Consumer Information

Buying a Gun: The Process

close-up photo of men using and inspecting gun in store. salesman explain how to use it, customer hold it in hands

On the July 24, 2012 episode of the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News, Bill O’Reilly discusses how anti-gun groups are using the Aurora, Colorado massacre to push for more gun control.

O’Reilly argued that Congress should pass a law reporting every sale of a “heavy weaponto the FBI.

He said, “You can buy a machine gun and the FBI doesn’t know.”

Of course, O’Reilly chose to demonize the AK-47, which is not necessarily a machine gun.

In fact, everyone I know that owns an AK-47 owns a semi-automatic model.

As we all know, once again the media has it all wrong.

To pick on the AK-47 even more, in a speech on July 25, 2012, President Obama said, “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities.”

I find it quite funny that our Commander in Chief does not even recognize that our soldiers do not use AK-47s.

Not to mention that James Holmes did not have an AK-47 in his possession.


In fact, AK-47s, the semi-automatic versions, have unusually strict regulations put on them.

BATFE requires AK-47-type rifles to have at least six U.S.-made parts built-in.

To read more about purchasing an AK-47, read our blog, “So, You’re Thinking of Buying an AK-47? A Buyer’s Guide to the AK Family of Rifles.

Since 1934, the sale and ownership of fully automatic firearms have been rigorously restricted.

To own a machine gun, one must submit to an extensive background check, provide pages and pages of legal paperwork, fingerprints, photos, proof of citizenship and pay a $200 tax stamp to buy and own a fully automatic gun.

Either a chief law enforcement officer or a state or federal judge must sign all this paperwork.

Both the FBI and the BATFE run the fingerprint and background checks.

Therefore, I’m not quite sure exactly how you can purchase a machine gun legally without the FBI knowing.

What O’Reilly fails to recognize is that when you purchase a firearm from a licensed firearms dealer, the FBI DOES in fact know you are purchasing a firearm.

This goes for any firearm, not just a “heavy weapon.”

When you are buying a gun from a Federal Firearms License holder (FFL), you are required to pass a National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) from the FBI.

Then you must fill out Form 4473, a Firearms Transaction Record, which includes your NICS number from your background check, the make, model and serial number of the gun you are purchasing, a federal affidavit stating you can legally own a firearm, your name, address, date of birth and a copy of your photo ID.

The dealer then keeps this record in a “bound book.”

The dealer must keep their bound books until they are no longer in business, at which point they must give the bound book over to the ATF.

Further, if any one person buys two or more handguns in a five-day period, the dealer must report this person to the ATF using Form 3310.4, of which the police receive a copy.

If this process isn’t being “reported,” then I would like to know what exactly O’Reilly means when he says “reported?”

AR-15s on wall rack

Steps for Buying a Gun

These states have no further steps other than the NICS and Form 4473:

  • Alabama
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Louisiana
  • West Virginia
  • Vermont
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Wyoming
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • Virginia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Montana
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • Nevada
  • Kansas
Woman hand pulling a pistol out of handbag on black background.

Passing the NICS and filling out Form 4473 is a nationwide requirement, but there are some states that require more to purchase a firearm.

These states have more rules when buying a gun:

