How To Transfer a Gun? [Written by a Firearms Expert]

Transferring firearms can be a complex process, but understanding the steps involved is crucial to ensure you stay within the bounds of the law and promote safety. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of transferring a gun, whether you’re buying or selling one.

Let’s dive into the world of FFL transfers, the process, and key rules to follow when learning how to transfer a gun.

What are FFL Transfers?

In the United States, the process of transferring firearms, whether for buying or selling, is closely tied to the FFL system. An FFL license is a government-issued license that allows individuals or entities to engage in the business of selling, manufacturing, importing, or repairing firearms.

It acts as a safeguard to ensure that the exchange of firearms is conducted within the boundaries of federal and state laws. Here’s a closer look at what FFL transfers entail:

When an individual wants to buy or sell a firearm, the involvement of an FFL dealer becomes a crucial intermediary step in the process.

FFL dealers are licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and are responsible for conducting background checks, maintaining records, and ensuring that the transaction complies with all applicable laws. Essentially, they help ensure that the transfer of firearms is conducted legally and safely.

NFA Transfers

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NFA transfers, or National Firearms Act transfers, are a subset of FFL transfers that deal with highly regulated firearms and accessories. The National Firearms Act of 1934 imposes strict regulations on certain categories of firearms and devices, including:


These are devices that reduce the noise and muzzle flash when a firearm is discharged. NFA regulations require individuals to undergo an in-depth background check and pay a tax stamp before purchasing a suppressor.

Short-barreled rifles (SBRs)

Any rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches falls into this category. NFA regulations require extensive paperwork, background checks, and the payment of a tax stamp.

Short-barreled shotguns (SBSs)

Similar to SBRs, SBSs have barrels shorter than 18 inches and are subject to the same NFA regulations.

Machine guns

These fully automatic firearms are heavily restricted under the NFA. Owning one requires a thorough background check, fingerprinting, photographs, and a tax stamp.

The NFA transfer process is more complex and time-consuming than standard FFL transfers. It typically involves filling out specific forms, waiting for ATF approval, and paying additional fees. The purpose of these regulations is to track and monitor potentially dangerous or easily concealable firearms, ensuring they do not fall into the wrong hands.

Understanding the distinction between standard Federal Firearms Licenses transfers and NFA transfers is crucial for both buyers and sellers, as failure to comply with these regulations can lead to legal consequences.

When dealing with NFA-regulated items, it’s essential to work with experienced FFL dealers who are well-versed in the complexities of NFA transfers and can guide you through the process.

Buying a Firearm – Transfer Process

When you’re purchasing a firearm, it’s essential to navigate the transfer process carefully to ensure that you acquire your new weapon legally and responsibly. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps involved:

Step 1 – Find a Local FFL

The first step in buying a firearm is to find a local Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. These dealers are authorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to facilitate you when you transfer a firearm.

You can typically find FFL dealers at local gun shops or shooting ranges, and they play a pivotal role in the transfer process. Their responsibilities include verifying the legality of the transaction, conducting background checks, and ensuring that the transfer complies with all the relevant federal and state law.

Step 2 – Purchase the Firearm

Once you’ve identified a local FFL dealer, you can proceed to purchase the firearm from the seller. It’s crucial to ensure that the sale adheres to all federal and state regulations, as well as the local firearm transfer laws. Here are some key considerations:

Background Check: Most states require a background check for the buyer, and the FFL dealer will typically handle this process. This check is vital to verify that the purchaser is not a prohibited person, such as a felon or someone with a history of domestic violence.

Waiting Period: Some states impose a waiting period between the purchase and the actual transfer of the firearm. This waiting period is designed to allow for a thorough background check and to serve as a cooling-off period.

Type of Firearm: Ensure that the firearm you are purchasing is legal in your state. Some states have restrictions on certain types of firearms, like assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Step 3 – Ship the Firearm (Optional)

In some cases, if you are purchasing the firearm from a seller located in another state, it may be necessary to ship the firearm to your local FFL dealer. It is essential to use a licensed carrier and adhere to all legal requirements for shipping firearms.

