Frequently Asked Questions

Every day, responsible gun owners take certain safety measures. You ensure your firearms are used and stored safely to help protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community from intentional or unintentional harm. Selling your firearm safely can help achieve those same goals.

Using a federal firearms licensee (FFL) can provide you a secure process if you want to transfer your firearm to another person. In addition to helping facilitate the sale generally, FFLs can conduct background checks on prospective buyers.

If you are selling your gun to a person who lives outside your state, using an FFL is required under federal law. If you are selling your gun to a person who lives in the same state, using an FFL is voluntary under federal law – but you should check the laws of your state. Some states impose background check or other requirements on private sales.

Please be advised that under federal law, FFLs are NOT required to facilitate private transfers. (Again, states may have different rules.) Before you travel, be sure to call the FFL to ensure this service is available. You can find FFLs local to you by searching for “FFL Finder” on the internet; many sites can help you locate an FFL by zip code.

Federal law prohibits certain persons from shipping, transporting, possessing, or receiving firearms or ammunition including any person who:

  • Has been convicted of a crime punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding one year;
  • Is a fugitive from justice;
  • Is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, any controlled substance;
  • Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
  • Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
  • Is an alien who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa (with certain exceptions);
  • Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
  • Has renounced United States citizenship;
  • Is subject to a qualifying protective order;
  • Has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

States may have additional restrictions.

For more information, please view our Private Seller Guide.

FFL stands for Federal Firearms Licensee. An FFL is a firearms dealer who is licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). FFLs are required by law to conduct background checks on any unlicensed person who wants to buy a firearm. These checks help to verify that buyers are not prohibited from possessing or receiving firearms under federal or state law.
Selling your firearm through an FFL offers several advantages:

  • Third party location for transfer of the firearm, which may provide additional safety
  • Assurance of a background check on the potential buyer
  • No need to ask your potential buyers personal questions about their backgrounds
  • Community safety
  • Assistance to law enforcement in tracing the firearm to the buyer if it is ever recovered in connection with the commission of a crime
No. FFLs are NOT required to help facilitate private transactions. Doing so is purely voluntary on the part of the dealer.

That is why it’s a good idea, before you travel, to call to be sure the FFL facilitates private transactions.

In some instances, there are fees. An FFL can charge a fee as long as it is consistent with the FFL’s state law requirements. It’s best if you contact your nearest FFL dealer to check out the process.
Firearms background checks are run by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. NICS is used by FFLs to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms. Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase.
When you purchase a gun through a Federal Firearms Licensee, that dealer provides information to the FBI or state point of contact, which conducts the background check through the computerized National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is a system that checks available records on people purchasing firearms from an FFL. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) developed and manages the system. Additional information on NICS can be found on the FBI’s website https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/nics.
Only in limited circumstances. FFLs may disclose prospective buyers’ personal information to the FBI for purposes of the background check, or to law enforcement officers conducting criminal investigations.

Federal law prohibits the consolidation of information about firearm purchasers to any form of national firearm registry.

The NICS system responds to most inquiries from FFLs almost immediately with one of three responses: proceed (sale may continue), deny (the FFL may not proceed with the sale), or delay (the buyer’s eligibility requires more research).
Some states require a background check for all transfers of firearms – including those by “private sellers.” Be sure you know and follow the laws in your state.
If your buyer resides in a different state, federal law requires that you use an FFL to make the sale.
States may have different rules. There are several online sources that can help you understand state law. And, this is a good reason to use an FFL to facilitate the sale.
There are several online sources that can help you find an FFL. You can find these online sites by searching “FFL Finder” and following the links.
They maintain accurate records, institute internal controls, and perform background checks on potential firearms purchasers.
If you need additional resources on how to sell your firearm, please see the Appendix to the Private Sellers Guide and the ATF publication Best Practices Guide: Transfers of Firearms by Private Sellers at https://www.atf.gov/file/58681/download.