  • California:
    All sales of any firearm regardless through a dealer or individual sale must go through a licensed dealer. There is a 10-day waiting period before you taking possession of your firearm. You may only purchase one handgun in a 30-day period. You must fill out an application to purchase and The California Department of Justice gets a report of all firearm sales.
  • Connecticut:
    Connecticut has a two-week waiting period before you can take possession of the firearm and there is an application to purchase.
  • District of Columbia:
    You must register your firearm and the Metropolitan Police Department must approve the registration certificate.
  • Florida:
    On weekdays, there is a three-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun.
  • Hawaii:
    You must obtain a permit to purchase and register all firearms.
  • Illinois:
    To buy a firearm, you must have a Firearms Owner’s Identification Card (FOID). There is a 24-hour waiting period for long guns and a 72-hour waiting period for handguns. Registration of firearms is required within the city of Chicago.
  • Iowa:
    An annual permit is required to purchase a handgun.
  • Maryland:
    You must apply for the purchase of a handgun. There is a seven-day waiting period for handguns and “assault weapons.” Registration of handguns is required. You can only buy one gun a month.
  • Massachusetts:
    To own a firearm, you must be licensed, have a Firearms Identification Card (FID) to buy a long gun, and a permit to purchase a handgun.
  • Michigan:
    You must have a permit to purchase and you must register all handguns.
  • Minnesota:
    There is a seven-day waiting period, and you must have a permit to purchase a handgun or “military-style” rifle.
  • Nebraska:
    You must have a permit to purchase a handgun.
  • New Jersey:
    The police keep records of all firearms transfers. You must have a Firearms Purchasers Identification Card to buy a long gun, a permit to purchase a handgun, and a license to purchase either.
  • New York:
    You must provide a license, a permit, and register to own a handgun. In New York City, you must have a license, permit, and register all guns.
  • North Carolina:
    You must have a permit to purchase a handgun.
  • Oregon:
    Dealers take thumbprints from the purchaser of a handgun, with copies given to the local police.
  • Rhode Island:
    You must fill out an application to purchase and take a safety course before buying a handgun. There is a seven-day waiting period in Rhode Island.
  • South Dakota:
    There is an application to purchase a handgun.
  • Tennessee:
    Dealers take the thumbprints of anyone who purchases a handgun.
  • Washington:
    The local police keep records from all handgun sales. You must fill out an application to purchase.
  • Wisconsin:
    There is a 48-hour waiting period when you purchase a handgun.

As always, check your local laws before buying a gun.

What state do you live in? Tell us about your experience buying a gun in the comment section below.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (25)

  1. Hello Suzanne Wiley,
    Many thanks for your sharing,
    Yeah, the AK-47 is one of the famous and popular in the world.
    It is extreme dangerous.
    There is not much information about gun or weapon owning, so in my opinion, your article is very rare and extremely useful.

  2. I recently purchased a handgun online. Of course , I had to pick it up at a FFL dealer. I recieved a delay response from” the phone call”. He then informed me that if he did not hear from them in 5 days I could pick it up unless they returned proceed before that time. I told him that portion of the brady law had expired in 1998 and it was only 3 days. He argued it had always been 5 days. Who is correct here?? Oklahoma has no waiting period state laws.

  3. Hey Virgil,

    I ran into a similar “speed bump” here in California. My driver’s license had my old address, so I produced my FFL 03 license which has to be updated within 30 days prior to moving. The cute gal at the counter said no with a squirmish face. The FFL, to be able to use it in accordance with BATFE rules MUST show correct/present address. Well, not enough for the dealer to sell me the gun.

    She quickly accepted my utility bill, which did show my present mailing address. It’s silly because I could have opened thst account for someone else (my name, someone elses property). It’s a standard they have to follow, I guess. We have to roll with it, Virgil.

  4. I am 46 years old, a Georgia resident all my life and have always owned guns, but I have only purchased 1 gun myself- all the others were gifts from my parents. Last week, I went to Dick’s to purchase a .22 rifle. I have a 100% clean record, but they would not accept the paperwork because my Ga. driver’s license does not have my physical address on it. He told me a tax bill would work. It just so happened that I had my tax bill in my vehicle because it had come in the mail and I had left it in my vehicle. It only had my PO Box at the top under my name, but it obviously had my physical address on the front under “property description”. After a few minutes, I was told they could not use that paperwork because the physical address was not printed along with my name as being my address. ??? If I owned multiple pieces of property, would they have to “rule out” my properties in order to sell to me? This sounds to me like a bunch of bureaucratic red tape. I know there are strict laws with gun sales, but my physical address is not going to be printed on my mail because then the piece of mail would go to an addres with no mailbox, because I like having a PO Box because of security reasons. My dad sold firearms for 30 years, so I am not ignorant in this field, but other than change my driver’s license, what option do I have. I told the guy at Dick’s that I could show him a piece of mail with both addresses, but that does not mean I am residing there, so I can’t understand their reasoning.

