Often times, Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) inquire as to whether they can sell a National Firearms Act (NFA) firearm through the mail, without the buyer needing to be present. To the surprise of most FFLs, you actually can sell NFA firearms through the mail, provided the purchaser is not otherwise prohibited and is a resident in the same state as the FFL.
27 C.F.R. § 478.96 states that where the firearm is being provided to resident of the same state as the FFL and who is not prohibited, the FFL may sell a firearm that is not subject to the provisions of 27 C.F.R. § 478.102(a) to a non-licensee who does not appear in person. Section 478.102(a) requires a National Instant Check System (NICS) background check on most transactions; however, there is an exception, pursuant to subsection (d)(2), if “The firearm is subject to the provisions of the National Firearms Act and has been approved for transfer under 27 CFR part 479.” Thus, Section 478.96 would apply and allow the FFL to transfer the firearm to the purchaser, who is a resident of the same state, without the purchaser having to be present.
However, pursuant to Section 478.96, the FFL has certain additional requirements to perform this type of transaction. Specifically, the purchaser must provide to the FFL an executed Form 4473, as provided for by 27 C.F.R. § 478.124, and attach “a true copy of any permit or other information required pursuant to any statute of the State and published ordinance applicable to the locality in which he resides.”
Furthermore, the FFL MUST “prior to shipment or delivery of the firearm, forward by registered or certified mail (return receipt requested) a copy of the record, Form 4473, to the chief law enforcement officer named on such record, and delay shipment or delivery of the firearm for a period of at least 7 days following receipt by the licensee of the return receipt evidencing delivery of the copy of the record to such chief law enforcement officer, or the return of the copy of the record to him due to the refusal of such chief law enforcement officer to accept same in accordance with U.S. Postal Service regulations.”
Lastly, the original Form 4473, and evidence of receipt or rejection of delivery of the copy of the Form 4473 sent to the chief law enforcement officer must be retained by the licensee as a part of his/her/its required records. After completing this step, the FFL can now send the NFA firearm to the purchaser, provided that there are no separate state law requirements. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, require additional state forms to be completed, depending on the type of NFA firearm (e.g. if it constitutes a “firearm” under Pennsylvania law, then a Record/Application of Sale form would have to be completed).
Accordingly, while an NFA transfer can occur without the instate purchaser being present, there are additional obligations placed upon the FFL and the purchaser may not be happy with the additional information being provided to his/her CLEO. Thus, it is a best practice for an FFL to only conduct in-person transfers, unless you are familiar with the requirements and have put in place procedural safeguards to ensure that none of the additional requirements are overlooked.