers holding this type of FFL.
The Type 03 FFL
The Type 03 FFL — Collector of Curios and Relics is an exception to all other FFL types. Like the Type 06 FFL, it does not allow its holder to engage in the business of dealing, importing, or making firearms.
However, a Type 03 FFL does not grant any rights to deal, manufacture, or import guns and ammunition of any type. This FFL type is primarily intended for professional collectors. It permits the acquisition of firearms categorized as Curio & Relics (C&R).
According to the ATF, a firearm may be considered a Curio & Relic if it meets any of the following definitions:
- Firearms manufactured 50 years ago or earlier, not including replicas
- Firearms certified by a museum curator as a curio or relic item of museum interest
- Firearms that are primarily valued due to being rare, novel, bizarre, or associated with a historical figure, period, or specific event
As a gun owner, you may be interested in obtaining a Type 03 FFL if you have a specific interest in collectibles. This FFL type can reduce some of the paperwork required to obtain C&R items, such as making interstate transfers easier.
Which FFL Types Can Perform FFL Transfers?
Individuals or businesses holding a Federal Firearms License that lets them act as dealers can perform firearm transfers. It includes all three of the dealer-type FFLs (Types 01, 02, and 09), both of the importer FFLs (types 08 and 10), and two of the three manufacturer FFLs (types 07 and 10).
Only Type 03 and Type 06 FFL holders are barred from dealing in firearms, meaning they cannot conduct firearm transfers.
When Are FFL Transfers Needed?
Depending on your situation, federal or state law may require you to contact an FFL to conduct a firearm transfer.
Transfers Required by Federal Law
The Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 is one of the most important pieces of gun legislation in the United States. Part of its purpose is to regulate the interstate commerce of firearms.
Paragraph 922(a) of the Gun Control Act states that transferring, dealing, manufacturing, or importing firearms and ammunition across state lines is unlawful except for licensed importers, manufacturers, and dealers. This means that guns and ammunition may only travel across state lines from one FFL holder to another.
From a customer’s point of view, FFL transfers are required by federal law in the following situations:
- Online purchases. When purchasing a firearm from an online store, the law requires the online retailer to transfer the firearm to an FFL inside your state of residence. Once transferred to that FFL, you can visit the corresponding establishment to retrieve your firearm.
- Out-of-state purchases. You can purchase a gun from an out-of-state gun shop or private seller in person, as long as that firearm is legal in your state. However, you cannot take possession of it and travel across state lines with it, as it would violate the GCA’s provisions. Instead, the seller must transfer it to an FFL in your state, where you can pick it up.
Exceptions to Federal Legislation
Federal law (sections 922(a)(5)(A) and (B)) makes two notable exceptions to interstate commerce regulations: for individuals inheriting a firearm and in the case of temporary loans and rentals.
According to 922(a)(5)(A), the interstate transfer of a firearm to an unlicensed individual is legal at the federal level if both conditions are met:
- The receiver is not a prohibited person.
- The firearm transfer is bequeathed or transferred by intestate succession, meaning it is being transferred through a will or another form of inheritance.
Subsection 922(a)(5)(B) allows the temporary loaning and rental of a firearm for “lawful sporting purposes.” A practical application of this law is shooting ranges; this exception allows visitors from any location, including out-of-state and foreign individuals, to shoot the firearms owned by the range.
Transfers Required by State Law
In addition to federal law, state legislation may impose additional restrictions regarding firearm transfers. For instance, many states require private gun transfers to be conducted through an FFL.
In this instance, a private transfer refers to sales, gifts, or transfers of a firearm from a private, unlicensed individual to another, even if both live in the same state. Typically, this legislation is enacted to ensure the FFL holder conducts a background check.
Examples of states requiring private transfers to be conducted through an FFL:
- California: According to the California Penal Code (CPC 28050), if neither party in a gun transfer is a licensed dealer, a licensed California gun dealer must conduct the transfer.
- Colorado: The Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS 18-12-112) require any gun seller to contact a licensed gun dealer and request a NICS background check on the prospective buyer.
- New York: New York law (NYCL GBS 897) requires all firearm transfers in the state to be subjected to a NICS background check. It includes transfers at gun shows and between private parties.
- Oregon: According to the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS 166.410 and 166.433), all private firearm sales must be conducted through an FFL. The FFL must also conduct a background check. The law also requires sellers at gun shows to either go through an FFL, request a background check, or request approval from the Oregon State Police.
Check your state’s laws for restrictions regarding firearm transfers. Even if your transfer complies with federal law, it may not meet state-level requirements.
