Depending on whether you want to make, buy, or sell an NFA firearm, there is an ATF Form that must be used.
This is because, in most cases, the ATF must approve the making, selling, and/or buying of NFA firearms, those firearms regulated under the National Firearms Act (e.g. silencer or suppressor, short barreled rifle or SBR, short barreled shotgun or SBS, machine gun, and more).
The application for making or transferring an NFA firearm is made on the appropriate ATF form along with a fingerprint card and the appropriate tax payment to the ATF and, once approved by the NFA branch, it is returned with a tax stamp and permission for either making the NFA item or permission for the transferor(seller) to allow the transferee (buyer) to take possession of the NFA item.
There is one exception to the “prior approval required” guideline: if you are a Type 07 or Type 10 FFL (the two types of manufacturing federal firearms license) AND you have paid your annual SOT tax and are thereby a Special Occupational Taxpayer (Class 2 for those who want to know), then you can make a machine gun whenever you want and simply notify the ATF – NFA Branch AFTER you’ve made the NFA item. There is no “approval” in this case – instead, it is simply a notification.
Which ATF form is used depends on the activity and the person or entity making, selling, or receiving the firearm.
Here is a table showing which ATF form is used for which type of activity and transferee, followed by a breakdown of each type of ATF paperwork for NFA transfers:
- ATF Form 1 is used for non-FFLs to manufacture their own NFA item at home. This includes all NFA firearms except a machine gun (fully automatic weapon). This is commonly used to convert a rifle to a short barreled rifle or to make a homemade silencer out of a kit (sometimes called a solvent trap).
- ATF Form 2 is used by manufacturer FFLs to notify the ATF that an NFA firearm has been made.
- ATF Form 3 is used when transferring an NFA item from one FFL to another FFL (often from a manufacturer or distributor to a dealer).
- ATF Form 4 is used when transferring an NFA weapon from an FFL to a non-FFL individual or gun trust (often from an FFL dealer to a customer – either a person or NFA trust).
- ATF Form 5 is used when transferring an NFA weapon from an FFL to a government entity like a law enforcement agency, military unit, or other government entity.
- ATF Form 6 is used when importing an NFA firearm.
- ATF Form 8 is used to export an NFA Firearm permanently.
- ATF Form 10 is used by a government entity to properly register a seized or acquired NFA firearm that wasn’t previously registered.
ATF Form 3
The ATF Form 3 is used when one Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) wants to transfer an NFA item to another FFL.
The bad news is that ATF approval is required from the NFA branch prior to transferring the NFA weapon. However, the good news regarding the Form 3 is that processing and turnaround time for the ATF paperwork is generally very fast (a matter of a couple of days).
If both FFLs are also SOTs, then they have already paid their tax to deal with NFA firearms. This means that the application to the ATF on the Form 3 is a tax-exempt transfer.
If you’re interested in becoming an FFL, you should check out our How to Get Your FFL course.
To be more accurate, the Form 3 isn’t used from one FFL to another but rather from one taxpayer to another. This is true for all ATF forms for transfers – they are for transferring from one taxpayer to another.
So, if one company has multiple locations, each with an FFL, then that company may freely move the NFA items between locations without a Form 3 even though the NFA firearm is moving from one FFL to another because the company, in the example I’m giving, is the same company and therefore has the same EIN (taxpayer number) for each location.
Be careful with advanced topics like this on your own – you should strongly consider joining our ATF compliance program before tackling nuanced ATF compliance issues like this.
ATF Form 3 Application
There is only one copy of the Form 3, the ATF copy. Other forms, like the Form 4 also include a CLEO Copy (chief law enforcement officer) for local law enforcement notification.
A Responsible Person (RP) for the gun dealer or manufacturer, or someone designated by the responsible person, makes the application to send the firearm to another taxpayer FFL on the Form 3.
A completed form will include all information about each FFL and also information about the firearm(s) to include dimensions and serial number.