  5. Okay I live in New Jersey, South Jersey, and I had paid $15 bucks for a firearms background check at a local Dicks Sporting Goods store. I had picked out a Savage 64gxp semi auto rifle. I did all of the paperwork and the ATF 4473. They said that it will be faxed over right away, same day, and they told me the waiting period is between 1 to 2 weeks and it has been 12 days already since the day of Thursday, April 11th 2013. The day I picked out and paid the background fee and did the paperwork, I also talked to a friend that owns a gun shop who told me that seems about right but also told me if they have not heard anything for the background check and after 30 days they automatically have to transfer the gun over to me. Is there anything about the NJSP NICS Background check and why is it taking longer then the actual waiting time for state of NJ. When I bought my bolt action it only took 9 days for my back ground check to come in and that same day I went, paid, picked it up, and walked out with it but with the semi auto it’s taking way longer than what I had experienced before. Can anyone help me and explain to me about this issue? Thank you…

  6. I can’t speak based on experience in your case, BUT, logic would dictate that the FFL 01 dealer followed his/her procedures to permit you to take the firearm into your care, you knowingly have done nothing wrong, HOWEVER the dealer realizes that the paperwork is not in compliance and notifies you of this, NOW you MUST go back to make it all legal for your sake and the dealer’s sake. I would go back ASAP and get those prints redone. No biggie, right?

  7. I recently bought an AR 15 from a local sporting goods store. They called back and said they needed my fingerprint again. Have I broken any laws? And what if I don’t go back to the store to do so? Any wrongdoing on my part?

  8. Aj, the background check is quick, in California it takes about 15-25 minutes – at least in my experience. Not sure why it would take any longer in Jersey, if at all any longer. If you have a clean record – no convictions, you will likely clear the background check in any state.

  9. Hey guy’s im new at this but I live in New Jersey i just went to dicks sporting goods around 4:33pm today this evening and payed $15 bucks for an background check for me to buy a rifle i picked out a savage 64 gxp bolt action .22LR and i was wondering how long does it take for the background check take ? i am a first timer buyer i just got my firearms id card in september but never bought anything except today was my first time i never had a crimemanal background nor have any volince can anyone help me out thank you…

  10. i think you need to check your sources I am frm TN and never have been fingerprinted to buy a handgun or even my AK47 did not have to be fingerprinted

  11. You are incorrect about Tennessee: they do not take thumbprints for any handgun purchase. I live in Tennessee and have purchased five handguns in the last year (from three different FFL dealers), and not once was my thumbprint required.

  12. I have lived in both Alta California and Baja California. Of course, Alta California (Upper California) has been called simply California for a very long time and furthermore, Baja California (Lower California) has been split into North and South by Mexico, also many moons ago.

    Look at Mexico, guns are illegal. But those that do own guns don’t care – the drug cartels and other non-petty criminals. You always find reports of people getting murdered on their property, at their dinner table, at their relatives wedding reception, on the way to buy a couple kilos of corn tortillas. These citizens have crooked cops to defend them. They didn’t have a way to defend themselves – no fighting chance.

    And to this day, Mexico, with all of its riches continues to decline as it is run by criminals and their puppets.

    I find it so difficult to believe that California, a jewel state of these United States, is left so vulnerable to a land invasion. The state is rich with numerous things that keep an economy going. Anyone remember that about 12 years ago or so California had the world’s 6th largest economy, just ahead of Italy?! Today though, we sit at 9th, behind Italy and ahead of Russia.

    Let me drive to the point here. The state is very well populated, and diverse at that. This meaning that its people appreciate the state and are mostly glad to be a part of the USA. I believe that most able-bodied Californians would stand and fight for their freedom if China went forth with a massive land invasion. With such a populated state, conquering by taking hostage millions of Californians or worse – killing them, one would see that spit balls and pizza boxes would do us no help in defending our state, our friends/neighbors, and our families.

    The fact that owning a machine gun requires an act of God to own in this country leaves me baffled as to why they also try to make it hard if not impossible to own a semi-automatic rifle (which in most cases is not to be confused with an assault rifle). The obvious differences between a bolt-action rifle and a semi-automatic rifle are largely – magazine capacity & the need to manually feed the following round.

    There are some rifles out there that can be cycled rather quickly and though not as quick as a semi-automatic, I feel that the government will eventually attack those as well. It’s all a matter of time people.

    China makes guns for FUN! For COMMERCE! Do you think that China doesn’t already have enough guns to issue its entire population??? Think again.

