ATF form 4473 to purchase a firearm

If you want to buy a gun, there are a few requirements you will have to meet. Contrary to popular belief among the general public, the sale of firearms is highly regulated.

Luckily in the United States, the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to keep and bear arms. However, not everyone can legally possess a firearm for reasons such as being underage or having a criminal record of a certain degree.

To be prepared to purchase a gun and make sure you can legally obtain one, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind so there are no surprises.

PLEASE NOTE: we are not a legal authority on U.S. firearms law. This article is intended for general information. Please consult your local laws or a legal professional if you are unsure whether you can legally obtain a firearm, as gun laws vary by state and municipality.

Gun Laws Vary by State

One of the most important things to remember about U.S. gun laws is they vary greatly from state to state. What you may be able to do and how you buy a gun in one state may be completely different in the next state over.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming because you can or can’t do something firearm related in one state that you can or can’t in another. Review your state’s specific gun laws and consult with a legal authority if you’re unsure about anything.

Gun laws can even vary by specific areas within a state, too, so make sure to be informed about gun laws in your immediate local community as well.

Age Requirements

The most basic requirement to buy a gun is that you’re of the proper age. Although it varies state by state, in most of the United States you can purchase a long gun, an example being a shotgun or rifle, at the age of 18 years old. For handguns, you must be 21 years old in most states.

Photo ID

To prove your age and identity, you will also need to present a photo ID when buying a gun. For the most part, it must be a government issued form of ID such as a driver’s license, passport, or military ID.

Failing to present a government issued ID means you will be denied the sale of a firearm, and there is no way around it.

ATF form 4473

ATF form 4473 is the Firearms Transaction Record form that must be filled out by you and the FFL (Federal Firearms License) dealer prior to the sale at the physical location of the FFL.

Form 4473 will have you fill out information such as your personal information, information about the firearm itself, and questions about criminal history, if applicable.

This form is pretty straight forward, and your FFL dealer will walk you through the process. Since form 4473 is an official government document, it is illegal to provide false information or lie about any of the information asked for. It’s important when filling out form 4473 to read it carefully and fill it out truthfully.

Background Check Process

Once you and your FFL dealer have completed form 4473, they will then run your information through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

This process is done digitally and is a fairly quick process. Once the information has run through the NICS, the FFL dealer will essentially be given a red or green light to proceed with the sale or not.

In the event you are denied, specific information is not given, only that you have a record that indicated you are prohibited from buying and owning a firearm. At that point, the FFL dealer cannot proceed with the sale.

If everything is good to go, you will simply complete the sales process with the FFL dealer and take possession of your new firearm.

Prohibited Persons

As we mentioned earlier, not everyone can legally possess a firearm in the U.S. regardless of the rights afforded by the second amendment.

Those restricted from possessing firearms are what’s known as a prohibited person. Prohibited persons are individuals who have a criminal history that prohibits them from buying, owning, or even being around firearms.

Some examples of prohibited persons are individuals who:

  • Have been previously convicted of a serious crime
  • Is or have been a fugitive from justice
  • Have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • Are known to be an abuser of drugs or alcohol
  • Have been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Are subject to a restraining order
  • Have been indicted for a serious crime but not yet convicted

If any of these above examples apply to you, know that you will most likely not be able to buy a gun or even possess one. If you have questions or you’re unsure if you fall under the category of a prohibited person, consult with a legal professional.

Waiting Periods

In most of the U.S. once you have provided ID, filled out form 4473, passed the NICS background check, and provide payment, you are free to take possession of your new firearm immediately.

However, in some states, you may have to wait a specified period of time before you can take home your new gun. To name a few, states such as California, Rhode Island, and Hawaii all have waiting periods, among other states.

Waiting periods can be anywhere from 3 to 14 days depending on the state. The type of firearm may also dictate the length of the waiting period as well. Since the NICS is instant, these waiting periods are not necessarily needed, but are still the law nonetheless.

Misconceptions About Purchasing & Owning a Firearm

Many Americans, especially those who have no experience with firearms have many misconceptions about the purchase and ownership of firearms.

Firstly, many people believe you need a license to own a gun in the U.S. This is not true, as the second amendment gives U.S. citizens the right to keep and bear arms. There may be instances where a state or municipality may have additional requirements, but in general you do not need a license of any kind to own a firearm in the U.S.

Another common misconception is that all firearms must be registered. This is also untrue. There is currently no national firearms registry that exists. In fact, the NICS that is used to verify background checks is prohibited by federal law from establishing a registration system.

Some states may require you to register your firearms, but in most of the U.S. you are not required to register your firearms in any sort of database.

Lastly, many people assume you’re required to obtain a concealed carry permit to own a handgun of any kind. This is also not true, as you only need a concealed carry license to carry a concealed gun on your person. This varies by state, and some states don’t require a licensed to carry concealed, which is known as constitutional carry.

Final Word on Buying a Gun

The requirements to buy a gun and how they vary state to state can seem daunting, but with some of the general information we’ve outline it should make the process less intimidating.

Don’t be discouraged to exercise your second amendment rights because you don’t know how to get started. You just need to understand your basic rights and what you need to be prepared to buy a gun and you’re all set.