This may include ensuring the firearm is securely packaged, including the FFL information in the package, and following any specific carrier regulations.

Step 4 – Transfer the Firearm

The final step in buying a firearm is to visit your chosen local FFL dealer to complete the transfer. The FFL dealer will handle the necessary paperwork, including the federal Form 4473, which is the background check form, and the ATF Form 4473, which serves as a transaction record.

Once the background check is approved and all necessary documentation is completed, the FFL dealer can proceed with the transfer of the firearm to you.

It’s important to be patient during this process, as it may take some time to complete, especially if there are other customers in the shop.

By following these steps and working closely with your local FFL dealer, you can ensure a smooth and legally compliant process when buying a firearm.

Always prioritize safety and responsibility when acquiring a new firearm, and be sure to educate yourself on the specific laws and regulations in your state.

Selling a Firearm – Transfer Process

If you’re planning to sell a firearm, understanding the transfer process is crucial to ensure the legal and responsible transfer of your weapon to a qualified buyer. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps involved in selling a firearm:

Step 1 – Sell the Firearm

The first step in selling a firearm is finding a qualified buyer. It’s important to ensure that the person you’re selling to is eligible to own a firearm according to federal and state laws. Here are some key considerations:

Eligibility: Ensure that the buyer is not a prohibited person, such as a felon, someone with a restraining order, or an individual with a history of domestic violence. You should also ensure they are of legal age to purchase the specific firearm.

Background Check: While federal laws don’t require private sellers to conduct background checks, it’s a good practice to do so. You can request a licensed FFL dealer to run a background check on the buyer to ensure that the sale is legal and the buyer is eligible.

Step 2 – Gather Recipient FFL Details

If you’re selling the firearm to someone located in another state, you will need to locate a local Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer near the buyer. The buyer will provide you with the FFL dealer’s information, including their FFL license number. This information is essential for the transfer to proceed legally and securely.

The involvement of an FFL dealer in the buyer’s state is crucial because it ensures that the recipient undergoes a background check and adheres to local laws. The FFL dealer also acts as a transfer point for the firearm.

Step 3 – Ship the Firearm

When you are selling a firearm to someone in a different state, shipping the firearm to the recipient’s local FFL dealer is often necessary. It’s important to follow specific procedures for shipping firearms to comply with the law:

Licensed Carrier: Use a licensed carrier to legally ship the firearm, such as UPS or FedEx. Ensure that the carrier is authorized to transport firearms.

Secure Packaging: Package the firearm securely to prevent any damage during transit. Ensure that the firearm is unloaded and that any ammunition is properly stored.

Include Documentation: Inside the package, include a copy of the sales agreement or bill of sale, as well as a note with your contact information and the recipient’s FFL dealer’s information.

Notify the Recipient: Inform the recipient’s FFL dealer of the incoming shipment and provide them with the tracking information.

Once the firearm arrives at the recipient’s local FFL dealer, they will handle the necessary paperwork, including the background check, and complete the transfer to the buyer.

This process ensures that the sale complies with all relevant federal and state law, and that the buyer undergoes the necessary background check before taking possession of the firearm.

By following these steps and working closely with the buyer and the recipient’s FFL dealer, you can ensure a smooth and legally compliant process when selling a firearm.

Always prioritize safety, responsibility, and adherence to all applicable laws throughout the transfer process.

Firearm Transfer Rules

Understanding the rules governing you when you transfer a firearm is essential for anyone involved in buying or selling firearms. These rules are in place to maintain public safety, control access to firearms, and prevent the illegal acquisition of weapons. Here are some critical firearm transfer rules to be aware of:

Background Checks: Federal laws mandate that anyone purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer must undergo a background check. This check is performed to determine if the buyer is prohibited from owning firearms due to factors like felony convictions, restraining orders, or a history of domestic violence.

Some states also require background checks for private sales, even if not explicitly mandated by federal law.

Waiting Periods: Several states impose a waiting period between the purchase and the actual transfer of a firearm. These waiting periods vary in duration, and their purpose is to provide time for background checks to be completed and to serve as a cooling-off period to reduce impulsive firearm purchases.

