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Aug 5th, 2016
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Joined: Aug 2006
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Sidelock
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Sidelock
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Joined: Aug 2006
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Hi, everybody,

I've been given an editorial assignment at Russian Hunting Magazine to describe what it takes to open a gun shop in an "average" U. S. state. When I say "average" I'm only quoting the Editor-in-Chief, who says he's not interested in states California or Texas, but would like the story cover "something like Minnesota or Idaho".

So where do I start looking for data? I'm guessing you'd need a FFL, and there would be some city/state requirements to storage rooms. So, I'm off to study the BATF website, and then try to Google local laws. But if there's anyone here with a personal experience of opening and running a gun shop in any US state who wouldn't mind chatting about it, I'd be happy to chat. PM me and I'll send you my Skype or WhatsApp contacts.

Thanks in advance!

(Now you can start with your wisecracks about election meddling :))

Joined: Jun 2012
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I opened a pawnshop about eight years ago. I had a federal firearms license as part of that shop. I just recently closed it and am now out of business.

Opening the shop involved renting a storefront, buying used fixtures, paying $50 to the city for a business license and hanging an "open" sign on the door. Really not much too it.

The firearms license (if I recall correctly) cost $200 for three years. You submit an application along with a set of fingerprints for each "responsible person." You wait for your background check to clear and then the ATF schedules an appointment to come out and talk to you. During a pre-license interview that lasts about an hour they go over the rules and provide instruction on filing out the 4473 form and keeping a acquisition and disposition record. You receive your license a couple of weeks after the interview.

There are no storage requirements imposed by the ATF. I suppose some states or municipalities might specify some minimum storage but my state and town does not. As the ATF told me "You could store all your guns in an open field as far as we're concerned, so long as you keep your records correctly." (or something like that)

Basically, it's up to individual FFLs to know the rules/laws and follow them. The ATF comes around from time to time to check on you. The law says they can inspect you every year but they don't have the manpower to do that.

In my case, the ATF stopped by about three years later and did a compliance inspection. The inspection took about a day (an afternoon and a morning). I had one more inspection about a year later.

There's a fair amount of paperwork involved in being an FFL but none of it is all that complicated or burdensome. You just have to keep good records and treat your 4473 forms like precious gems.

I am currently in the process of surrendering my license since I've ceased business. I've contacted the ATF and they've sent me a form. I've printed out my gun log and have eight years of 4473 forms boxed up. They're supposed to be shipped to the Out-of-Business Records Center but I don't want to pay the freight so next week I will drive them to the ATF office in Kansas City (about two hours away by car).


Last edited by bladeswitcher; 09/27/18 07:56 AM.
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A bit more about compliance . . .

NOTE: My experience is in Missouri, a state that relies on the Federal NICS system for background checks. We don't have any state gun laws per se but simply follow federal law. Some states have their own background check systems and impose additional rules. Missouri is not one of those.

In my experience there really is surprisingly little supervision of licensed firearms dealers in the United States. During the pre-license inspection they go over how to fill out a 4473 and keep a "bound book." They provide a copy of a "best practices" guide and a ridiculously thick and obtuse book that lists all the federal gun laws. They give you a CD that has all the state laws governing guns. It's up to you to read these things.

The ATF issues advisory letters, rulings and a semi-regular newsletter for FFLs. They don't actually send you these things. They just publish them. It's up to each FFL to seek these publications out and read them. Every couple of years the ATF hosts regional field days for FFLs. These workshops are quite useful and informative but they are completely voluntary and it's up to individual FFLs to avail themselves of this opportunity.

As and FFL, you have very little contact with the ATF. Every gun transfer to a "non-licensed person" requires a 4473 form. There is a part for the customer to fill out and parts that the dealer fills out. This is part of the dealers record of the sale. These forms stay at the FFL's premises and are not forwarded to the ATF. The FFL must keep these forms on file at least 20 years (most dealers keep them forever).

Before a transfer takes place the FFL runs a background check on the buyer. The FBI (not the ATF) does the background check. In most cases these are quick and straightforward. The three basic options are PROCEED, DELAY or DENY. Once the PROCEED is issued the FFL may transfer the firearm to the buyer.

If a gun is recovered at a crime scene or somehow otherwise involved in a criminal investigation the police can request a gun "trace" through the ATF. Consequently, from time to time an FFL will get a phone call requesting a trace. The ATF provides a serial number and the date the firearm was transferred to the FFL (they get the date from a distributor, manufacturer, another dealer, etc.). The FFL pulls the corresponding 4473 and faxes it to the tracing center. End of that story. Nothing else happens from the FFLs perspective.

The semi-regular ATF inspection has a few basic components:
* A complete inventory of every gun in the store to make sure it's recorded in the log and that the serial numbers and descriptions match
* An accounting of every gun the log book says should be in-house. If there's an open disposition in the log, there better be a gun
* A quick review of one year's worth of 4473 forms.

The ATF is looking for missing guns (very bad!) and book keeping errors. During my first inspection they found a number of 4473 forms with unchecked boxes, dates that didn't match and other minor mistakes. They treated this as a teaching moment and reviewed the rules. They said they'd be back in a year. True to their word, they showed up for another inspection about a year later. This time they found no issues and I had a clean inspection. They said I wouldn't see them for awhile.

In truth, there is very little the ATF can do to a dealer who isn't doing his job well. There are no provisions for fines in the law. The only things they can do is scold, lecture and . . . PULL THE LICENSE. Every FFL lives in fear of losing their license but it happens quite rarely. Typically, if an FFL is sloppy they may require them to travel to the regional office for a sit down with the area supervisor but this is basically just an advanced scolding. Straighten up and fly right or we'll pull your license . . . that's all they've got.

There are potential criminal penalties but an FFL has to be blatantly breaking the rules in order for it to go that far.

If you pay your license fee and make a serious attempt to follow the laws governing the operation of an FFL you will continue to be a gun dealer.

Last edited by bladeswitcher; 09/27/18 08:28 AM.
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Another thing that may bear mentioning to a Russian, not accustomed to U.S. laws . . . The ATF doesn't have much authority to deny someone an FFL. If the applicant is not a firearms prohibited person and their business is allowed under local zoning laws the issuance of a FFL is pretty much a foregone conclusion. The applicant actually has to intend to "engage in business" however. They won't issue a license to somebody who just wants it as a hobbyist or for their own personal use. Clearly there is a range of business activity -- especially among "kitchen table dealers" but if you're opening a storefront/brick and mortar gun business and you can pass a background check, you will get an FFL (again, local zoning must permit that type of business).


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