How to Get an FFL – 4 Steps to a Federal Firearm License [2021]

by Ryan Cleckner

January 5, 2021

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So, you’re thinking about getting an FFL but you’re not sure where (or how) to start the FFL application process.

Well, you’re in the right place!

We’re going to cover each of the steps to obtaining an FFL – including if an FFL is even right for you.

In this explanation of how to get an FFL I am going to reference my online courses to get an FFL. To be clear, it is NOT necessary to take my course to get an FFL – the process is not that painful nor complicated to complete on your own.

However, the reason I offer courses to Get an FFL is because I, as a firearms attorney that has represented hundreds of FFLs across the country against the ATF, see how common it is to set up an FFL the “wrong” way and for people to get themselves into trouble down the road.

Or, they may start off right, but without knowing the tips and tricks to be successful as an FFL, they end up off track and in trouble.

Already I can tell that you’re going to do this the right way. How?

Well, you’re here reading this article. ????

First, what is an FFL?
A Federal Firearm License, or “FFL,” is a license from the federal government to engage in the business of making, importing, buying, and/or selling firearms.

Under federal law, it is perfectly legal for a law-abiding citizen to make their own firearm or even decide to sell a firearm. However, if that same person makes a firearm or buys a firearm with the intent to sell it, then an FFL is needed.

The 4 steps to getting an FFL are:

  • Step 1 – Choosing which type of FFL to get
  • Step 2 – Setting Up Your Business
  • Step 3 – Applying for Your FFL
  • Step 4 – Preparing for Your Initial ATF Inspection

Before we get into how to get an FFL, however, you first need to ensure that you meet the requirements to get an FFL.

FFL Requirements

There are two categories of requirements for getting your FFL: personal and business.

We dive deeper into each of these topics in our article FFL license Requirements

Personal FFL Requirements

To over-simplify the issue, if you are allowed to possess a firearm then you are allowed to have an FFL.

This means that prohibited persons (a class of people who can not possess firearms nor ammunition) may NOT be FFLs.

Business FFL Requirements

You must have a business intent to get an FFL (this can be occasional online sales at a. minimum) and a location.

Contrary to what many believe, it is perfectly allowed to have a home-based FFL (in fact, most FFLs in this country are home based).

However, you must ensure that zoning is not going to be an issue. This can be a hang up in many cases and I give the tips and tricks to navigate this issue in my course, How to Get an FFL.

FFL Requirement Summary

Here’s a quick summary of what the ATF will require of you (this is explored more in FFL license Requirements):

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Be a U.S. Citizen (or a legal permanent resident)
  • Be legally allowed to possess firearms and ammunition
  • Have a premises for conducting business (your home can work for this! In fact, most FFLs in the country right now are home-based FFLs)
  • Ensure that your business activity at that location is not prohibited by state or local law
  • NOT have violated the Gun Control Act (GCA) or its regulations
  • NOT lied on your FFL application

Now that you know the basic requirements for getting a federal firearms license, let’s cover the fours steps to getting your FFL…

Step 1 – Choose Which Type of FFL You want to Get

Before you can apply for an FFL, you need to know what type of Federal Firearms License you are going to apply for.

There are 9 types of FFLs – each allows a different type of business activity related to firearms.

The types of FFLs are:

  • Type 01 FFL – Dealer in Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices
  • Type 02 FFL – Pawnbroker in Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices
  • Type 03 FFL – Collector of Curios and Relics
  • Type 06 FFL – Manufacturer of Ammunition for Firearms Other Than Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition
  • Type 07 FFL – Manufacturer of Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices
  • Type 08 FFL – Importer of Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices or Ammunition for Firearms Other Than Destructive Devices, or Ammunition Other Than Armor Piercing Ammunition
  • Type 09 FFL – Dealer in Destructive Devices
  • Type 10 FFL – Manufacturer of Destructive Devices, Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition
  • Type 11 FFL – Importer of Destructive Devices, Ammunition for Destructive Devices or Armor Piercing Ammunition

Much more about each license type and the pros and cons of each are discussed in my Get Your FFL Course.

For now, if you’re not sure which FFL is right for you, you are probably going to want to get either a Type 01 FFL as a firearm dealer and/or gunsmith or a Type 07 FFL as a manufacturer as these are the two most popular types of FFLs.

