ATF Changes Rules for Dealers Importing Firearms

Guns and Ammo
ATF Changes Rules for Dealers Importing Firearms
Reeves & Dola, LLP
Reeves & Dola, LLP

Washington, DC -( Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has advised Reeves & Dola that the agency is now requiring licensed dealers who regularly import firearms on behalf of customers to obtain a Type 08 federal firearms license (FFL) as an importer.

This is a significant change in policy that will require dealers to obtain an importer’s license and to mark the firearms they import with their name, city, and state.

Background – GCA Requirements for Persons Engaged in Business of Importing

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) requires persons “engaged in the business” of importing firearms to obtain a license as an importer. The term “engaged in the business” as applied to importers is defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(21)(E) as follows:

“…as applied to an importer of firearms, a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to importing firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the sale or distribution of the firearms imported;…”

Persons engaged in the business of importing firearms must comply with all marking requirements specified in ATF regulations, and also register with ATF for a fee pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act.

Historically, from 1968 until the recent change in policy, licensed dealers who occasionally imported firearms on behalf of a specific customer were able to obtain ATF approval on a Form 6 permanent import permit without also becoming a licensed importer. This policy is set forth in multiple ATF publications: (1) ATF Guidebook – Importation and Verification of Firearms, Ammunition, and Implements of War in the section “Policies and Procedures,” page 3, paragraph 5 (last visited 12-29-15); (2) the Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, ATF Pub. 5300.4, Question M1, pg. 208 (last visited 12-29-15); and (3) question and answer posted on ATF’s website (last visited 12-29-15).

In the past, ATF has not defined the term “occasionally” nor has it placed limitations on the quantity of firearms a dealer may import, as long as the dealer imports the firearms on behalf of a particular customer and is not engaged in the business of importing firearms for resale. Consequently, licensed dealers were able to import firearms on behalf of specific customers without obtaining the additional license, registration, and without having to mark such firearms with importer identification.

Recent ATF Guidance

ATF has confirmed that unless a licensed dealer’s importations on behalf of customers are infrequent, the dealer must obtain a Type 08 license as an importer of firearms. ATF views a dealer’s regular importations as fitting within the definition “engaged in the business,” even when importations are undertaken on behalf of specific customers, because the dealer in fact engages in regular import activities through the distribution of firearms to their customers. According to ATF, a sale of the firearms is not required for the importer’s license to be required. ATF also advised that dealers who import must mark the imported firearms in accordance with the law and regulations and must maintain records of importation as specified in the regulations.

The reason for ATF’s change in policy is its concern that significant quantities of firearms have been imported into the United States without importer markings. The lack of such markings makes it difficult or impossible to trace diverted firearms or firearms recovered as crime guns. ATF has informed our office that it will post guidance on this new policy in the near future, although a specific date has not yet been communicated.

ATF officials have advised that the Firearms and Explosives Imports Branch will not deny import applications submitted by licensed dealers when it is clear the importations are on behalf of particular customers. However, the Branch will refer information concerning dealer importations to the appropriate ATF field division. It is important to note that Field Division personnel may then take steps to advise dealers that they must obtain an importer’s license, register as an importer, and mark the firearms they import.

ATF officials also advised the agency will entertain requests for marking variances from importers who are bringing collector type firearms into the U.S. on behalf of a particular customer. ATF recognizes that applying importer markings to such firearms may affect their value and will consider alternatives to the importer markings specified in the regulations.

Marking variance requests must be submitted to the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division at [email protected].

About Reeves & Dola:

Reeves & Dola is a Washington, DC law firm that specializes in helping clients navigate the highly regulated and complex world of manufacturing, sales and international trade of defense and commercial products. We have a deep understanding of the Federal regulatory process, and use our expertise in working with a variety of Federal agencies to assist our clients with their transactional and regulatory needs.

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The only firearms business that the feds should be involved in is ensuring that the individual states recognize and respect the civil rights reserved by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the 2A.


Of course, the intended effect will be to reduce the number of guns imported. Not every importer will choose to carry ‘oddball’ guns and not every FFL dealer will want to go to the trouble of meeting the requirements imposed on importers. So if you’re a collector and had your eye on some unique firearm variant of the AK or Makarov made in Belarus you’re SOL.

I guess some criminal who couldn’t imagine robbing a bank unless he could get his hands of a .455 Webley knockoff manufactured in India will have no choice now but to go straight.


I don’t get it. Why is it that the occasional-importer FFL can’t log the original manufacturer’s markings with the ATF? Then, if that gun with a maker’s mark of Austrian-Arms 123456 turns up at a crime scene the ATF can look it up, find it, and trace to the FFL who imported it and has the 4473 on the 1st retail sale? It looks to me as if the requirement that this FFL mark the gun with its own US maker’s mark, city and State, are merely intended to add to the cost of conducting the transaction. Plus, of course,… Read more »


Yep!, his form will be a FU

Mitch Rapp

The “boss of us”? At least until the party gets started and those “bosses” become “targets”.


I am sure that the importers of Black Market firearms will now comply with the law and apply for a Type 08 FFL.

2nd Amender

Interesting that just near 100 years ago the Bolshevik Revolution promised to the people a new order where all would safely benefit under a system of equality. Equally interesting is that the utopia mentioned collapsed as it’s populace received next to nothing of the promised equal share. Today in this country a new breed of ‘bolshevik’ plods the streets of America. They are the progressive/socialist/unionist/communist who receive much but demand more without regard to the truly needy or the justifiably deserving citizens of America. Their ‘feeding frenzy anarchism’ threatens the Constitutional Rights of law abiding patriotic Americans. True Americans need… Read more »


Please ignore my previous post, I re-read the article and saw that the ATF said it could not trace “crime guns” if there was not an importer stamp. I wonder how many of these imported guns were used in criminal activity. It seems the Government does not need to be rational or have a logical reason, they are the boss of us and can do what they want.


Why did the Gov’t. decide to add the idea of being an importer? Is there a fee to eliminate certain businesses or a way to add a tax? There must be a reason but I did not see it in the article. I suppose that adding the importers information will add to the price tag of each firearm. There is so much done now that a person needs to graduate the 8th. grade to understand it.


You know, I would prefer actual gun control/confiscation to this death-by-a-thousand-papercuts that we’ve got. At least then the militia could have the moral justification to get this show on the road.


How did the federal government ever get in the firearms business to start with ? When the Feds is involved in anything they just screw it up and abuse that authority. It’s time to let individual states regulate firearms and keep the federal gov’t out of our business.