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gun shop ffls

1968 — the year Americans read from the Book of Genesis while first orbiting the moon, the year Yale announced it would begin admitting women and among other things the year FFL licenses were created through national gun law reform.

A lot happened that year.

Although these days America isn't spreading the good word on the far side of the moon, it is still mandating 9 types of federal firearms licenses.

While society debates private gun sales for various reasons, the federal firearms license required for businesses is often brought up without much context.

What is the Federal Firearms License?

Because of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Federal Firearms Licensing Center (FFLC) issues a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to businesses and entities dealing, selling, manufacturing and importing firearms, destructive devices, curios/relics, ammunition and other similar items.

But, there isn't just "a" FFL. There are 9 types.

ffl license cost and types
  • Type 01: Dealer in firearms other than destructive devices
  • Type 02: Pawnbroker in firearms other than destructive devices
  • Type 03: Collector of curios and relics
  • Type 06: Manufacturer of ammunition for firearms other than ammunition for destructive devices or armor
  • Type 07: Manufacturer of firearms other than destructive devices
  • Type 08: Importer of firearms other than destructive devices or ammunition for firearms other than destructive devices, or ammunition other than armor piercing ammunition
  • Type 09: Dealer in destructive devices
  • Type 10: Manufacturer of destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices or armor piercing ammunition
  • Type 11: Importer of destructive devices, ammunition for destructive devices or armor piercing ammunition

Types 01, 02, 03 and 09 concern dealers. Types 06, 07 and 10 pertain to manufacturers. And, Types 08 and 11 pertain to importers.

"These licensees are allowed to ship firearms in interstate commerce among themselves, and are required to abide by State laws and local ordinances in their sale of firearms to non-licensees. They are also prohibited from selling firearms to felons, certain other classes of persons, and generally to out of state persons," President Bill Clinton said in a 1993 memo.

The initial intention, however, for this act, passed as H.R. 17735, was intended to reach further than the aforementioned commercial restrictions.

"But this bill--as big as this bill is--still falls short, because we just could not get the Congress to carry out the requests we made of them. I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licensing of those who carry those guns," President Lyndon Johnson said at a 1968 cabinet meeting upon signing the act.

Establishing a federal licensing system has been a pervasive issue, which soon-to-be President George W. Bush addressed in a presidential debate in North Carolina in 2000.

"I think the only people that are going to show up to register or get a license -- I guess licensing like a driver's license for a gun, the only people that are going to show up are law-abiding citizens," Bush said. "The criminal is not going to show up and say hey, give me my I.D. card. It's the law-abiding citizens who will do that. And I don't think that is going to be an effective tool to make the -- keep our society safe."

No to digress, but that discussion has morphed into national concealed carry reciprocity of state-based licensing.

Regardless, the current FFL system governs dealers, manufacturers and importers.

Most folks know how to apply for and obtain their state handgun license, but that leads to another prominent question for those who'd like to start a firearms business.

How To Get An FFL License

The ATF has plenty of documentation on how to become an FFL dealer, or any type of federal firearms licensee, for that matter.

It can be done in 10 steps, according to the ATF:

  1. Decide to become an FFL
  2. Find the required paperwork on their site, in this case an ATF Form 7, a responsible person questionnaire and a fingerprint card
  3. Complete all that and mail it in with the appropriate, listed fee
  4. The FFLC will record the application and review its accuracy
  5. The FFLC will perform a background check on the applicant
  6. The application is then sent to the applicant's local ATF field office
  7. An Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) will conduct an in-person interview with the applicant
  8. The IOI prepares a report and makes a recommendation to the area supervisor to issue or deny the license
  9. The area supervisor then reviews that report and submits their recommendation to the FFLC
  10. If the background check is passed and the business is in compliance with local and state law, the FFLC will issue the license

It should take about 60 days once the FFLC initially receives the application.

