With the recent boom in purchasing firearms online, understanding FFL transfers has never been more important. Also, if you want to send or receive a firearm out-of-state, you’re going to need to transfer the firearm through an FFL.
In this FFL transfer guide, we’re going to cover:
- What is an FFL transfer?
- When is an FFL transfer necessary?
- How to transfer a gun through an FFL
- How to purchase guns online
- Finding an FFL for a transfer
What is an FFL Transfer?
An FFL transfer is the change in possession of a firearm from a Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL) to another FFL or to a customer.
So, if a gun shop (an FFL) ships a firearm to another gun shop, then the firearm has been “transferred” from one FFL to another. Likewise, if the second gun shop then sells the firearm to a customer, then the gun has been transferred to the customer.
These changes in possession of firearms from FFLs have a special name because of the various ATF requirements involved – the firearms must be logged in and out in a proscribed manner and certain paperwork must be completed.
When it comes to selling a firearm to a customer, federal background check requirements must be satisfied, a special form must be completed by the customer (called an ATF Form 4473), and certain other requirements must be followed by the FFL conducting the transfer.
So, if you hear the term “FFL transfer,” just know that this involves certain processes to be conducted in order to get a firearm from an FFL (typically a gun shop).
When is an FFL transfer necessary?
Under federal law, an FFL transfer is necessary whenever a firearm is purchased from an FFL or when a firearm is shipped to someone else across state lines.
In addition, some states require that all changes in possession/ownership of firearms be conducted through an FFL and therefore a transfer is also necessary. However, most states follow the federal rules which allow a privately owned firearm to be sold or given to another resident of the same state without the need for an FFL transfer.
Purchases from an FFL
If you purchase a firearm, whether new or used, from an FFL, then it MUST be transferred to you. This includes an online firearm purchase from an FFL retailer – they will need to ship the firearm to a local FFL so that you can show up at that FFL’s location and have the firearm transferred to you.
Of course, if you are in a gun shop purchasing a firearm from them, the firearm will need to be transferred from that FFL to you. Similarly, if you are picking up someone else’s gun after repair (you are not the person that dropped it off), then the firearm will need to be transferred to you.
This is where the common misnomer “gun show loophole” comes from. If you purchase a firearm from a private citizen (non-FFL), then no FFL transfer is required. This is not a loophole and it doesn’t have to be at a gun show. Private party sales in the same sate, under federal law, do not require an FFL transfer. Be careful, some states require ALL sales to go through an FFL.
If, however, you purchase the firearm online from a non-FFL individual that lives in your state, an FFL transfer is not required under federal law. If they are in another state, see below for FFL transfers for interstate shipments.
Shipping firearms interstate
So, if you own a firearm and you want to send it to someone in another state, whether you sold it to them, giving to them, or you’re just letting them borrow the firearm, you MUST ship the firearm to a FFL in their state where they can then go into the gun shop in person and have the FFL transfer the firearm to them.
Interstate shipments alone don’t automatically require FFL transfers, though. For example, it is legal under federal law to ship the firearm to yourself in another state. You can ship the firearm to an address as long as the package is addressed to you and in care of (abbreviated “c/o” on the label) the entity receiving the firearm (your hotel, hunting lodge, etc.) It is important that they do not open the package (it isn’t addressed to them) because if they do, you would be putting into their possession and an FFL transfer would be required.
If you’d like to learn more, we’ve put together a guide to shipping firearms.
Having your own FFL
It is getting very popular for people to get their own FFL, even a home-based FFL. In fact, most FFLs in the country are home-based FFLs.
If you have your own FFL, then all firearms can be shipped straight to you and you won’t have to coordinate with a local gun shop nor pay the transfer fees.
How to transfer a gun through an FFL
In order to transfer a gun through an FFL, the recipient needs to be present at the FFL’s licensed location (or a qualifying event like a gun show) and satisfy the background check requirements, fill out a Form 4473, and then take possession of the firearm.
Contrary to what some believe, guns (under federal law) are NOT “registered” in someone’s name. This is something we hear often, “I got this gun from my father as a gift but I think I need to go into an FFL’s shop to have the gun registered in my name.” This is simply not how this works. If the gun was a gift from someone within your state, the transaction is over – the gun is neither registered in their name nor does it need to be registered in yours. Of course, some states have their own rules on the registration of certain firearms.
