A Federal Firearms License, or FFL, isn’t required for all the things you might think you need it for, such as selling ammo. That said, that only applies to selling ammo. If you want to import or manufacture ammunition, you’ll need either a Type 08 or Type 06, respectively.
Getting an FFL can become complicated, but no worries, the whole point of this article is to assist you in understanding how to get an FFL and whether you should do so. There’s been lots of chatter about FFLs the last few years, and we’ll see if we can dispel some myths while we’re here.
Why Should You Get a Federal Firearms License?
You should get a federal firearms license if you intend to start a business that requires one to operate legally. Of the many possible reasons to get an FFL, that is the single most important one. If you are found using your FFL more for personal reasons than business reasons, your license will be revoked.
Getting your license revoked may not be the end of it. The ATF has never been accused of being particularly accommodating to people who aren’t adhering to the letter and spirit of the law. The wave of interest in FFLs in the last few years has come partially because people have discovered that it could be used as a shortcut to get suppressors and other NFA items.
This is an important thing to understand. While it’s not illegal to use your own FFL for personal purchases, the ATF is getting more proactive and competent at sniffing out people who aren’t actually engaged in the business of selling firearms but are just circumventing the red tape of acquiring certain items.
The ATF can conduct a physical inspection of your FFL premises as often as once a year and review all your records of everything your FFL has done, which you are required by law to keep.
How to Get a Federal Firearms License? [Step-by-Step Guide]
Step #1 – Ensure Eligibility & Identify the FFL Type You Need
The first step is to get clear on what you’re trying to obtain and whether you’re even eligible to obtain it. Your eligibility to get an FFL is similar to whether you’re allowed to own a firearm. Here’s a summary of the eligibility requirements directly from the ATF’s website:
- 21 years of age or over
- Not prohibited from owning or transporting a firearm, and not employing anyone who is prohibited from owning or transporting a firearm
- Have not “willfully” violated the Gun Control Act
- Have not lied (or omitted important info) on the application
- Have a place to do business (can be a home)
- Are in compliance with state & local laws
- If you’re selling, must also sell “secure gun storage or safety devices”
Now let’s talk about types of FFLs. There are 11 different types of licenses that you can apply for based on what type of business you are wanting to operate. The most common are Type 01 (gun dealers & gunsmiths), Type 02 (pawn shops), and Type 07 (gun manufacturers).
Even though the date on the graphic says June 2018, it was still up on their website as of December 2022, which is when I copied it into this article.
Step #2 – Take an FFL Course (Don’t Skip This)
Take an FFL course online. They are only a few hours and are all less than $100. There is an insane amount of regulation on FFLs that you can get yourself locked up for not abiding by. You are not required to take a course in order to apply to get your FFL, but it’s something you really should do.
The info we went over in Step 1 is just the tip of the iceberg of all the nuances and details involved when applying for an FFL and running a firearms business. Considering how short and inexpensive the top courses are, it’s difficult to justify not taking them. You’ll save yourself huge amounts of trouble and probably a lot of money and keep yourself from running afoul of the ATF.
Step #3 – Submit the Correct Application to the ATF
No matter what type of FFL you’re applying for, you want the ATF form 5310.12/ 5310.16. It is also known as Form 7 or 7 CR (same form). Its title is “Application for Federal Firearms License.”
Whether you want to manufacture, import, or sell, and whether you want to work with ammo, firearms, or destructive devices, you will always start with that form.
The course you choose to take should have a lot of information to help you fill out this form correctly. Putting the wrong thing on the form can create many issues, even if the mistake is relatively benign, so it’s worth spending a lot of time and attention on filling it out very carefully.
Step #4 – Twiddle Your Thumbs For a Few Months!
The ATF claims on its website that they will get your application processed within 60 days. The ATF processes your application by reviewing it for errors and then conducting a background check on all the responsible persons listed in the FFL application.
Once they’re done with the background checks and other evaluations that they can conduct at the national ATF office, they send the application to a local ATF field office, where an Industry Operations Investigator will receive it and set up an interview with you.
Step #5 – Ace Your Interview With the Local ATF Office
This interview is another step to ensure you understand all the rules and regulations you will be expected to follow. It’s designed to verify that you’re prepared to be an FFL and that you have all the systems in place that you need to comply with every federal, state, and local law that applies to you.
This interview is also where the ATF will want more detail on why exactly you’re getting an FFL and what you intend to do with it. If you have taken an FFL course as recommended in Step 2, then you should be prepared for this interview. If the investigator gets the impression (whether correctly or incorrectly) that you intend to misuse your FFL, then your application could get denied.
Step #6 – Keep Your Nose Clean
Getting your FFL application approved and being registered is not the end of your interactions with the ATF. The ATF can inspect your business as often as once per year, though they generally don’t inspect that often. These inspections can be a surprise and quite thorough, depending on the investigator conducting the inspection.
If at any point the ATF determines that you are misusing your FFL license in any way, they can revoke it without warning. Having an FFL can come with many benefits, but those benefits need to be incidental to the type of business you’re conducting, not the main focus of your business.
The best FFL to get is the one that suits the type of business you want to get into. For most gun dealers and gunsmiths, a Type 01 will be the one to go for. If you want to deal with NFA items, you will need to get a Special Occupation Taxpayer (SOT) license after you get your FFL application approved.
Depending on the type of FFL you get, you will be able to sell, manufacture, import, or do any of those three things with certain types of ammunition or destructive devices. Each type of FFL is designed for only one type of business, and a business may have more than one FFL, depending on the activities they’re engaged in.
The application fee varies based on the type of FFL you’re applying for. It can be as little as $30 if all you want to do is handload your own ammunition and sell it or as high as $3,000 if you want to deal, manufacture, or import destructive devices or armor-piercing ammunition. The most common types of FFLs are either $200 or $150.
Yes. I’m not 100% sure about the stats, but I believe that more than half of FFLs are actually home-based businesses. Depending on the type of FFL you’re getting, you will most likely need to implement security features that are more than just “I keep a handgun under my pillow at night,” though.
No. If, however, you were to ask the question, “Can I use an FFL for personal firearm purchases?” the answer would be yes. You must be engaged in the business that you’re applying for an FFL. If you also happen to use your FFL to make personal firearm purchases, that’s fine.
Getting an FFL can make a lot of sense. But despite what a few companies still say on their website, you can’t approach getting an FFL+SOT as an alternative to the regular process for getting a suppressor. If you want an FFL because you want to be a gunsmith, fantastic! Do it! The more people that are engaged in the firearms industry, the better.
As a last thought, just take the time to go through an FFL course. It will be worth its weight in gold if you’re serious about getting an FFL and starting a gun business.