    The civil war was won with waves of Union Soldiers getting cut down by the thousands. China will afford waves of Soldiers upon the American west coast and with that in mind, every blade of grass on American Soil must be armed for when the unimaginable happens.

    There is a lot to lose here, folks. The time has come to stand up and fight for your rights, and it must start with the Second Amendment because it protects them ALL.


    1. Seriously, you think China is going to do a land invasion (soon?), and they are going to win using superior Civil War-era tactics?

      I guess you’re glossing over the fact that we have ICBM’s, nuclear warheads, satellites, and sophisticated warning and weapons systems that were undreamed of 150 years ago. Check your history and you will find that the Civil War was won because the Union outproduced the Confederacy in food and weapons.

      Same reason Japan and Germany never really had a chance to win. (Source: In 1937, the US had almost 43% of the worlds “Total War making Potential”, (the ability to build ships, planes, guns, etc. The stuff you need to make war). By comparison, Germany had 14.4% and Japan had only 3.5%. Pretty hard to beat an opponent that can make guns, planes, and ships 3 to 12 times as fast as you can. We were literally building ships and planes faster than our enemies could destroy them.

      As for the difficulty in buying a semi-automatic weapon: in California it’s the same paperwork and procedure to buy a bolt-action or semi-automatic sporting rifle.

      In your final paragraph, you seem to indicate that the second amendment “protects ALL your rights”, which is incorrect. The second amendment provides the right for a “Well Regulated Militia” to keep an bear arms, that’s all. As Americans, we get a lot of other rights not covered by the second. And don’t miss that “Well Regulated” part: it does not mean that any nut can buy any weapon for any purpose, any time they want.

      I’m not really sure what point you were trying to make in your comment, was it “every American should have a gun to defend ourselves against the imminent Chinese invasion”? In the first 100 years of our country, most everyone had a gun and knew how to shoot because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t eat on a regular basis, and there was no organized police to protect you. 200 years later, that’s not what life is like. Most Americans today live in cities and have never held or fired a gun. Not really a good basis for a militia to fight off an invading army.

      I think if you re-read your comment with an understanding of modern society, you wouldn’t find the idea of arming all citizens (“every blade of grass on American Soil must be armed”) so plausible.

  13. I went and purchased a 1911 filled out paper work took about 15min they took thumb print and 30min later left with gun. Bought a Russian Saiga AK47 filled out paper work the TBI had alot of other background checks to do took about an hour to get an ok from them but it was worth the wait great gun love my AK47

  14. I just got out of the Marine Corps at the end of September. I moved back to my home of record which is Virginia and I tried, to purchase a new rifle online from you guys today. I still had my previous state drivers liscense, well to purchase a rifle in Virginia you need a current state liscense, I went to DMV to transfer my Georgia liscense to Virginia, which I did, but you have to wait 10 days to receive the new liscense in the mail they dont make them and hand it to you at DMV anymore for security reasons, Also when I contacted the FFL dealear that I want the rifle transfered to I was informed that I have to wait 30 days until I can make my purchase and transfer. I feel as ive done something wrong. 40 days to make a purchase ??? With my luck the Rifle I want will be out of my budget by the time the days have passed. After the holidays I’m running out of Virginia the laws dont protect anyone they only prohibit or delay law abiding citizens for no good reason.

  15. In New Jersey you apply for a License to purchase a shot gun or rifle. Then you need a permit for each handgun,each permit requires you pay for a background check 15.00.
    Then you wait 3 months to get said permit (maybe longer). Then you go to Gun Dealer and pay for another background check 15.00 again. This check takes 5 minutes,so why does it take 3 months the first time? Also there is a law in New Jersey if your local police don’t give an answer in 30 days it’s a presumed yes.(try enforcing this one on you local police department)Gov. Corzine enacted the one handgun a month law it is written one every 30 days however the nj state police will make you wait 33 days they get to make the rules as you go. If Gov. Corzine had his way no one would own a handgun in New Jersey.Which would work out for him because as a felon in new jersey you can’t own a handgun. How can the laws a felon enacts not be repealed? I agree there should be background checks on any purchase of any firearm but in new jersey anyone who wants to purchase a firearm is treated like a criminal untill proven otherwise. The attitude of many local police is what do you need that for? Target shooting is not a crime unless you live in NJ or Calif. Also never forget the police are reactive not proactive it will be up to you to preserve your own life when the criminal comes calling and the local policeman may not feel like confronting a criminal that day,we all do have a right to self preservation no matter what the anti-gunners say. Unfortunately in new jersey if you use a firearm to save your life it will cost you everything you own in legal fees to keep you out of jail but you will not be attending the funeral of your wife or childrsn because you waited for the police. When I retire I will run not walk out of New Jersey.

