All states, including Tennessee, require those who sell or manufacture firearms and ammunition to get a Federal Firearms License, or FFL. There are nine types of FFLs, each with a specific purpose. Residents who wish to own firearms must meet certain requirements and undergo a background check.
What Is a Federal Firearms License?
A Federal Firearms License, or FFL, allows individuals to engage in the manufacture and interstate or intrastate sale of firearms or ammunition. This legal requirement has been in effect since 1968 as a result of the Gun Control Act’s passage at that time.
Before 1968, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 imposed a license requirement on manufacturers and sellers of firearms and ammunition. The Gun Control Act repealed the Federal Firearms Act, but much of it was reenacted for the new law. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) through the U.S. Department of Justice administers the Gun Control Act.
Types of Federal Firearms Licenses
There are nine FFLs, each with a specific purpose that allows individuals to manufacture, sell or import firearms and ammunition, and that deal with a variety of products. Depending on the type of business a person conducts, they’ll need a specific FFL to suit that business.
A person who occasionally sells firearms or otherwise transfers them in Tennessee does not require a background check.
These are the 11 types of Federal Firearms Licenses (FFLs):
- Type 01. Firearm dealer/gunsmith.
- Type 02. Pawnbroker.
- Type 03. Collector.
- Type 06. Manufacturer of ammunition.
- Type 07. Manufacturer of firearms.
- Type 08. Importer of firearms.
- Type 09. Dealer of “destructive devices.”
- Type 10. Manufacturer of “destructive devices.”
- Type 11. Importer of “destructive devices.”
Each license type is classified in one of four categories:
- Collector FFL. A permit holder with this type of license collects firearms and does not otherwise engage in the business of them.
- Dealer FFL. This individual purchases and sells firearms and may also be a gunsmith.
- Manufacturer FFL. These FFLs come in two types: firearms and ammunition manufacturers, and ammunition-only manufacturers. Firearms manufacturers may also act as dealers, but ammunition manufacturers cannot.
- Importer FFL. These individuals can import firearms and ammunition, as well as act as dealers.
Cost of Federal Firearms Licenses in Tennessee
Depending on the license, an FFL can cost between $30 and $3,000 for the first three years. After that time, there is a renewal fee.
Cost (First Three Years)
Filling Out an Application for an FFL in Tennessee
FFL applicants must be at least 21 and must not be prohibited from owning or handling firearms and ammunition.
An individual applying for an FFL must complete three documents:
1. Application for Federal Firearms License. The applicant will answer various questions and include contact information, the details of their business and their signature. After completion, two copies go to the ATF, one copy goes to a local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) and one copy remains with the applicant. Applicants must also attach a 2-inch x 2-inch headshot with each form. If the business involves other owners, co-owners, partners or additional “responsible persons,” they must be listed on the form.
2. Certification of Compliance. This asks the applicant to give proof of U.S. citizenship and certify that they’ve completed the application accurately and truthfully.
3. Fingerprint Card. This requires fingerprints of all digits, and other identifying characteristics, such as height, weight, eye and hair color, sex, race and birthplace.
Eligibility for Tennessee State Permits
Tennessee is a point of contact (POC) state, one of 13 states in the country where local authorities conduct a criminal background check during firearm transfers. An FFL holder may sell firearms to a potential eligible buyer.
Those who have been convicted of stalking, have a mental health history prohibiting them from owning a gun, or have alcohol addiction issues are not eligible.
Background Check Process for Tennessee Gun Owners
There is a background check process for Tennessee gun owners. Before delivering a firearm to a buyer, a dealer must:
- ID. Receive current ID from the prospective purchaser.
- Record. Complete a transaction record per federal law and get the buyer’s signature on the record.
- Background Check. Request a criminal background check from TBI and provide dealer’s FFL number and business name; transfer location; name of the person transferring the firearm; make, model, caliber and manufacturer’s number of the firearm; buyer’s name, gender, race, date of birth and Social Security number; purchaser’s ID type, issuer and number.
- Approval. Receive a unique transfer approval number from TBI to be placed on the transaction record.
Denial of a Firearm Transfer Under Tennessee Law
TBI will deny a firearm transfer if it finds that a potential buyer has a criminal history that would prohibit them from purchasing, receiving or possessing a firearm, and a final case disposition has yet to occur or is not recorded.
If TBI receives verified and signed written notice from the clerk of the court indicating that no final disposition information is available, the agency will reverse its denial and allow the sale to proceed.
Conversely, if the buyer challenges a denial, TBI will go ahead with its efforts to get final disposition information. The buyer may assist in this process. If neither the buyer nor the agency can get this information within 15 days, TBI will immediately notify the dealer that there is a “conditional proceed” on the transaction. This means that the dealer can legally transfer the firearm to the buyer.
ATF and FFL Application Process
Once the ATF receives an FFL application, the agency must act on it within 60 days. Here's how the FFL application process works:
- Background Check. During that time the ATF’s Federal Firearms Licensing Center (FFLC) reviews the documents listed above and conducts background checks on the applicant and those listed on the application. An ATF agent may call the applicant with further questions.
