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When can an auctioneer sell a firearm without a Federal Firearms License (FFL?) When does an auctioneer need an FFL? We’ve recently explored this issue in more detail here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2016/08/27/how-does-auctioneer-ffl-licensing-work/

As we’ve previously noted, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Rul. 96-2 (https://www.atf.gov/file/55456/download) mentions the term “Estate-type” and also the term “Executor” in regard to auctioneers selling firearms without an FFL, suggesting that situation would have to require a decedent (a death.)

However, at the bottom of ATF Rul. 96-2 it says:

Held: Persons who conduct estate-type auctions at which the auctioneer assists the estate in selling the estate’s firearms, and the firearms are possessed and transferred by the estate, do not require a Federal firearms license.

Further, the ATF came out with a guide (ATF Publication 5310.2 January 2016: https://www.atf.gov/file/100871/download) which contained the the following passage:

Do I need a license if I’m an auctioneer and simply auction guns for my customers?

If you repeatedly conduct auctions for firearms that are first consigned to you for sale, and you intend to make money from those sales, you need a license. If, however, you simply offer auctioneer services without having the firearms transferred to you for example, you are hired by the representative of an estate to travel to the location of the estate, assist the estate in conducting an auction, and the firearms remain the property of the estate until transfer to the buyer), you need not be licensed.

As well, this link https://www.atf.gov/firearms/qa/if-licensed-auctioneer-making-sales-firearms-where-may-those-sales-be-made on the ATF’s website notes the following:

If a licensed auctioneer is making sales of firearms, where may those sales be made?

In a consignment auction firearms may be displayed at an auction site away from the auctioneer’s licensed premises and sales of the firearms can be agreed upon at that location, but the firearms must be returned to the auctioneer’s licensed premises prior to transfer. The simultaneous sale and delivery of the auctioned firearms away from the licensed premises would violate the law, i.e., engaging in business at an unlicensed location.

However, if the auctioneer is assisting an estate in disposing of firearms, the estate is the seller of the firearms and the estate is in control and possession of the firearms. In this situation, the firearms may be sold by the estate at the auction site.

[18 U.S.C. 923(a); 27 CFR 478.50]

One can see here, in all three instances the word “estate” is most referenced and except for ATF Rul. 96-2’s preface, there is no mention of the word “Executor.” This brings us to our question today: What is an “estate” in regard to firearms?

Referencing Black’s Law Dictionary (Eighth Edition, Bryan A. Gardner, Editor,) the word “estate” means:

The amount, degree, nature and quality of a person’s interest in land or other property; esp., a real-estate interest that may become possessory, the ownership being measured in terms of duration.

This definition doesn’t reference death, but rather one’s ownership in property (real and personal.) Thus, this would necessarily include the ownership in firearms.

We have argued that a “single-seller onsite auction where the seller maintains possession and control of the firearms” does not mandate the contracting auctioneer has an FFL. The ATF concurs with our assessment in all three of these public notices.

And finally, despite this exemption, auctioneers selling firearms are encouraged to pursue getting an FFL which is currently only $200 for initial licensure and $90 for a 3-year renewal.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.