The FFL Transfer Process For Online Gun Purchases, Step-by-Step
Whether you purchase a firearm online, from an out-of-state retailer, or in a state that requires FFLs to oversee private sales, you’ll need to complete an FFL transfer. The following is an explanation of each step when buying a firearm online.
Note that this is a general guide that doesn’t account for local and state legislation. Some states may impose additional steps and requirements. For example, transfers of handguns into California require the handgun to be on the state’s approved handgun roster. It is the buyer’s responsibility to know and follow all applicable local and state laws.
Research Online Gun Retailers
Buying online can be an excellent way to get good deals on guns, ammunition, and other accessories. Research online gun retailers and browse their inventory, especially if you already know what type of firearm you want to purchase.
Online gun stores can include the following business types:
- Independent brick-and-mortar gun shops and pawn shops
- Large chain stores specializing in firearms
- General-purpose sporting goods establishments
- Online-only retailers with no physical stores
Research Your Local FFLs
Before shopping for a firearm online, check your area for local Federal Firearms License holders. Knowing where your nearest FFLs are before buying a gun online helps avoid surprise fees or driving extended distances, which can add up and increase your expenses considerably.
For most gun buyers, the nearest gun stores and pawn shops in the area will be the closest FFL holders. Research these stores before choosing one. While most of these establishments will be happy to perform an FFL transfer for you, they may charge a transfer fee, and fees vary from store to store. Although they are relatively rare, you may find a gun store, pawn shop, or another FFL holder that won’t process a transfer.
Visit the websites of your local establishments and check their terms and conditions. Alternatively, call them and ask whether they will perform an FFL transfer for you and how much it’ll cost.
Complete The Firearm Transaction
Contact the FFL of your choosing and inform them you wish to arrange a transfer for an online purchase. After confirming that one of your local FFL holders will accept an online gun purchase and conduct a transfer for you, visit the online gun store of your choosing and complete the transaction with the seller.
During the transaction process, the online platform you used to purchase the firearm will prompt you to enter your local FFL’s details. If your chosen platform doesn’t already have a copy of your local dealer’s Federal Firearms License, you can contact them and request they provide their FFL details to the online retailers.
Note that many gun shops also sell their inventory online. You won’t need to pay an FFL transfer fee if your local FFL is the same establishment that sells the firearm you want. In that case, all you need is to visit the store and buy the gun you want in person.
Contact The FFL to Coordinate the Transfer
After completing the purchase, contact your local FFL and inform them of the exact make, model, and details of the firearm you purchased and that it is on its way.
An accommodating FFL should ask you for your contact details and call you when your gun has shipped to their location. All you need to do during this step is wait until they call you.
Visit The FFL’s Location
Once your local FFL has received your firearm, they should call you and inform you it has arrived. You may now prepare to visit the FFL’s brick-and-mortar location to pick up your firearm. If you can’t make it on the same day you received the call, don’t hesitate to inform them about it and arrange a visit at a later date.
When you visit your local FFL, you will need to complete a few steps before you can bring your firearm home. First, inform them that you’re here to pick up an online transfer gun, then provide them with your name, the details of the firearm you ordered, and a valid form of identification.
After confirming your identity, the FFL’s staff will have you fill out an ATF Form 4473. The purpose of this form is to record the firearm transaction and confirm that you are not a prohibited person under federal law. Some establishments provide means to fill out the 4473 electronically, while others may issue a classic paper form.
Complete the form, pay the FFL transfer fees, and wait for the establishment to complete the NICS background check. The average waiting time is typically no more than a few minutes. However, you may need to wait longer depending on your state of residence and the volume of background checks the system needs to process.
If your local jurisdiction imposes a waiting period, it begins after completing the NICS check. In that case, you may need to schedule another visit before the FFL can hand over your firearm.
Inspect The Gun Before Taking It Home
If you’ve cleared every step and requirement up to that point, your FFL is ready to give you your order, allowing you to complete the transfer and take the gun home.
However, don’t hesitate to inspect the firearm and check for signs of damage or obvious defects. Remember to handle the firearm responsibly and in accordance with the basic rules of gun safety while you do so.
If you find any issues with your order, you can refuse the transfer. Inform the FFL of your intention not to accept the firearm, then contact the online retailer to arrange a replacement or a refund. Otherwise, you may accept the transfer and take your gun home.
Shop Quality Firearms and Conduct Online Transfers With IFA Tactical
IFA Tactical is a premium gun store based in Sterling Heights, MI. We offer a large selection of pistols, revolvers, shotguns, and rifles at our location in Michigan and online.
In addition to our extensive gun selection, we also offer magazines, ammunition, accessories, and various services, including gunsmithing, laser engraving, and Michigan CPL classes. If you are local to the area and wish to buy a gun online, don’t hesitate to contact us to arrange an FFL transfer with us.