NOTE: This article is true for Colorado, and the majority of other states. There are a few states (e.g. CA, NY) with very strong anti-gun laws on the books, where they may be required to request and store additional information, in more privacy-intrusive ways.
I have a lot of customers that are concerned, or have misinformation, about what the government is tracking related to their gun purchases. The fact is that very little information is permanently tracked, or "registered", about your firearms transactions.
Let me take a moment to explain how the dealer's transaction paperwork happens.
- As a legal Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer, we are allowed to receive shipments of firearms (via USPS, FedEx, UPS, etc.). When we receive such a package, we record the manufacturer/importer, model number, caliber, type (e.g. pistol, rifle, shotgun), and the transferor (e.g. another dealer's name & FFL, a manufacturer's name and FFL, a private citizen's name and address), for each firearm.
- These records of transfer of firearms to us, are recorded in a physical, hardbound, paper book [here at Paladin Lead Delivery Systems]. Companies do have the option of using an electronic or online method of recording transactions, but it must be a complex application that records which specific users make entries and changes, so many FFLs stick to the simpler paper-book method. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) does not maintain these records, or provide any services to, physical or electronic.
- In order to sell or transfer a firearm to a non-FFL holder, we must perform a background check. Nationally, that check is run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Here in Colorado, we run the check through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who also performs the NICS check for us, and returns results for both. The only information provided in this check is personal identification information (e.g. name, address, race, etc.), optionally Social Security Number (SSN), and the type of firearm being transfered (e.g. "long gun", "handgun", "other"). The manufacturer, model, serial number, or any other specifically identifying information about the firearm are not provided to the government.
- The disposition of the background check is returned to us, typically within 30-60 minutes. It only tells us that it was approved, denied, or delayed. We are not provided any additional reasoning for the disposition. For example, we are not told why it was denied.
- If the status was "delayed", the CBI has 3 days to respond with either an approval or denial. If they do not respond in 3 days, we are allowed to consider it approved by default, and give you possession of the firearm.
- If the status was "denied", we can not give you possession of the firearm. You are allowed, however, to file an appeal and have the denial overturned. Colorado has one of the highest rates of denials being overturned.
- With an approved background check, we finish your paperwork. We record on your background check sheet all the identifying information about the firearm (e.g. make, model, serial number, etc.). We record in our master firearms disposition book that the firearm was transferred to you (e.g. name and address). In order to comply with Federal destruction of records requirements, the CBI will destroy records of the background check within 24 hours, for checks that returned definitively as approved or denied.
- If you purchased (took possession) two or more handguns from us within one week, including on the same visit, we are required to file a special form with the BATFE. In this case, we will provide the BATFE with the specific firearm information (e.g. make, model, serial number, etc.) for each pistol you purchased in that time frame.
- You take possession of your firearms.
- We are required to maintain our records, both the disposition book and the individual background check forms, for 20 years. In the event we go out of business, we turn those records [newer than 20 years] over to the BATFE.
Now that you know the full process, you can see that the government has access to very little of your information, typically. What information it does have (e.g. background check info), it is required to destroy within 24 hours. The two major events that would trigger the BATFE having access to your firearms' specific information (e.g. make, model, serial number) is if you bought two or more pistols within a 7 day period [from the same dealer], or if the dealer goes out of business within 20 years of the sale/transfer.