If you’d like to sell a firearm to someone, even in your own state, and you prefer to use an FFL for the transfer, you are allowed to do this. This allows you to use a safe meeting location and also ensures that they meet the background check requirements. Simply coordinate with the FFL, bring the firearm with you to meet the future recipient, and then the FFL will take th gun, log it onto their books, and then conduct an FFL Transfer to the recipient for a fee.
Picking up a firearm from an FFL is easy – they won’t let you leave with it without it being properly transferred.
If you’re buying a gun online, however, or otherwise getting a gun shipped to you from someone else in another state (whether they are an individual (non-FFL) or an FFL, then the gun must be shipped to a local FFL where you can then go in and complete the transfer.
This latter process involves coordinating with the local gun shop so that they are aware a firearm is arriving for you and then going in to the shop after they receive the firearm for the FFL transfer. We’ll cover this type of coordinated FFL transfers in the next section.
How to Purchase Guns Online
Purchasing a firearm online is fairly easy and quickly becoming one of the most popular methods of buying guns.
As you should be able to tell from the information about FFL Transfers above, the process will depend on where you purchased your firearm. For a more thorough discussion, check out our article on how to buy a gun online.
Online Firearm Sales from Retailer (FFLs)
Before purchasing a firearm online, we think it is wise to already have found a local FFL that is willing to conduct transfers for you. After your purchase, the retailer will need to know to which FFL you’d like your new gun shipped.
Different stores have different processes for this, however, it typically involves letting them know the FFL name and location and sometimes obtaining a copy of the receiving FFL’s license. Don’t be alarmed if the receiving FFL won’t give you a copy of their license – they can always send it directly to the online store from where you bought the firearm.
Some local FFL’s have a particular process for this – be sure to ask. I’ve seen some ask that you phone number is on the box so they know who to call whereas others have forms (in paper or online) that let them know what to expect, from where, and for whom.
Online sales from non-FFLs
If the firearm is coming from within your own state, federal law allows you to meet the person to pick it up or to have them ship it to you. Be careful some states require an FFL as part of the process. Also, if the person is going to ship the firearm UPS or FedEx, those companies typically require that the firearm only be sent to an FFL – it’s not the law but it is their rules.
If the firearm is coming from out of state, it MUST go to a local FFL for it to be transferred to you. The process is fairly straightforward and follows the steps above – copy of FFL to shipper and coordinating with local FFL. Also, the local FFL needs to log the firearm into their books from wherever it was received. If it was from an FFL, they just list the FFL name and license number. However, and individual should always include a copy of their driver’s license so that your local FFL can complete their paperwork properly.
Finding an FFL for Transfer
There are plenty of resources online to find an FFL for a firearm transfer however, we recommend going by your local FFL in person to meet them and coordinate the transfer.
Too often, and online listing of an FFL isn’t open to the public, they don’t do transfers from other sources, or they charge a very high fee. It’s best to make sure you want to do business with a local gun shop before doing this as they’ll have your gun that you already paid for but can’t take home without a transfer by the time you find out they aren’t right for you.
I hope that this helps you understand everything you need to know about FFL transfers.
FFL transfer FAQs
Q: What is an FFL transfer?
A: An FFL transfer is the process of changing possession of a firearm from a Federal Firearm Licensee (FFL) to another FFL or to a customer.
Q: Do my firearms need to be “registered” in my name?
A: No, under federal law, regular firearms are not “registered” in anyone’s name. This is different for NFA Firearms like machine guns and silencers.
Q: Do I have to have my own FFL for a firearm transfer?
A: No, you do not need your own FFL for firearm transfers. It can be helpful to have one but you are able to use your local FFL/gun shop for firearm transfers.
Q: How much do firearm transfers cost?
A: The cost of firearm transfers is generally around $20-40. Of course, each shop sets their own price.
Q: Does an FFL have to transfer my gun to me?
A: No, an FFL is under no obligation to transfer a gun to you. First, they may not do any transfers of guns not purchased in their store. Second, they may have seen some “red-flags” during the transaction and are obligated to NOT transfer the firearm to you.
Q: Does an FFL transfer involve a background check?
A: Background check requirements must be satisfied for all FFL transfers. This does not mean, however, that an actual background check is conducted each time. For example, some states concealed carry permits are proof of a clean background and can be used instead of running a background check.
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