  16. I was in Oregon recently and was amazed that my brother had only a 20 minute wait to allow for the NICS and purchase as many weapons as he wanted. Only a $10 fee for the check. Had a wonderful time shooting that weekend at one of the many free ranges in the Medford area. As opposed to here in Kalifornia, where there is a 10 day wait while the exact same check is made.

  17. I am really loving the theme/design of your web site. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A handful of my blog audience have complained about my site not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Opera. Do you have any ideas to help fix this problem?

  18. An Oregonian here. Buying my Mosin Nagant and XD-9 subcompact was painless. Filled out Form 4473 and got my background check, and just had the added effort for two measly thumbprints. I’m really glad I don’t live in a state where I gotta fill out more forms and get permits to own and purchase. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind if Oregon added a requirement to take a gun safety class. I feel everyone should at least once anyways.

    O’Reily and the media and the president not understanding firearms? No surprise here.

  19. I live in the Soverign state of Arizona. Arizonians have a long, long history involving guns. As part of the “Wild West” (the OK Corral, Tomestone, etc.) the folks here are very attached to their firearms, an Lord help anyone trying to take our guns from us.
    The gun purchasing process here is realitively painless. We fill out the federal form, the background test is done by phone, and you walk out with your purchase. AZ doesen’t require permits. If you are of age, don’t have a felony, and not ‘nuts’ you can carry either openly or concealed; your call. AZ does provide a permitting process so you may carry concealed in other states.

  20. Forgot to mention guy buying experiences. I live in PA. Have PA and Utah concealed carry permits. Also BS in engineering and an MBA and 35 years as an Aerospace Engineer.

    Gun buying in PA is simple and straight forward. For long guns; fill out the form, dealer makes a phone call, pay the bill, and leave. A handgun requires the first form plus a second PA only handgun form. Dealer makes the phone call, pay the bill and leave. No limit on the number of guns at one time, though I’m told there is a quantity where the dealer is required to make a report, but I don’t know what that quantity is.

    PA carry permit is very simple. Fill out form, picture, turn in application with less than $30.00 fee paid. They make the background check and the permit is ready in usually less than two weeks. When someone, like a woman being stalked by an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend needs a gun, it’s easy and inexpensive for her to get the gun with no waiting till after she’s dead for it to be delivered. If she needs a carry permit, there are no expensive classes that take time she may not live long enough to complete between her and protection.

    In all cases, the fed is notified via the background check phone call.

    That said, I am allowed to buy and give to an immediate family member, like my wife or daughter, a handgun or long gun. I gave both a shotgun and a .357 revolver to my youngest daughter. My wife bought her own guns.

    Just in case you are wondering, all three of us have Master’s degrees. All three of us have concealed carry permits. My daughters is in New York and took her the better part of a year to get.

    I mention concealed carry because the police, as clearly ruled by seven (I think) SCOTUS cases, have exactly zero duty to protect an individual no matter how egregious the circumstances unless they take them into custody. The cases would break your heart but the police that make you want to scream in frustration had no obligation and managed to live up to that low expectation doing nothing. The victim died, the police went on as if nothing happened.

    With out concealed carry, the individual is effectively regarded by the criminal justice system as no more than bait in place to attract criminals. If a criminal takes the bait, the police surround the corpse with yellow tape and investigate, if they have the budget and the victim is important enough. That can be really hard on the bait.

  21. I was really dissapointed by O’Reilly’s inexcusably incompetant command of the facts. When he does this badly on something I know, almost as bad as liberal spin truth be told, it casts serious doubt on other things he reports that I can’t check him on. What a let down.

  22. The “instant” background check actually took about 5 minutes the last time I bought something here in Utah. The clerk spent the time chatting about how well his gun of the same model did on the target range.

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