Under federal law, new firearms may only be sold by businesses which possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL), and are known as FFL Dealers. There are multiple legal ways to purchase a gun.
Although FFL dealers are licensed by the federal government, they are also subject to many local laws and regulations. They must possess business licenses, fit within zoning requirements and may only offer guns for sale which are legal within the state, county, and city where they operate. They must also follow any federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and rules which may apply to the purchase. If a waiting period is required then it is the FFL dealer’s responsibility to enforce it.
An FFL dealer must comply with the federal paperwork requirements. You will need to show photo ID and fill out a Form 4473. The dealer must keep this form on file and show it to the BATFE upon request. The FFL will call in your personal information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) clearinghouse. The FFL the dealer will receive one of three possible answers from NICS: an approval, a delay, or a deny. If the sale is approved, the FFL dealer is given an authorization code which he will note on your paperwork. Delays happen for a variety of reasons which may not be immediately obvious to the buyer. Delays do not always result in a denial, the dealer will tell you when you can come back to finish processing your paperwork. A denial means you are not legally permitted to purchase a firearm for some reason. You will want to find out the reason for it and, if justified, fight to appeal the denial.
Many states require waiting periods when purchasing a firearm. You will complete your paperwork, pay in full for the firearm and will be allowed to go back to the dealer and pick up your firearm once that period has passed.
In most states, it is legal to purchase a firearm online, these sales must also be through an FFL dealer as well as shipped to a FFL dealer in your state who will typically charge anywhere from $20 to $50 for this service. It is illegal to ship a firearm to a personal residence or any location which does not hold a valid FFL. All of the above verification and paperwork requirements applies online as they do in a local guns store.
All NEW firearms must be sold through a FFL dealer but in some states, private sales of USED guns are legal without an FFL. In some states, an citizen may lawfully sell a used gun to another citizen within the same state. There are many federal, state, and local regulations which apply to private party sales. It is your responsibility to fully understand the laws and how they apply in your state.
If you are a purchasing your first firearm, it is strongly encouraged that you make this purchase through a FFL dealer.
The vendors that sell firearms at gun shows are FFL dealers, typically these are stores that utilize the gun show arena to reach new customers. FFL dealers at gun shows must comply all of the same federal, state, and local laws which apply to them when they operate out of their regular places of business. This includes background checks, waiting periods, and any other requirements required by your local politicians.
If private sales are legal in your state, and if the gun show’s management allows, there may also be private sellers at the gun show. Private sellers at gun shows must comply with every single federal, state, and local law which applies to all other private sales within your jurisdiction. If private sales are not legal in your state, county, or city, there will be no private sellers at your local gun show.