- Interview. The written application is then forwarded to the nearest ATF office in Tennessee, where an Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) sets up an in-person interview with the applicant. There, the IOI will discuss federal and state licensing requirements with the applicant. There are no state licensing requirements in Tennessee.
- Verdict. After the interview, the IOI issues a report either recommending or denying the license to the applicant. If it is approved, the FFLC will complete processing and issue the license within 60 days of the application’s receipt.
Receiving an FFL
The Tennessee resident who receives the FFL will find it watermarked with the official seal of the ATF. It includes:
- The license number
- Expiration date
- License type
- ATF contact information
Details about what the license allows the licensee to do are also included. The licensee must sign the license.
FFL holders must follow all firearms licensing laws in their home state and holders keep detailed inventory and sales records, which includes using ATF-approved inventory software. License holders must maintain records for a minimum of 20 years from the generation date.
If the holder of an FFL goes out of business, they must ship their records to the ATF’s Out-of-Business Records Center. The ATF may also ask holders to supply transaction records to law enforcement for investigations if requested.
FFLs and the Freedom of Information Act
FFL licenses are federal documents, so individuals can publicly request applications under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They must make a written FOIA request describing in as much detail as possible the information they want and the format they want it in.
The ATF also maintains lists of all FFL holders by state, in which requesters can see the holder’s contact information and the type of FFL they have. Within the state-by-state listings, one can see license holders, contact information and what type of federal license they hold.
Firearm Prohibitions in Tennessee
Tennessee prohibits individuals from buying or attempting to buy a firearm if state or federal law prohibits them from doing so. The state also prohibits dealers from selling to individuals they know are prohibited by state or federal law or those they know are intoxicated.
Someone who gives or sells a firearm to a service recipient who is in a developmental center or hospital can face a felony charge. A service recipient is an individual who receives service or applies for it due to a serious emotional disturbance, developmental disability or mental illness.
Tennessee prohibits those under 18 years of age from knowingly possessing a handgun, and it is illegal to sell or give a minor a handgun. If the person transferring the gun claims that it was given to the minor to hunt, tramp, fish, camp or sport shoot, the transferor does not have to abide by gun dealer laws in Tennessee.
Storage of Gun Laws in Tennessee
Tennessee does not have firearm storage laws, but federal law states that anyone holding an FFL must provide the transfer with “secure gun storage or safety device.” There is no law that requires the purchaser to use these, but it does shield the firearm owner from certain civil actions in the case of a third-party’s criminal or unlawful misuse of the firearm.
It is not illegal to make an unattended firearm accessible to a minor or someone prohibited from possessing a gun. However, federal law and some state laws, like Tennessee's, have minimum age limits on the sale and transfer of firearms.
Tennessee Records Laws
Before a firearm is put in the hands of its new owner, an FFL holder must complete a firearms transaction record, according to federal law. The state does not specify how long dealers must maintain customer records. Law enforcement agencies can inspect a dealer’s transaction records during a criminal investigation or under the authority of a search warrant or properly authorized subpoena.
The FFL holder will transmit records of each firearm transfer to TBI during a background check. The state requires that TBI destroy records associating an individual with a particular firearms purchase for those background checks that have been approved.
In 2021, Tennessee enacted legislation prohibiting state and local governments, including officials, employees and agents, from knowingly creating or maintaining registries of firearms “with the intent to record the possession or ownership of a firearm or firearm accessory by individuals or nongovernmental entities.”
Getting a Weapons Permit in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security issues handgun carry permits and concealed carry permits in the state. For a Tennessee handgun carry permit, an applicant completes an online permit application through the agency and signs up for a handgun safety course. They schedule an appointment at Driver's Service Center and pay an application fee of $100 for an eight-year permit.
They must also provide to the agency supporting documents, including certified proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency, a Social Security number, a photo and photo ID such as a driver license.
Applying for a Concealed Handgun Carry Permit
For a Tennessee concealed firearm carry permit, an applicant completes an online application through the agency and signs up for a concealed weapons training course. They'll schedule an appointment at Driver's Service Center and pay an application fee of $65 for an eight-year permit.
They must provide to the agency supporting documents, including a CCP Proof of Training form, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residency, a Social Security number, a photo and photo ID.
- American Bar: Federal Firearms Licensing: An Overview
- State of Tennessee: Opinion No. 16-44 Private, Occasional Sales of Firearms in Tennessee
- ATF: Apply for a License
- Giffords: Gun Dealers in Tennessee
- Giffords: Universal Background Checks in Tennessee
- Giffords: Background Check Procedures in Tennessee
- Giffords: Child Access Prevention & Safe Storage
- Cornell Law: 18 U.S. Code Section 922 - Unlawful Acts
- Giffords: Maintaining Records of Gun Sales in Tennessee
- Case Text: Tenn. Code Section 39-17-1367
- Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security: How To Apply
- Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security: Concealed Handgun Carry Permit Proof of Training
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.