The Type 1 Dealer FFL costs $200 for the first 3 years but $90 for each three year renewal.

The Type 7 Manufacturer FFL costs only $150 for the first three years and $150 every three year period thereafter. This means that it is less expensive to get a license to make firearms than to sell them (for the fist three years at least).

You may have also heard about something called an “SOT” or “class 3 dealer.” Becoming a Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT) is required if you are going to make a special class of firearms like machine guns, silencers, short barreled rifles, and more. And, if you’re going to deal in these firearms, becoming an SOT allows you to pay a federal tax ($500 in most cases) instead of a transfer tax per item ($200 in most cases).

More on this topic can be found here: FFL License Types. For now, just know that if you want to deal with this special class of firearms, called “NFA” or “Title II” firearms, you’ll also need to register as an SOT.

Once you know what type of FFL you are going to get, it’s time to set up your business.

Step 2 – Set Up Your Business

Because having a business intent is required to get an FFL, even if it is just a side-business with occasional sales, you need to set up your business.

Now, even though I recommend starting an LLC in my course, you can be a sole proprietor and avoid setting up a distinct business entity if you wish.

Whichever method you choose, you’ll need to make the decision now on what type/level of business you’re going to establish and get it started now as the business (if you make one) is going to be the applicant for the FFL.

How you form a business will vary by state – make sure you look up your local rules and speak to an accountant in your state for financial considerations.

If you’d like some guidance on what to do here, you really should take at least the introductory course, How to Get Your FFL.

Step 3 – Apply For Your FFL

Now that you’re sure that you meet the requirements for an FFL and you’ve decided on a business strategy, it’s time to actually apply for an FFL.

Of course, there’s really a lot more to consider (like location, business equipment and records, etc.) but the next major step is to apply for your Federal Firearms License.

If you haven’t solved any zoning issues by now, you really should before you apply. The sample letter I share in my course really helps confused zoning officials (especially with a manufacturing license from your home).

At a bare minimum, applying for your FFL involves filling out an ATF Form 7 and submitting the required extras like fingerprint cards and any affidavits.

Please be very careful here: making the wrong elections/decisions on your application might cause problems later.

There’s a checklist for each packet that needs to be mailed (one goes to the ATF) in the Get Your FFL course.

Step 4 – Prepare for Initial Inspection

Congrats! You’ve now applied for your FFL!

If there are not any mistakes in your application, business, zoning, etc, you should expect to have your FFL in about 2 months.

6 weeks after sending in your application, an ATF Industry Operations Investigator will call to schedule an initial inspection to meet with you to review your application, your understanding of ATF compliance (rules and regs), and ensure that you are ready to be successful as an FFL.

This step is called “Prepare” for a reason – you should be actively preparing for this first inspection by studying ATF rules and regs.

If you’d like to do this research on your own, you can find almost everything you need either on ATF’s website or by reading the actual laws and regulations. The relevant laws are found in the Gun Control Act, codified in 18 USC Chapter 44 (§§ 921-931), the National Firearms Act, codified in 26 USC Chapter 53 (§§ 5801-5872), ATF Regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Chapter 27 parts 1-799, and read through the myriad ATF rulings and open letters.

Or, if you’d rather just have me explain the parts that matter and what to do, I’ll see you in my course.

If all goes well (it will – don’t worry), you should expect your FFL within a couple weeks after the interview/inspection with the ATF.

Common Mistakes Made When Applying for FFL

Mistake #1 – Zoning Issues. When applying for an FFL, you must ensure that local zoning rules will allow your business. Often times, your local zoning office doesn’t quite understand FFLs nor the ATF and might say “no” when it is actually allowed to have an FFL in your area. There are a few tips and tricks in my course to help get past the zoning hurdle with your FFL.

Mistake #2 – Wrong Business Structure. The second FFL application mistake I see, and one that can cause a lot of troubles later, is using the wrong business form or failing to set things up and apply properly. The ATF can come down pretty hard on FFLs (I’ve had them as my clients before) that don’t clearly list company members or controlling interests.

Mistake #3 – Wrong FFL Type. This one is fairly self explanatory – don’t get a Type 07 FFL is you want to manufacture firearms AND ammunition for sale. Also, a Type 7 manufacturer license may be all you need to make and sell firearms if you do it right.

