This document has been generated in preparation for the official US launch of our new Thunder Aurora Fiber/MOPA galvo series laser. The topic (debate) on this is vast and littered with misinformation and terrible advice. Always follow best business practices. This information is for reference only. Consult the BATF and/or a legal professional if you are unsure.
Do You Need An FFL To Engrave Firearms?
Yes. Just.. Yes. We have seen endless reasons why you don't 'have' to have one, and many ways to work around having one, but why? Why take the chance splitting legal hairs with the federal government with laws so convoluted even they aren't always sure?
Reading up on all this, I ran across the best post on the topic to date by Ray Cover. I have copied the text below from the original source found here: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guides-importation-verification-firearms-ammunition-firearms-verification-overview. All credit for the following goes to Ray:
I don't have a lot of time this morning but I am going to throw my 2 cents in on this.
I may not remember everything off the top of my head so if I forget something I am sure others will fill in the gaps.
If you are going to engrave guns you need an FFL period. It only cost a couple hundred bucks or so for the initial application and first three years. Each renewal after that is $90 for the next three years. If you can't afford $30 a year to keep your shop legal you frankly can't afford to be in business as an engraver.
Reasons why. When I have more time I will try to post the page and article numbers out of the BATFE handbook to these.
1. The BATFE considers engravers as gunsmiths and requires us to have the same licensing
2. You have to have an FFL to ship and receive firearms that do not belong to you personally.
3. If you are keeping the gun on your shop premises for more than 24 hrs you are required to have an ffl.
Yes, if you are going to engrave guns you need an FFL.
I hear all kinds of LOOPHOLES that people bring up when this subject comes up.
The first is almost always this. As long as you are engraving through a gun shop you can work under their FFL. Well, this is sort of true and sort of not depending on the situation. If you are an employee of that gun shop and the work is being done on their premises then you can work under their shop license. However, if you are not an employee of that shop this does not apply to you. The intent of this rule is to allow a shop to have one ffl and not require every single employee of the shop to have one. However, it is not there to allow subcontractors to work under that shop's FFL. You cannot have the shop receive the gun for you under their FFL then take it home and engrave it. Likewise you cannot work as a subcontractor for that shop in which you take work home and engrave for them. You are suppose to be a formal employee to work under their license and the work is to be done on their business site.
The other one I hear is well if your only engraving for friends or family you don't need an FFl. As long as you don't violate # 1,2, or 3 above this may be true. But it is going to be awful hard to engrave any gun without violating one of those three guidelines. It is the BATFE's intent that an FFL is for people in a for profit business and they will not issue you one if you are not in business. But how long are any of you willing to engrave guns for free? I have never found a hard fast ruling on this yet. Maybe I have just overlooked it but........... I would not risk it. Chances are that if you got caught in this situation the law enforcement agencies that got involved would not make anything of it. On the other hand you may find yourself in court on the day after the judges wife files for divorce and says "I want half". $30 a year is not worth taking the risk.
The other one I hear is, "Well I called my local ATF guy I explained things to him and he said I did not need to worry about it." Well there are several things wrong with this:
It assumes that every BATFE employee is competent and knows what he is talking about. The thing you have to keep in mind here is that the engraving end of the BATFE regulations is the smallest most minute part of what they have to deal with. Most ATF agents may only have to deal with the regulations for engravers once in a career. We are not top priority on their offender list so most of them are not too familiar with what we require off the top of their heads. Every time I call with a question (even when I call my regional office in GA) the agent almost always has to stop and go look it up to make sure he/she is telling me the right thing. Point is don't assume that just because they are an ATF agent that they know the entire law code by wrote memory and are giving you correct information.
If you are going to engrave guns and expect to get any kind of pay for it you need to cover your butt and get an FFL. $30 a year is a cheap price to pay to keep yourself out of trouble.
my two cents,
Here is the link to the entire thread: https://engraverscafe.com/threads/federal-firearms-license-discussion.1845/
You can learn more about licensing here: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/tools-services-firearms-industry
We will be adding more info, links, and resources to this article as time permits.