There are a lot of myths, misnomers and flat-out ignorance when it comes to what happens when you purchase a firearm. So let’s get to the actual facts of the process.
You come into the shop and find a gun you like. We will ask you for two things: Your ID and your Florida concealed carry permit. (No permit? No problem.) We’ll copy them and hand you a very government-looking pamphlet that you, and us, have to fill out. That is your Form 4473. This is the only paper that shows exactly what you purchased. Make, model, serial number, type and caliber.
Once you fill out that form, we’ll jump behind the computer and enter your information into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Firearms Eligibility System website. This is your background check. You have to do this every time you purchase a firearm. You can purchase multiple firearms at once and they will go on the same form, but if you come back tomorrow and buy another you’re going to do another background check.
The only thing entered into this website is your personal information and the type of firearm you purchased. So it is either a long gun, hand gun, receiver, etc. The make, model and serial number are not transmitted on this website.
You wait a few minutes and the background check comes back approved. Now you pay for your new gun. If you have a Florida CCW permit, you leave with it that day. If you don’t have a CCW, then you have a three-day wait before you can pick that firearm up.
The three days doesn’t include the day you purchase it, the day you pick it up, or any days we are closed. So your three-day wait is essentially a six-day wait, because we’re closed on weekends. If purchase it on Monday, then you can pick it up Friday. But if you purchase it on Tuesday, your pickup day will be Monday the following week.
But that’s it. There is no registration of firearms in Florida like there is in other states. Nobody knows what specific firearm you purchased. The only paper trail is that 4473 that you filled out, and that is sent to no one. It remains at our shop or in storage for 25 years and then is destroyed.
There are also logs required by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but those are also private and kept on premises. If the BATFE call us on a firearm trace, we are required to give them that information. But if they’re calling, they already know the gun make, model and serial number. They are tracing ownership of that firearm.
The information that we entered into the FDLE website? All that information is dropped except for your queue number and your authorization number. After three days (upon approval), your personal information is dropped from that website.
What happens if you’re stuck in “decision pending” on the background check? That means that your background check isn’t complete and they may be waiting on more information. If you lived in a gun-unfriendly state like California, New York, New Jersey or Illinois, they are notorious for dragging their feet returning information to Florida. If you lived in Cook County, Ill., you’re in for a wait.
If you have a ton of military clearances, it can take time to trace them all down. We have a good customer that hauls explosives and delivers to military bases, and he has special clearances and licenses to do so. It takes him about three weeks for his background check to come back. He knows and he expects this.
All this should clear and eventually come back as approved, as long as your record is clean. But what if you’re not approved?
Well there’s a process for that also. The first thing people ask is, “Why wasn’t I approved?” And we don’t know. They don’t tell us and won’t tell us. You just show up as “not approved” on the website. We’ll give you paperwork for the appeals process. And you go that route and hopefully it clears up.
If you’re not a felon, haven’t been adjudicated mentally incapable in the past five years, or have misdemeanor domestic violence charges, you should be approved. Sometimes it’s simply mistaken identity if you didn’t give us your Social Security number. And that stuff will be cleared up but it takes a little time.
So that’s the short of the buying and background check process. No matter what some lunatic on the street corner is yelling, there is no government list being kept of what you buy. At least not if you live in Florida. Welcome to a free state.
Capt. Cayle Wills is a USCCA-certified firearms instructor and gunsmith at Higher Power Outfitters (1826 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda). Contact him at 941-916-4538 or Cayle@HigherPowerOutfitters.com.