The license fee will vary by type. Types 03 and 06 are $30. Types 07 and 08 cost $150. Type 01 and 02 will run you $200. Types 09, 10 and 11 are listed at a hefty $3,000.

This is not formal legal advice (yeah, we have to throw in a disclaimer). Please consult the appropriate authority for questions and concerns.

So, fine, if you've read this far you know a bit (not everything) about what FFLs are and how to apply for one, but how many people actually have a FFL?

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ffl application process 10 steps
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ATF's ten step ffl process

How Many Federal Firearms Licensees Are There?

There are records of every Federal Firearms Licensee from 1975 to 2016 — by October of 2017, there were 135,550 FFLs in total, according to the most recent data as of this writing.

That breaks down to...

  • Dealers: 56,492
  • Pawnbrokers: 7,861
  • Collectors: 55,217
  • Manufacturers of ammunition: 2,246
  • Manufacturers of firearms: 11,957
  • Importers: 1,109
  • Dealers of destructive devices: 77
  • Manufacturers of destructive devices: 357
  • Importers of destructive devices: 234

However, that total is historically quite low.

Note that the highest amount on record was 284,117 FFLs in 1992 and the lowest on record was 102,913 in 2001.

US FFL's to 2010

As of October of 2017, the five states with the highest amount of FFLs were:

  1. Texas — 10,861
  2. California — 7,586
  3. Florida — 7,248
  4. Pennsylvania — 6,279
  5. Illinois — 5,400
Most FFL's in the US

And the lowest five areas were:

  1. Northern Mariana Islands — 2
  2. Virgin Islands — 9
  3. Guam — 20
  4. District of Columbia — 29
  5. Puerto Rico — 87

For a bit more context on FFL totals, here are the lowest five states after the territories and D.C.:

  1. Hawaii 242
  2. Delaware 317
  3. New Jersey 520
  4. Vermont 534
  5. Rhode Island 634

The number per state will change, as it has every year that records are available for.

Another number that comes and goes is the amount of firearms at FFLs — many of which aren't purchased.

FFL's Reporting Lost, Stolen, or Burgled Firearms

The ATF Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information annually releases a report of FFL thefts and losses across the U.S.

FFLs must report to the ATF each missing, lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours of discovering the fact.

The data is extracted from the Firearms Tracing System, and the latest information available as of this writing is for January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.

In 2016, the following totals are available:

  • Loss firearm count: 9,113
  • Robbery firearm count: 370
  • Larceny firearm count: 1,423
  • Burglary firearm count: 7,488

Including those four categories, these are the five states with the highest recorded thefts/losses in 2016:

  • Georgia — 1,539
  • Florida — 1,260
  • Texas — 1,257
  • Alabama — 1,182
  • California — 1,163

The 10 FFLs with the highest number of firearms theft/loss reports are associated with 2,582 firearms lost or stolen — and these FFLs are only dealers and pawnbrokers.

Indeed, not all Federal Firearm Licensees are without fault.

In 2001, investigators conducting a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report purchased firearms in five states — Virginia, West Virginia, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona — using counterfeit driver's licenses with fictitious identifiers.

According to the report:

"GAO found that the instant background check does not positively identify purchasers of firearms. Rather, it is a negative check that cannot ensure that the prospective purchaser is not a felon or other prohibited person whose receipt and possession of a firearm would be unlawful.

Similarly, in one state--Virginia--the additional step of requiring a state criminal history was also a negative check. Further when GAO purchased a revolver in one state, the salesperson advised GAO that the NICS check was not required because the firearm had been manufactured more than 100 years ago.

GAO also made inquiries of private entities that advertised firearms on the Internet. Of the 10 advertisers GAO contacted, two individuals agreed to sell their firearms with no background checks."

That's not to say the system hasn't improved since then, especially given that the entire purpose of GAO reports are to hold all governing bodies accountable and provide guidance on where standard protocol should be improved.


Do you have any further questions or concerns about FFLs?
Let us know in the comments below!

About The Author

Jake Smith gun blog writer