Guest Post By: Bill Osuch
Up until the mid-1960s, the average citizen could actually order firearms by mail.
Many of the magazines of the period (American Rifleman, Popular Mechanics, etc.) carried ads for everything from small .22 rifles up to larger military surplus weapons. With the adoption of the Gun Control Act in 1968, the interstate transport of firearms (in other words, mail-ordering...) became limited to holders of a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
20 years ago it was much easier to get a FFL - you basically just had to fill out a form, send it in with a $30 payment, and you were considered a gun dealer. You could order (almost) whatever you wanted and have it shipped to your home, and when you made a sale you just had the purchaser fill out a simple form that you kept on file.
You didn't even need to have a physical store; you could do all this from the comfort of your living room. With today's stricter background check requirements, it is much more difficult for an average citizen to obtain an FFL; the BATF very rarely will give a license to someone that doesn't have a physical store, or some sort of sales location other than their home.
So, if you want to get good deals on firearms from the comfort of your sofa, what's the answer? A Curio & Relic License (or C&R)!
The C&R allows you to purchase firearms "...of special interest to collectors by reason of some quality other than is associated with firearms intended for sporting use or as offensive or defensive weapons." What does that mean? Basically, a firearm must fall into one of three categories:
- Firearms that are worth money due to the fact that they are rare, bizarre, or associated with a historical figure, period, or event.
- Firearms that are certified by the curator of a museum that exhibits firearms.
- Firearms manufactured more than 50 years prior to the current date, not including replicas.
It's that last point that's the one we care about - that means basically any firearm manufactured prior to 1964. Does that mean you’re limited to ancient military surplus in bizarre calibers? Nope! You can get things like:
A Russian 1891/30 7.62x54R Mosin Nagant – a firearm produced for 70+ years, there were somewhere around 50 million of these made. You can find nice ones for just over $100, and ammunition is plentiful and cheap.
A Chinese 7.62x39 SKS – another rifle that’s widely available with cheap ammo. Loads of aftermarket accessories are available, although you need to be careful with these (keep reading for details).
A Springfield 1903 A3 30.06 – an American classic!
Would you prefer a pistol? How about a 9x18 CZ-82?
Or even the classic Colt 1911!
The condition on these firearms will vary – some may look like they've been dragged behind a truck, while others have been packed in cosmoline (a greasy rust preventative compound) for decades and are just waiting to be polished up.
You can use your license to purchase firearms by mail or at gun shows, with the added benefit that license holders are not subjected to the normal background checks (for C&R firearms only, you still have to do all the regular paperwork for modern guns). Additionally, once you submit your license to many dealers, they may offer you discounted “dealer” pricing!
So how do you get your C&R license? If you browse through some publications like Shotgun News you'll probably see a few ads offering to sell you a "C&R Kit" - don't buy these! All they've done is package the information that is available for free from the ATF web site.
You'll need to download, print and fill out an Application for Federal Firearms License (Collector of Curios and Relics), located here.
Send that in with the appropriate fee (currently $30 for 3 years) to:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
P.O. Box 409567
Atlanta, GA 30384-9567
You’ll also need to send in a copy to your chief law enforcement officer (police or sheriff). Four to six weeks later you should receive your license. Don’t sign the original; instead make a bunch of copies, put the original in a safe place, and sign the copies when you’re ready to make a purchase.
You’ll need to keep a “bound book” – a log of the purchases made – something like this.
Now, there are a few things to be aware of with a C&R license:
- You can’t regularly sell these firearms to non-FFL holders – the purpose of the license is to become a collector, not a dealer. Selling one every now and then is fine, as long as you’re doing it with the intent of upgrading your collection.
- In theory, the ATF can inspect your records and collection. In practice, I've never heard of this happening to anyone.
- You have to be careful of what you have modified on a firearm when it comes time to sell it. The ATF says that a firearm must be in its “original condition” upon sale. They’re ok with adding non-original sights or scope mounts, but you couldn't, for example, replace an original wooden stock with a folding polymer stock and still be legal. Please note, this is only when it comes time for you to sell it – while you own the gun, you can modify it however you want, just put it back to the original condition when you’re ready to sell.
You can review the ATF’s Frequently Ask Questions:
Once you've got your license, where can you find C&R firearms to buy? You can Google “Curio and Relic firearms for sale” to find lots of web sites, or go grab the latest copy of Shotgun News; many ads have a “C&R” flag next to eligible items.
Finally, please do your own research on this topic, we're not offering legal advice!