How to Buy a Firearm: Purchase Steps and Checklist
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Purchasing a firearm is not as simple as buying other hunting or fishing equipment. There are several steps that must be completed before you walk away with a gun. You must be at least 18 years old and pass a background check in addition to paying for the firearm. There are also several other steps that are not required but will ensure you have a good buying experience. Firearm purchases are final and once you have transferred ownership to your name, you can not return the gun to the store or have them hold it for you if something is wrong with your order. This process can differ depending on your state or local laws.
Just like with any purchase, you should inspect the item you are purchasing before you take ownership via the transfer process to ensure the product matches the description. If you are purchasing a gun in a store you will be able to see and hold the firearm before you start the purchase process. However, if you purchase a gun online, you will only have access to pictures and descriptions until the gun is shipped to an FFL dealer that will be able to legally transfer the firearm to the person buying the gun. Before you fill out the paperwork to transfer the firearm, ask the store to open the box and identify that the serial number on the gun matches the serial number on the order. Also, make sure the color of the gun matches the description.
Once you have determined that you have the correct firearm you intend to purchase you can start filling out the paperwork. Depending on where you live this process could be much more involved than the checklist listed below. You will need to provide a valid driver's license during the purchasing process. Your information will need to be entered into the federal system on a computer so they can run a background check. This process is called a NICS check (National Instant Criminal Background Check). This is usually done by the store employee unless the store has self-service computer kiosks. This process usually only takes a few minutes to notify the store of approval, but with high purchase volume or system failures the process can take up to 5 days. After 5 days you can return to the store and pick up your firearm even if the approval has not been processed. Once you are approved the firearm can be added to your purchases like any other item in the store. Once you pay for your items, you may be escorted to the front of the store before the firearm is actually handed to you (varies by store).
Firearm Purchase Steps and Checklist:
(The purchase will occur in different steps for online versus in-store sales)
Choose Firearm to Purchase
(if buying online) Purchase the firearm and select the FFL dealer where the firearm will be shipped and held for pickup and transfer. (FFL is a license any firearms dealer must hold to sell firearms)
Bring Driver's License with Photo ID to pick up location
Inspect the firearm before filling out any paperwork. Make sure the gun description and serial number match the order information (especially if purchased through an online retailer).
Fill out the background check paperwork. (This paperwork is called a Form 4473)
Wait for federal approval (may take up to 5 days, in which case you would have to return to the pickup location before taking home your gun).
Purchase the firearm (if not bought online).
Expect an escort to the front of the store before the physical transfer of the firearm to you.
If you are purchasing a gun for the first time you will want to also purchase the proper cleaning tools necessary to maintain the integrity of the gun. You also may want to purchase a case to store or transport the gun. Slings are a personal preference, but popular options are usually sold in the same stores you purchased your firearm. You will also want to purchase matching ammunition for the firearm you bought. Be sure to consult your owner's manual to ensure what caliber/calibers your firearm can shoot. Many guns can actually shoot multiple calibers.
You will want to read the literature that came with your firearm and also research tutorial videos for the proper use and care for your new gun. Safety should always be the focus when storing and handling your firearm. Also, make sure the gun safety is “Engaged”. You will want to store the firearm in a locked safe and or secure the firearm with a trigger lock to prevent unintended use. These helpful tips mostly pertain to hunting firearms. Also, be sure to read other information about safety and dry firing practice for defensive use.
After learning the best safety practices and making your purchases, you can hit the range to learn how to use your new gun. Seek out a shooting range with safety instructors that will help teach you the basics of use and safety or go with a well-informed friend and have them show you the ropes. Owning a firearm is a vital tradition that has been a right in this great nation since its birth. Continue the tradition and enjoy the many great outdoor experiences with your new firearm.