Compliance: FFL Copy Retention

FFL Copy Retention

How Long Do I Have to Retain Copies of Federal Firearms Licenses?

By NSSF FFL Compliance Consultant Team

All dealers know about the requirement to obtain a signed, certified copy of another licensee’s federal firearms license (FFL) prior to transferring a firearm to them. All retailers also know they can obtain this license copy by mail or fax, as well as by e-mail with the copy as a scanned attachment. The provision of the valid FFL copy verifies licensed status and provides an FFL number to be recorded in the disposition records. Once retailers have copies of other FFLs, they tend to keep them.

In their visits to retailers, NSSF’s ATF Compliance Consultants often find that copies of FFLs are retained for many years and sometimes never discarded. But decade’s worth of FFL copies for an average dealer takes up a lot of file space, a fact compounded by the rise in internet sales and the correlating increase in the number of FFL copies a dealer obtains.

Though many retailers tell our consultants they believe they must retain these copies indefinitely, just as often our consultants are asked, “Just how long do I have to retain these FFL copies?”

The answer may be surprising: A retailer does not have to retain them at all! The section of ATF regulations that govern the providing of FFL copies is 27 CFR 478.94. In pertinent part, this regulation states:

A licensed importer, licensed manufacturer, or licensed dealer selling or otherwise disposing of firearms, and a licensed collector selling or otherwise disposing of curios or relics, to another licensee shall verify the identity and licensed status of the transferee prior to making the transaction. Verification shall be established by the transferee furnishing to the transferor a certified copy of the transferee’s license and by such other means as the transferor deems necessary: Provided, That it shall not be required (a) for a transferee who has furnished a certified copy of its license to a transferor to again furnish such certified copy to that transferor during the term of the transferee’s current license … .”

The fact that another copy need not be furnished during the term of the current license implies that the first copy is retained; however, there is nothing in this section that explicitly requires the retention of the first FFL copy. Further, ATF regulation 27 CFR 478.129, which provides guidance on the retention of firearms records and forms, makes no mention about the retention of FFL copies.

As a general business practice, however, NSSF’s ATF Compliance Consultants recommend that retailers retain a copy of current, valid FFLs until they expire, i.e., a three-year file of FFL copies should be maintained. They also recommend that the FFL copies be retained in alphabetical order by name on the FFL. In that way, a dealer has proof that they complied with 27CFR 478.94 when they transferred a firearm to the receiving licensee and, so, will not have to obtain another copy for those licensees with which they do repetitive business. Another good business practice is to consider using ATF’s EZCHECK, to ensure that the license that you are shipping to is still current and valid. Beyond that, although retailers can retain copies as long as they wish, there simply is no requirement to do so and really no need once an FFL on file has expired, except as a reminder to obtain an updated and current FFL from those retailers.

To learn what records you must keep as a firearms retailer, please see NSSF’s chart.