Also, unlike some other NFA forms, there are no fingerprint cards nor payments of a transfer tax for the Form 3. So issues about paying via check or credit card for your tax stamp are not a concern (SOTs have their one tax stamp they need for the whole year – not per item).
If you’re interested in becoming an FFL and SOT, checkout our course bundle.
A few days after it is submitted, the ATF form 3 should come back approved. Then, and only then, may the firearm change possession from the transferor to the transferee.
It does not matter whether the paper form or the electronic form is used – however, the electronic form is generally faster and provides other benefits we’ll discuss below.
Step-by-Step Form 3 Instructions
You can follow along with these step-by-step (but brief) instructions for the paper version of the nfa form. The paper version must have TWO copies sent in to the ATF. The NFA branch will keep one Form 3 and they’ll return the other Form 3 to you once it’s approved.
In our ATF compliance course, we walk through more detail and also the ATF eForm process for the Form 3.
- Transferee’s Name and Address: Enter the receiving FFL’s information here.
- Transferor’s Name, Telephone Number, Address, and Email: Enter the information for the FFL currently in possession of the NFA item and who will be sending/giving it to the transferee.
- Description of Firearm: Enter all relevant details of the firearm here. If they are not available from the manufacturer (e.g. length), you may need to break out a measuring tape.
- Transferee’s Federal Firearm License: Enter the FFL number of the receiving FFL here.
- Transferee’s Special (Occupational) Tax Status: Enter the EIN and SOT Class for the receiving FFL here.
- Transferor’s Federal Firearm License: Enter the FFL number of the shipping/giving FFL here.
- Transferor’s Special (Occupational) Tax Status: Enter the EIN and SOT Class for the shipping/giving FFL here.
- Consent to Disclosure of Information to Transferee: As this is technically tax information, you must consent to the information being shared.
- Original Signature of Transferor: If you’re the shipping/giving FFL, sign the form 3 here.
- Name and Title of Authorized Official: This must either be an RP of the shipping/giving FFL or an employee specifically given authority to sign ATF paperwork by an RP.
- Date: Self explanatory.
The ATF eForm system is used to submit certain ATF paperwork online.
There are a few benefits to the system and a couple drawbacks.
The benefits to filing your paperwork via an electronic form are that there is less room for typographical errors, the ATF generally processes and returns the forms quicker, and you’ll likely know of issues before you send the form, so you can avoid delays by the ATF’s NFA branch having to reach out to you to amend the Form 3. One of my favorite benefits, however, is you have a great record/log of all prior Form 3s that you submitted and had approved by the ATF right there in the system.
Edits sometimes happen, or at least edits are sometimes requested, when the ATF doesn’t have a record of you have the NFA items that you are trying to transfer. The eForm system requires you to select the firearm that you are transferring from a list of firearms that are registered to you – therefore, if the firearm isn’t listed, whether it should be or not, you know that the form isn’t going to be approved before submitting it. This is actually fairly common as the ATF is notorious for having bad records of NFA registrations (even though they’ll come after you if your records aren’t perfect).
The downsides to the eForm system? One, the system is down… a lot. It is scheduled to be down every Wednesday, but it is not uncommon to log on when it is supposed to be working, and it’s not. Also, one look at the website shows you government inefficiency.
The other problem with the ATF eForm system is that not all forms are available on it, so it is handy for some forms, like the Form 3, but you’ll still need to rely on paper forms for some ATF paperwork.
What is the Form 3 used for?
The Form 3 is used to transfer an NFA Firearm from one FFL to another FFL.
Does the ATF have to approve a Form 3?
Yes, the ATF must approve a Form 3 before the NFA item can change possession.
What is the transfer tax for a Form 3?
There is no transfer tax for a Form 3. It is a tax-exempt transfer because both the transferor and transferee are usually already Special Occupational Taxpayers.
What is a transferor and transferee?
A transferor is someone who has an item and intends to send/give it to someone else. In most cases, the transferor is the seller.
A transferee is someone who intends to receive the item from the transferor. In most cases, the transferee is the purchaser.
What are Form 3 wait times?
Typically, the Form 3 wait time is only a couple business days.