Age Restrictions: Federal law sets the minimum age for purchasing a long gun (rifle or shotgun) at 18 and for purchasing a handgun at 21. Individual states may have stricter age requirements.

Firearm Types: Certain types of firearms are subject to additional regulations. For example, fully automatic firearms (machine guns), short-barreled rifles (SBRs), and suppressors fall under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and require special approvals, extensive paperwork, and the payment of a tax stamp.

Transfer to Prohibited Persons: It is illegal to knowingly transfer a firearm to someone who is prohibited from owning one. Sellers must exercise due diligence to ensure the buyer’s eligibility.

State and Local Laws: Firearms laws vary significantly from one state to another, and some local jurisdictions have their own regulations. It’s essential to be aware of and comply with the specific laws in your area.

Record-Keeping: FFL dealers are required to maintain records of firearm sales, which include the make, model, and serial number of the firearm, as well as the purchaser’s information. These records are subject to inspection by law enforcement.

Finding an FFL for a Transfer

Locating a reliable dealer is a crucial step in both buying and selling firearms. FFL dealers play a central role in facilitating legal transfers and ensuring that all necessary checks and paperwork are completed correctly. Here’s how to find an FFL dealer for your transfer:

Local Gun Shops: Local gun shops often have FFL dealers on-site who can assist with transfers. They can provide guidance, facilitate background checks, and ensure the transfer complies with the law.

Online Directories: There are various online directories and databases that list FFL dealers by location. Websites like the ATF’s FFL eZ Check and FFL Registry are useful tools for finding nearby FFL dealers.

Referrals: Ask for recommendations from fellow gun owners, shooting clubs, or firearm forums. People with experience in buying and selling firearms can often point you to reputable FFL dealers in your area.

Contact Local Law Enforcement: Local police or sheriff’s departments may be able to provide a list of licensed FFL dealers in your area. They can also clarify any local regulations or requirements.

When selecting an FFL dealer for your transfer, it’s essential to consider factors such as their reputation, transfer fees, proximity to you and the buyer or seller, and their willingness to assist with NFA transfers if applicable.

Open communication and a good working relationship with your chosen FFL dealer can make the firearm transfer process smoother and more secure. Always choose a licensed and reputable FFL dealer to ensure that the transfer is conducted within the bounds of the law.

FFL Transfer Fee

When engaging in a firearm transfer, understanding the FFL transfer fee is crucial, as it’s an additional cost that buyers and sellers need to consider. The FFL transfer fee is the amount that the Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer charges for their services in facilitating the transfer of a firearm.

Here’s a more in-depth look at this aspect of the process:

Varied Costs: FFL transfer fees can vary significantly from one dealer to another. The cost of the fee may depend on factors such as the dealer’s location, their level of experience, the complexity of the transfer (e.g., NFA items typically incur higher fees), and local market conditions.

Communication: It’s important to discuss the FFL transfer fee with the chosen dealer before initiating the transfer. This ensures transparency and prevents any surprises regarding costs. Some FFL dealers may offer package deals or reduced fees for multiple transfers, so it’s worth exploring your options.

Additional Costs: In addition to the FFL transfer fee, be aware of any additional charges that may apply, such as background check fees or state-specific fees. While federal law sets some baseline regulations, states may have their own requirements and associated costs.

Cost Sharing: In some cases, the buyer and seller may agree to share the FFL transfer fee. This is typically a negotiation point during the sale and should be agreed upon in advance. It’s essential to clarify who will cover the cost to avoid any misunderstandings.

Remember that the FFL transfer fee is a legitimate expense associated with the legal transfer of firearms and is an essential aspect of conducting a legal and responsible transaction. By discussing the fee upfront with the FFL dealer and including it in your budget, you can ensure a smooth and transparent transfer process.

Shipping Firearms

Shipping firearms, whether you’re buying or selling, involves a set of specific guidelines and regulations that are in place to ensure the secure and lawful transportation of firearms. Here are some key points to consider when shipping firearms:

Licensed Carrier: When shipping firearms, always use a licensed carrier authorized to transport firearms. Common carriers for shipping firearms include UPS and FedEx. These carriers have established guidelines and regulations for shipping firearms.

