You Should Know
Here's a bit of information which may surprise you: if a person buys more than one handgun at a time, the gun store making the sale is required by federal law to report the details of the transaction to both the ATF and the local police department.
The same applies if a buyer takes possession of more than one handgun within a period of 5 consecutive business days.
The process is called a "Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Pistols and Revolvers," and it must be submitted at the end of each business day by all Federal Firearm License holders (gun stores) by completing what's called an ATF Form 3310.4.
That's right – buy more than one pistol or revolver, and you're automatically reported to the ATF and local police department. This applies both to FFL transfers and in-store sales.
This process happens every day in gun stores across America, but surprisingly few members of the gun-buying public are aware this goes on.
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This requirement is provisioned under Title I of the 1968 Gun Control Act.
18 USC § 923(g)(3) authorizes the Federal Firearms License holder (gun store) to solicit the information about you and your purchases, and 27CFR § 478.126a requires your FFL to report the information to the ATF and local police. In other words, your local gun store has to make these reports each day or face fines and possible license revocation.
Specifically the law requires the following:
The report looks like this:
This reporting requirement is something a lot of people don't know about, and it can quickly put everyday people who are doing nothing wrong on the radar of local, state, or federal law enforcement.
For example: if a guy buys himself a new Glock, and also picks up a revolver as a gift for his wife, he'll be reported to the ATF and his local police department by the end of the day. This type of firearm transaction is perfectly legal, and the customer probably doesn't know the gun store is required to report him.
The vast majority of these multiple firearm sales reports are simply filed away by the ATF. The agency receives thousands of these every day, and 99% of them do not arouse suspicion. But for privacy-minded buyers, being quietly reported to multiple law enforcement agencies over an expressly lawful purchase can be unsettling – especially in the era of red flag laws, militarized police, and no-knock raids.
The reporting requirement for most stores only involves pistols and revolvers, but for gun shops along the Mexican border, there are additional requirements.
All FFL's have to deal with the handgun reporting requirement, but FFL's in states that border Mexico also have to report purchases of two or more rifles. This is basically the same process, except it's handled on an ATF Form 3310.12 (instead of 3310.4) and it encompasses all semi-automatic rifles that are chambered in calibers larger than .22LR and are designed to accept detachable magazines.
This requirement began in 2011, after the Obama ATF lost track of about 1,400 firearms they'd sold to Mexican drug cartels as part of the 'fast and furious' scandal. The firearms lost by the Obama DOJ would be used in a number of high profile murders, sometimes even being used to kill US federal agents. Many of these weapons are still in the wild; hence the requirement for border states to pay extra attention.
What is not reported
For the sake of clarity, it should be understood that stripped lower receivers are not reported in any of these schemes. Legally, a stripped AR-15 lower receiver is neither a handgun nor a long gun, and therefore doesn't fit the requirements of firearms which must be reported. One can safely purchase several stripped lowers without the ATF automatically being notified.
How to Avoid Reporting
The best way to avoid triggering these multiple handgun sales reports is simply to not buy two handguns at once, or to wait more than 5 consecutive business days between your purchases. You could also just buy one handgun at one FFL dealer and then another handgun at a separate FFL dealer.
There is no federal law which limits how many firearms an individual can buy at a time. As a legal gun owner, you're not breaking the law by taking measures to avoid being reported to the ATF, provided of course that you aren't actually involved in the unlawful trafficking of firearms.
At the gun store, it's not smart to voice concerns about ATF surveillance or to let people know you're taking steps to avoid reporting mechanisms. Announcing to the counter guy that you 'don't want to get put on a government list' is a good way to get exactly that.
The people who prepare and submit these reports to ATF are frequently back of the house administrative workers or shop owners. At a bigger gun store, the average salesperson may not even have an in-depth understanding of the requirement to report multiple firearm sales. It's best to simply avoid bringing it up, lest one draw potentially unwanted attention.
The ATF says the information they collect "is used to determine if the [customer] is involved in any unlawful activity" – which may or may not be true – but ATF is also collecting detailed surveillance data on a great number of people who are (a) not doing anything wrong, and (b) unaware their activities are being reported to law enforcement.
In order to be 'effective,' the multiple firearm purchase reporting system is heavily reliant on the general public not knowing about it. The best way to nullify this surveillance method is to quietly avoid it. If you value your privacy as a lawful gun buyer, consider this information next time you're at the gun counter.