Mistake #4 – Not Being Educated / Not Paying Attention to Compliance. If you don’t take the time to educate yourself AND work to follow the rules, you can wind up in serious trouble. I’m not trying to scare you here – it really isn’t that bad or that hard…. as long as you know what you’re doing.

Mistake #5 – Landlord Issues. If you have a landlord, clear it with them BEFORE applying. They will need to be included on your application and the ATF will contact them – don’t let them be surprised by the ATF.

Getting an FFL FAQ

How long does it take to get an FFL?
It takes about 2 months to get an FFL from the time you send in your application.

Do I need to take a course to get an FFL?
No, you do not need to take a course to get an FFL. I’m obviously biased because I think we offer the best course for getting an FFL, but even I will tell you that it isn’t necessary – the course is simply there to help those that want to make sure they’re doing the right way and stay out of trouble with the ATF.

Can I get an FFL from my home?
Yes, you can have an FFL from your home – in fact, most current FFLs are home-based.

How much does it cost to get an FFL?
The cost for an FFL depends on which FFL type you choose – the cost of an FFL ranges from $30-$200 for 3 years.

If I get an FFL, does that give the ATF the right to enter my home whenever they want?
No, the ATF may not enter your home whenever they want. The ATF may not conduct a compliance inspection more than once a year and the inspection may only cover records, areas, and items directly related to the FFL.

Am I allowed to get an FFL?
If you are legally allowed to possess firearms, you are allowed to get an FFL. Of course, you also need to satisfy the business requirements.

What can I do with an FFL?
With an FFL, you can make and sell firearms as a business. If you also become an SOT, you can work with NFA Firearms like silencers, machine guns, and more.

Do I need to get a Class 3 License?
There’s technically no such thing as a “Class 3 License” but you can become a Class 3 SOT if you’d like to buy and sell NFA firearms.

How many guns do I need to make or sell to keep an FFL?
There is no minimum to the number of guns you need to make or sell to keep an FFL. However, if you haven’t sold even one gun all year, it might be difficult to convince the ATF that you have a business intent.

Do I have to start a separate business to get an FFL?
No, you do not need to start a separate business to get an FFL – you may operate under your name as a sole proprietor. There are pros and cons to each option.

If I move, can my FFL come with me?
Yes, when you move, you can file for a change of address for your FFL (it’s a special process).

Can I have my FFL from home if I’m renting my house or apartment?
Yes, if you’re renting you can still have an FFL but you must get approval from your landlord first.

Is getting an FFL a way to avoid gun control/gun laws?
An FFL can be a method of avoiding gun control but it’s not a guaranteed method. For example, in Connecticut they effectively banned AR-15 style rifles for everyone except manufacturer FFLs.

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About Ryan Cleckner

Ryan is a former special operations sniper (1/75 Ranger) and current firearms attorney, firearms industry executive, university lecturer, and bestselling author of the Long Range Shooting Handbook.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I want an FFL for personal use, with that being said I know I need and LLC so how much can I expect to pay to start an LLC? I want to get the class, but I want to be sure I’m not wasting my money from the start. Thank you for your time.

    1. Please keep in mind that you can only get an FFL if you have a business intent. You may certainly enjoy personal benefits from it, but your intention is important and is confirmed multiple times by the ATF, which is why Ryan devoted a full lesson to it in our RocketFFL start-up guide – Get Your FFL. With regard to your question, the costs of forming and registering an LLC vary by state. We have a lesson focused solely on business formation as well, including links to the companies we use for ours.

  2. Hi, Ryan ~ Have been a fan online for some time and have your wonderful book, LRSH, a real gem!

    Have been thinking of pursuing an FFL, mostly to facilitate selling a bunch of my earlier mistakes or “outgrown” purchases, about 20 of about 35 guns, mostly rifles.

    I already have an LLC operating another business from the home in an entirely unrelated field, prop mgt. I would prefer not to have to obtain another LLC for what would be a low-key do-it-myself business just involving gun sales and transfers, with hardly any (if any at all) customers coming to the house. No shooting activity at all on premises. Mostly online sales, like how I acquired most of my little collection. Perhaps some gun-show sales.

    Do you see any problems with pursuing an FFL in view of this preference?

    Trying to determine if I want to pursue this before signing up for your course…..figure that’s the best way to cross the t’s and dot the i’s…..

    Thanks and regards,

    Rollin McKim

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