How Do I Buy a Gun?

By Will Dabbs, MD
Posted in #Guns
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How Do I Buy a Gun?

August 2nd, 2020

6 minute read

The year 2020 has been a notable one. In just the past few months, several million Americans have become first-time gun owners. If ever there were a circumstance under which the wisdom of the Second Amendment was made patently manifest, it is this.

This is Mississippi Auto Arms in Oxford, Miss. A gun shop like this one is typically your first stop in becoming a new gun owner.

But how about those of you who do want to get your first gun, but find the whole process utterly baffling? The vernacular, customs and variegated regulations associated with gun ownership can indeed seem daunting. As a result, we here at The Armory Life thought it might be helpful to create a basic primer on how to buy a gun in America.

Not unlike finance, plumbing, computer programming or brain surgery, once you get the hang of it the whole system will seem fairly straightforward. But we understand how intimidating it can be to dive in. So, let us help you learn the process.

Do you want to become a gun owner, but don’t know where to start?

Intro to American Gun Culture

This process typically begins at your local gun shop. The archetypal gun shop employee is some large hirsute ex-Army Ranger covered in tattoos who oozes scary attitude. He’ll have a gun on his hip and look like he munches pea gravel for breakfast. But looks can be deceiving.

On the other hand, a dear friend of mine owns the coolest gun shop in the world (Mississippi Auto Arms in Oxford, Mississippi). By contrast, he employs a petite and inoffensive young lady. She is engaging, knowledgeable, and disarming. That guy is brilliant, if you ask me.

Buying a firearm might seem confusing, but the process is more straightforward than you might realize.

The bottom line is, chances are if you head into a gun shop, you’ll leave with a gun, some valuable information and a new friend.

Can You Own a Gun?

In general, you need to be a U.S. citizen with a clean criminal record. The document used to manage a firearm transfer is called an ATF Form 4473, and it asks a series of questions about your criminal, military and mental health background. The form is three pages long, but the first page is the only one of consequence to the prospective buyer.

This is the first page of the form you will be required to fill out when purchasing a firearm. Image: ATF

The dealer is going to verify your information using the NICS system, which stands for “National Instant Criminal Background Check System.” Your responses must therefore be truthful.

NICS is usually, but not always actually, instant. If the system is backed up or you have a really common name, you may have to wait a couple days for the check to come through. If you aren’t sure whether you’re eligible, just glance over the questions on the 4473.

Becoming a firearm owner can be a worthwhile and rewarding process.

Some states have extra restrictions over and above what is required by the federal government. In freedom-averse places like New Jersey, Illinois, New York and California, some of those restrictions can be quite onerous. Across most of our Great Republic, however, gun ownership is fairly straightforward if you are a citizen with no criminal background.

Is There a “List”?

All commercially purchased guns must be physically transferred through a dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Your gun shop will have one of these. Some other businesses like hardware stores may maintain FFLs as well.

The regulatory system governing the national network of gun dealers dates back to 1968 and is actually quite elegant. When you buy a gun and fill out the 4473, that form never leaves the dealer’s premises. NICS checks that are approved are automatically purged every 24 hours. NICS checks that are denied are essentially maintained forever, but that doesn’t apply to you if you have a clean criminal record.

Know the firearm you want to buy, or have questions? Head over to your local gun shop.

If a crime weapon is recovered, the ATF will trace the gun via its serial number starting with the manufacturer, through the distributor, and then on to the individual FFL dealer. The dealer will then produce the form 4473 that identifies the final purchaser. This decentralized system very effectively prevents anyone from maintaining a database of American gun owners, something that is expressly forbidden by federal law.

Just Amazon It?

You cannot legally buy a gun directly over the internet. That’s just an anti-gunner talking point. And buying a gun illegally is one of those crimes that Uncle Sam typically takes pretty seriously. is a great way to locate the gun you want to purchase. Image: GunsAmerica

There are lots of places to buy guns on the internet, but they will all have to be transferred through your local FFL dealer. That FFL dealer will usually charge a modest fee to do the transfer. Google can help you find an FFL dealer locally. Call the dealer in advance and they can tell you what their fee is. $20 to $50 is pretty typical. follows an auction format for firearms and gear on the site. Image: GunBroker

Want a great place online to find your next gun? is like Craigslist for guns and features fixed prices. is more like eBay with an auction format. Countless other businesses like Mississippi Auto Arms sell guns online. Once you’ve purchased a firearm online, contact your local gun dealer and they will submit a copy of their FFL to the seller. The gun is then shipped to the FFL’s business premises where you then go undertake the transfer, submit your form 4473, go through a background check, etc.


There are nearly 400 million firearms in circulation in America among some 328 million citizens. Gun buying may seem intimidating at first, but it’s really not difficult. If you’re a first-time gun owner I’d strongly recommend you seek out a training course to help familiarize yourself with your new firearm. Your FFL dealer is a good place to start.

Responsible gun ownership is one of the many benefits of United States citizenship.

Responsible gun ownership is the cornerstone of American freedom. That freedom is what makes America different, more productive, and frankly better than the rest of the world if you ask me. So, go out and exercise your Second Amendment rights. And we hope this guide makes the process a little bit more clear.

Editor’s Note: Please be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in and discuss this article and much more!

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

Product prices mentioned in articles and videos are current as of the date of publication.

Will Dabbs, MD

Will Dabbs, MD

Will was raised in the Mississippi Delta and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After eight years flying Army helicopters, he left the military as a Major to attend medical school. Will operates an Urgent Care clinic in his small Southern town and works as the plant physician for the local Winchester ammunition plant. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three adult children, and has written for the gun press for a quarter century.

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