Is a Collector's Federal Firearms License for you?

by Jim Supica

Copyright, Jim Supica - used by permission. This is NOT legal advice. Legal questions should be referred to your attorney. Opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of NRA or the National Firearms Museum. Originally published in "Standard Catalog of Firearms."

Many firearms enthusiasts are familiar with the Dealer's Federal Firearms License (FFL). This is a license issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that allows the licensee to engage in the business of buying & selling guns for profit. An FFL Dealer must comply with many requirements, including a fixed place of business, zoning & sales tax compliance, record of all sales & purchases, filing of a 4473 Yellow Form for each sale with NICS instant background check or state equivalent. They may buy guns for resale and have them mailed or shipped directly to them from distributors and other sources. This dealer FFL is not available to private individuals who want to purchase guns for their personal use or collections.

However, there is another, less well-known, type of FFL that is designed specifically for individuals who want to buy certain types of gun for their personal collection. It's called a Collector's Federal Firearms License, sometimes called a "C&R" FFL. It is designed specifically to enable collectors to buy certain types of older & other collectible guns without having to go through a Licensed Dealer.

What can you do with a Collector FFL?

The licensed collector can buy "Curio & Relic" (C&R) firearms directly from a distributor, dealer, or other persons without having to go through a licensed dealer. Many licensed collectors order guns directly from sources on the internet or listings in publications such as Gun List or Shotgun News.

What is a C&R firearm?

Federal regulations define C&R guns as those "which are of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or … as weapons." To be considered a C&R, such a gun must fall into one of three categories:

Of these, the "50 year old" is the broadest and most definite group. If you can prove that the gun in question (not the model, but the specific gun) is at least 50 years old, it is a C&R gun, eligible for licensed collector purchase.

The other two classes are a bit more subjective. Presumably, you could rely on the "curator's certification" of C&R status if you kept a copy of the certification with the gun. The "value derived" class is quite subjective. The BATF will make a determination as to whether such a gun is a C&R on written application from a licensed collector. C&R status based on this class has often been given to commemorative firearms. The BATF publishes a list of previously approved C&R firearms, upon which a licensed collector may rely.

What are the obligations of a licensed collector?

A licensed collector must keep a record of all the C&R purchases made with his license in a "bound book," recording make, model, serial number, caliber, type of gun, and the name & address (or FFL number) of the seller, with date. When he sells, trades, or disposes of the gun, he must enter the name, address & other information for the buyer, with the date in the book. The BATF has the right to inspect these records on an annual basis. The licensed collector can decide whether this inspection will be at the location of the collection or at the BATF office. Realistically, licensed collector records are rarely inspected unless there has been a specific problem that has come to the attention of the BATF. Unlike a Licensed Dealer, the Licensed Collector is not required to send his records to the BATF upon expiration of his license.

What are the restrictions on a Licensed Collector?

Most importantly, a Collector FFL does NOT permit the holder to engage in the business of buying & selling guns for profit. The guns purchased on a C&R license must be for the collector's personal collection, and not for resale. This does not prevent a collector from selling or trading guns in his collection to improve the collection. When doing so, he is generally subject to the same laws as any other private citizen selling personal guns, with the addition of needing to list the sale in his bound book. In addition, a Licensed Collector does not have any special privileges when buying a modern non-C&R gun.

To apply, or for more information:

This article is a general summary, and is not legal advice. Probably the best source for definitive information is the ATF website, where you can find the full text of the laws, plus a form to apply for a Collector FFL. You can also request information from the US Government Printing Office, PO Box 5650, Springfield VA 22150-5950. Publication ATF P 5300.4 is the Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide; ATF P 5300.11 is the Firearms Curio & Relics List; and ATF F 5310.16 is the application form for a C&R Collector License.

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