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What is an FFL?

So, you’re ready to buy a gun. Congrats! That’s the best feeling in the world. But now that you’ve decided to purchase a firearm… how do you go about getting one? Once upon a time, you could only buy a firearm at a brick and mortar store. Thanks to the internet, however, you can now shop for your new favorite handgun or long gun directly from your couch. We have over 20,000 products for you to choose from.  But even if your next gun purchase comes from an online firearms retailer, your local brick and mortar gun store still plays an important role in the buying process.   

All gun retailers in America must hold a valid Federal Firearms License (FFL) to transact in the commercial sale of firearms. The acronym FFL describes both the physical “store” and the license required by our government to run it. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearm (BATF) regulates the issuance of licenses and the retailers themselves.

The Old Days of Firearms Retail 

Long before the internet came into being, mail order retailers emerged in the mid-1800s to fulfill the desire for more gun options. Folks could have firearms mailed to their personal residence. Retailer location was of little concern because the US Postal Service made it possible for purchases to be delivered directly to the customer’s home regardless of its origin. 

The Start of Federal Regulation

The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 was the first federal firearms law. The NFA regulated machine guns, short-barreled rifles (SBRs), short-barreled shotguns (SBSs), suppressors, and destructive devices (explosive munitions). Almost thirty years later, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy caused Congress to discuss further regulating firearms transactions in the US. Lee Harvey Oswald purchased the 6.5×52mm Carcano Model 91/38 rifle he used to kill President Kennedy through mail order and shipped it directly to his residence. 

Created five years after Kennedy’s death, the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 was more far-reaching as it regulated all handguns and long guns. Learning from Kennedy’s murder, the GCA dictated that firearms could no longer be bought and mailed to a personal residence. Instead, firearms had to be delivered to a third party, an FFL, to ensure that the individual purchasing the gun was eligible to do so. The only exception to this new regulation was guns classified as Curio and Relics (C&R). If you’re curious about C&R licenses and how to obtain one, this article is a great place to start.

FFLs and Online Gun Retailers

Just as the GCA of 1968 legislated that mail-order firearms could not be mailed to a personal residence, the same is now true with firearms purchased from online gun retailers. After you buy a gun from an online retailer, the retailer mails the firearm to the customer’s chosen FFL. At the FFL, you’ll complete the BATF Form 4473, and the FFL runs a background check on the customer through the FBI utilizing the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Provided the Form 4473 and background check do not designate the person a “prohibited person” the transfer commences. Whether one purchases a firearm from the FFL or an online retailer, the FFL is always responsible for the transfer.


Each year, Americans visit physical stores less frequently and instead purchase more products online. The firearms industry is not immune to this trend. Since federal law dictates that most firearms cannot be shipped to a personal residence after purchase, online firearms retailers and FFLs share a mutual relationship. Take a look at our wide selection of long-guns and handguns and send one to an FFL today!

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