Secure Packaging: Properly secure the firearm within a suitable container, ensuring it cannot shift or be damaged during transit. It’s vital that the firearm is unloaded and that any ammunition is securely stored, typically in a separate container.

Documentation: Include a copy of the sales agreement or bill of sale, which should detail the transaction’s terms. Inside the package, also include a note with your contact information and the recipient’s FFL dealer information.

Notification: Inform the recipient’s FFL dealer that you are shipping the firearm to their location. Provide them with the tracking information so they can anticipate the arrival of the package.

Tracking and Insurance: Use a tracking service provided by the carrier, which allows you to monitor the package’s progress. It’s also advisable to purchase insurance for the package in case of loss or damage during transit.

Legal Compliance: Ensure that the shipment adheres to all the federal and state law. For example, if you are shipping an NFA-regulated item, you must follow the specific requirements for NFA transfers and obtain the appropriate tax stamp.

By following these guidelines and exercising due diligence when shipping firearms, you can help guarantee that the transfer is secure and compliant with all legal requirements. It’s crucial to be well-informed and responsible when shipping firearms to maintain the safety and integrity of the entire process.


When you transfer a firearm, ensure that you follow the rules and regulations to the letter is of utmost importance. Whether you’re buying or selling a firearm, the involvement of a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer is a crucial step to maintain compliance with the federal and state law. Here’s a summary of the key takeaways:

FFL Transfers: Understanding the FFL system is essential for navigating the legal landscape of firearm transfers. Different types of transfers, including NFA transfers, come with unique requirements and regulations.

Buying a Firearm: When purchasing a firearm, follow a well-defined process that includes finding a local FFL dealer, completing the purchase legally, and potentially shipping the firearm to your FFL for the transfer.

Selling a Firearm: When selling a firearm, make sure your buyer is eligible to own a firearm, gather the recipient FFL dealer’s details if they’re in another state, and follow proper shipping procedures.

Firearm Transfer Rules: Adhering to federal and state rules, background checks, waiting periods, age restrictions, and understanding the specific laws of your state is critical for a legal transfer.

Finding an FFL: Locating a reputable FFL dealer is key to a successful transfer. You can do this through local gun shops, online directories, referrals, or by contacting local law enforcement.

FFL Transfer Fee: Be prepared for FFL transfer fees, which can vary between dealers. Discuss the fee with the FFL dealer beforehand and consider sharing the cost if necessary.

Shipping Firearms: When shipping firearms, use a licensed carrier, secure the package, include documentation, notify the recipient’s FFL dealer, and ensure legal compliance.

In conclusion, when you transfer a firearm, it requires a combination of responsible firearm ownership, knowledge of federal and state law, and collaboration with FFL dealers who are experienced in facilitating these transfers.

By following these steps and maintaining open communication throughout the process, you can ensure a legally compliant and secure transfer. Always prioritize safety and the responsible handling of firearms.


Can I transfer a firearm to someone in a different state without involving an FFL dealer?

In most cases, no. Federal law generally requires the involvement of an FFL dealer when transferring firearms across state lines to ensure background checks and legal compliance.

What is an NFA transfer, and how does it differ from a standard transfer?

An NFA transfer pertains to highly regulated items such as suppressors, short-barreled rifles, and machine guns. It involves more extensive paperwork, background checks, and the payment of a tax stamp. Standard transfers, on the other hand, involve more common firearms and follow a simpler process.

Are there waiting periods for all firearm purchases?

Waiting periods vary by state and, in some cases, by the type of firearm. Some states have waiting periods for all firearm purchases, while others may only impose them for handguns or specific firearm categories.

Can I sell a firearm to a family member without a background check?

Federal law allows you to transfer a firearm between immediate family members without a background check in some states. However, your state law may vary, and it’s essential to be aware of local regulations.

What is the role of an FFL dealer in the firearm transfer process?

FFL dealers act as intermediaries in the transfer process, facilitating background checks, ensuring legal compliance, and maintaining necessary records. They play a critical role in maintaining the integrity of firearm transfers.

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