Letter Re: Curious About “Curio and Relic” Firearms Laws in the US

Hi Jim,
I read from time to time “C&R eligible.” Can you please post a quick note on the SurvivalBlog that explains what that is referring to, as it relates to firearms. Blessings, – Mark B.

JWR Replies: I often write about the full exemption in the Federal law for pre-1899 guns, but I haven’t given much attention in the blog to Curio and Relic (C&R) guns. A Type 03 Federal Firearms License (FFL) is issued by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) . It allows individual C&R collectors to purchase across state lines some specifically listed firearms and ammunition for their personal collections. These post-1898 firearms and ammo are classified as a Curio or Relic only under certain circumstances. The following is a snippet from the ATF web site:

To be recognized as curios or relics, firearms must fall within one of the following categories:
(a) Firearms which were manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas thereof;
(b) Firearms which are certified by the curator of a municipal, State, or Federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; and
(c) Any other firearms which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event. Proof of qualification of a particular firearm under this category may be established by evidence of present value and evidence that like firearms are not available except as collector’s items, or that the value of like firearms available in ordinary commercial channels is substantially less.

The ATF’s list of eligible C&R guns and ammunition has been assembled piecemeal since 1968, and parts of it therefore show no rhyme or reason. For example, some Winchester Model 1894 “Trapper” short-barreled rifles with specific serial numbers have made their way onto the list, while hundreds of others have not. The BATFE’s list of eligible C&R guns is sporadically updated and posted at the BATFE web site.

The Type 03 Curio and Relics License doesn’t permit the license holder to deal in firearms as a business. It is strictly a collector’s license. (With a C&R license, you can buy and sell guns, but only with the intent of improving your collection–not as a way to make a living.) Guns that are not specifically C&R eligible would still have to be obtained through someone with a Type 01 dealer’s license. At present, the Class 03 license fee is $30 for three years. If you are interested in getting a C&R license be sure to first check our your state and local laws that might also affect your firearms purchases. Next, read though the extensive information at Cruffler.com.

I generally discourage all but the most ardent gun collectors from getting a C&R license. If you are persistent, you can generally find the guns you want inside your own state from a private party seller. (For example, see my Note at the top of today’s posts.) If you definitely plan to buy several 50+ year-old military surplus rifles per year, then it might be worthwhile to get a license. Otherwise, the cost/benefit ratio must be considered. One factor to consider: All Federal Firearms licenses require record keeping, and those records are subject to annual inspection by ATF agents. An error in record keeping is a Federal crime. Also consider that having a Federal firearms license–even just a Type 03 C&R–will raise your profile with law enforcement at all levels. In the event that our nation’s gun laws change, FFL holders will probably be under intense scrutiny. And finally, as a FFL holder, your records .are subject to audit (no more than once per year), and you conceivably might be asked to present any guns listed in your records for inspection. (Who knows how the regulation might change in the future. But for now, ATF agents cannot search the home of a Class 03 license holder without warrant.)

In essence, a license is the granting of a privilege to conduct an act that would otherwise be illegal. Holding a license makes you subject to a new jurisdiction and holds you to a high record-keeping standard. Think that through. There are serious implications to obtaining any license. Don’t leap into getting one without first weighing the costs and benefits.