What is an FFL number?
An FFL number is a unique identifying number assigned to every Federal Firearms License issued by the ATF. In addition to identifying FFLs, the FFL number also shares some information about the FFL (like the Type of FFL, the expirations date, and more).
What does an FFL number mean?
An FFL number is a 15 character number (14 numbers, 1 letter) broken up into 6 sections.
Each section of an FFL number represents a different piece of information about that FFL.
Let’s explore each section of an FFL number in order. (As a note, the 4th and 5th section are the most important for you to pay attention to. By paying attention to these sections, you can spot potential issues concerning mismatched locations, wrong FFL types, and incorrect expiration dates.)
The below information can be downloaded and/or printed for easy reference in the RocketFFL FFL Number Reference Sheet available in our ATF Compliance course.
Section 1 of an FFL Number:
The first section of an FFL number is a single digit which represents which of the 7 regions of the country where the FFL is located. The regions and their corresponding numbers (which skip numbers 2 and 7) are:
6. North Atlantic
Section 2 of an FFL Number:
The second section of an FFL number is a two-digit number which represents the IRS district where the FFL is located.
This is left-over from when the ATF used to be part of the Department of Treasury. Prior to 2001, the first two digits of your company’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) used to reference the same two-digit IRS district. As an example, the IRS district office number for Albany, NY is 14. Therefore, if you receive a copy of an FFL from Phoenix, AZ and the FFL number starts with 1-14-XXX-XX-XX-XXXXX, then you know something’s wrong.
Even without knowing the IRS district numbers, you know that Phoenix is not in the North Atlantic region of our country. As we’ll discuss below, you should always lookup an FFL number with the ATF to verify its accuracy.
However, if you’re one of those folks who’d like to have a list to reference, check out our free RocketFFL FFL Number Reference Sheet available in our ATF Compliance course.
Section 3 of an FFL Number:
The third section of an FFL number is a three-digit number representing the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) code where the FFL is located, You should ignore these three numbers because the FIPS codes change periodically and are even sometimes duplicated for certain areas.
Section 4 of an FFL Number:
The fourth section of an FFL number is a two-digit number representing the FFL license type.
That is why this section of an FFL number is an important one to look at – it can easily show a discrepancy on the copy of the FFL you received and it will let you know whether you are allowed to ship the particular firearm to that FFL!
Different FFL types can conduct different activities per the chart below. Note the columns which help you to determine what each type of FFL will allow and which Class of SOT may be required – “AP” means ‘Armor Piercing Ammunition’ and “DD” means ‘Destructive Device’
As you can see in the chart above, a Type 1 dealer/gunsmith’s FFL (the most popular type f FFL) can deal in standard (GCA/Title I) firearms.
And, if they are also a Class 3 Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT) then they can also deal in NFA/Title II firearms. Also, a Type 7 manufacturers FFL (the second most popular type of FFL) can manufacture standard (GCA/Title I) firearms (they can also deal the same firearms). And, if they are a Class 2 SOT, then they can also manufacture (and deal)
NFA/Title II firearms. Note how neither the Type 1 nor the Type 7 FFL can work with Armor Piercing Ammunition nor Destructive Devices. To do that, a Type 9, 10, or 11 FFL is required.
The biggest potential issue arises with Type 3 Curio and Relic (C&R) Collector and Type 6 Ammunition Manufacturer FFLs. C&R Collector FFLs (Type 3) can only be used for specific firearms which are at least 50 years old or which meet certain requirements and are on the ATF’s official Curio and Relic List.
Ammunition Manufacturer FFLs (Type 6) can only be used for manufacturing ammunition – they can not be used for firearms. Therefore, you can not ship a modern firearm to a Type 03 FFL and you can’t ship any firearm to a Type 6 FFL. Pay attention to section 4 of an FFL number!
Section 5 of an FFL Number:
The fifth section of an FFL number is another important section to note – it is the expiration date of the FFL represented in two characters.
The first character is the last number of the year the FFL expires. Therefore a 9 means that the FFL expires in 2019. There isn’t a risk of not knowing which decade the number refers to because FFLs are only valid for 3 years.
The second character is a letter representing the month of the year the FFL expires. The months and their corresponding letters (“I” is skipped) are:
A – January
B – February
C – March
D – April
E – May
F – June
G – July
H – August
J – September
K – October
L – November
M – December
By noting section 5 and comparing it to the listed expiration date, you can easily see if something is wrong with an FFL. Of course, you should always lookup and confirm every FFL number anyway!
Section 6 of an FFL Number:
The sixth section of an FFL number is the unique 5-digit code for each FFL. This is truly the identifying number for that particular FFL.
This is why you can often use just the first 3 and the last 5 numbers of your FFL – for example, you can (and should) do this when transferring a firearm to a non-FFL (normal customer) on an ATF Form 4473. Also, only the first 3 and last 5 numbers are used when looking up an FFL.
FFL Numbers and ATF Compliance
If you are an FFL-holder, then you must enter the FFL number of every FFL-holder that you receive (acquire) a firearm from and transfer (dispose) a firearm to in your Acquisition and Disposition (A&D / Bound Book) record.
Additionally, you must verify the licensed status of the recipient FFL by obtaining a copy of their FFL. This requirement comes from 27 CFR 478.94 – you can learn about this and many more things that you need to know and do as an FFL in our ATF Compliance course.
You should keep the copy of every one of these other FFLs in your records. If there is an issue during an compliance inspection, it may help to have a copy of the FFL to prove that you complied with the requirement to get a copy of the FFL prior to transferring a firearm and also to confirm the accuracy of the information in your A&D records.
Check out our article on ATF Records Retention for more info.
Of course, this means that other FFL-holders are going to need a copy of your Federal Firearms License for their records and so that they can enter your FFL number into their A&D records too. An FFL number is not just important for your A&D records, it can also tell you some important information about the FFL if you know what the FFL number means.
Also, you should never rely solely on a piece of scanned and emailed or faxed piece of paper. You should always look up the FFL number to confirm its accuracy.
How do you lookup an FFL number?
Even though you now know what an FFL number means, and you know how to spot potential issues with an FFL number (mismatched locations, wrong FFL type, and incorrect expiration date) and you have access to the RocketFFL FFL Number Reference Sheet from our ATF Compliance course, you should ALWAYS look up the FFL number to verify its authenticity.
You should do this because you might receive a quality forgery, or you might have a copy of an FFL that was valid recently but has since been revoked by the ATF. The ATF’s system for looking up FFL number is called FFL eZCheck. You should bookmark the link to this site for easy reference.
As a good practice, we recommend that you print out the confirmation screen and include it with your copy of the FFL. Although you only need a copy of an FFL from an FFL-holder the first time you transfer a firearm to them, you should check FFL eZCheck prior to every transfer.