Sample Block

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

How to Become a Federal Explosives Licensee (FEL)

Once you have decided to apply for a Federal explosives license or permit (commonly referred to as an “FEL”) you would send the completed application to ATF’s Lockbox; the Lockbox is operated by Bank of America in Atlanta, Georgia. The bank will deposit your application fee, which you can pay by check, credit card or money order {we do not accept cash) and once the application fee is processed, the Bank will forward your application to the Federal Explosives Licensing Center (FELC) in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The FELC will then enter your application information into its database and commence a full review of your application and supporting materials, including employee data, fingerprint cards, and photographs. We will review the fingerprint cards you submitted for clarity and as required by law we will then conduct an electronic background check on all “responsible persons” identified on the application. A responsible person is a sole proprietor, partner, or anyone with the power to direct the management, policies, and practices of the business as it pertains to explosives. In a corporation this includes corporate officers, shareholders, board members, or any other employee with the legal authority described above.

All “employee / possessors” must submit an ATF Form 5400.28 – Employee Possessor Questionnaire (commonly referred to as an EPQ). An Employee/Possessor (EP) is an individual who has actual or constructive possession of explosive materials during the course of his employment with your business. Electronic background checks are conducted for all EPs submitted with the application.

Applications for new licenses and permits are then sent to the nearest ATF field office having responsibility for the area in which your premises are located. The field office supervisor will issue an assignment to an Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) who will conduct a face-to-face qualification inspection with you. The IOI will interview you, discuss State and local requirements with you, review explosives storage requirements, review Federal recordkeeping requirements, go over the application with you, and additionally discuss the laws and regulations with you. The IOI will then prepare a report of his/her interview, inspection and make a recommendation to either issue the license or permit or deny the license or permit. Some reasons for denial include failure to comply with State or local law, evidence of an applicant’s previous violation of the Safe Explosives Act, or falsification of the application.

The field office supervisor will review the report and electronically submit his/her recommendation to the FELC. Assuming that all background checks have been completed and your premises address, storage requirements and proposed business operations are in compliance with State and local law, the FELC will complete the application processing and issue you the license or permit. This will take approximately 90 days from the time your application is completely and correctly filled out.

New Application Checklist

To assist you in preparing your new application for a Federal Explosives License/Permit (FEL), we have prepared a checklist for you to use. Please complete all forms included in your application packet in accordance with the instructions on each form.

Please verify you have completed the following as indicated:

  • Completed application, ATF F 5400.13/5400.16. Please ensure all questions have been fully answered to include information for all storage facilities and locations, if applicable, in accordance with specific instructions.

  • Verify that each ATF F 5400.13/5400.16 has been signed by the sole proprietor, corporate officer or partner as applicable, and that all questions have been answered.

  • Verify that item 13 (second page of ATF F 5400.13/5400.16) has been filled out by all Responsible Persons listed on the license or permit.

  • Attach one FD-258 (fingerprint card) and one 2″ x 2″ photograph for each Responsible Person identified in item 13 (ATF F 5400.13/5400.16). Fingerprints must be taken by a law enforcement official.

  • Complete ATF F 5400.28 — Employee Possessor Questionnaire for any individual who meets the definition of an Employee Possessor (see definition #2 on back of form).

  • Verify that each ATF F 5400.28 has been signed by the person on the form and all questions have been answered.

  • Confirm that the appropriate fee has been included. The payment of the fee should be with a check or money order (no cash) made payable to: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Frequently Asked Questions on Obtaining a Federal Explosives License

A Frequently Asked Questions Guide to Licensing Requirements Applicable to Federal Explosives Licenses (18 U.S.C. 1102)

This page is designed to give people who are new to commerce in explosives and in particular, new to dealing in, manufacturing and importing in explosives a general understanding of ATF regulations and procedures. However, nothing provided here can substitute for consulting the Federal Explosives Law and Regulations, ATF Publication 5400.7, Revised June 2012.

How long does it take to approve/disapprove an application for a Federal Explosives License or Permit?

We would approve or depending on the circumstances deny an application within a 90-day period which begins with the day a “properly executed application” is received at the Federal Explosives Licensing Center.

[18 USC 843, 27 CFR 555.49(a)(3)]

If denied, how can I become cleared to possess explosives?
  • Appeals Process — If upon receiving a denial letter from ATF you believe that you are not prohibited from possessing explosives (due to reasons such as identity theft, the dismissal of criminal charges, or other reasons), you may appeal your denial by supplying a written statement, new fingerprint cards, and any supporting documentation that you may have which demonstrates that you are not prohibited. ATF will consider all appeal documents submitted and send the fingerprint cards to the FBI for processing. A determination will be made as to whether the denial should be overturned and you will be notified of the outcome. You will remain in a denied status while your appeal is pending.

  • Relief of Disability Process – If your denial is upheld, you may apply for Relief of Disabilities by sending ATF an Application for Restoration of Explosives Privileges on Form 5400.29. Your application will be coordinated by ATF Headquarters personnel in the Firearms/Explosives Relief Section then forwarded to the local ATF field office for in-depth investigation. An ATF Special agent will review the application, conduct interviews, and review any relevant court documents and other information. The Special Agent will then forward a recommendation to either grant relief or deny relief to the Chief, Firearms Operations Division, who will make the final decision. ATF will notify you in writing of its decision. You may contact the Firearms/Explosives Relief Section by mail at 99 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20226, or phone at 202-648-7110.

When do I get my license?

The Safe Explosives Act (SEA) requires ATF to act on a properly completed application within 90 days. ATF usually considers an application to have been properly completed when all required information has been provided to ATF in writing. This includes submission of the correct number of legible fingerprint cards, the correct fee, etc. If material changes have to be made to an application (e.g., a change from one license type to another or the addition of or changes to the responsible persons, different business name, premises address, hours of operation, EIN, etc.) after its initial receipt by the FELC, then the 90-day processing period may re-start.

The FELC generates licenses and permits every day based on the receipt of field recommendations. Licenses and permits are sent first class mail to an applicant’s mailing address of record from the FELC in Martinsburg, West Virginia.

What circumstances may cause final action on a Federal Explosives License (FFL) application to be delayed?

Some examples of factors that could affect our timely processing of your application and the issuance of your license or permit could include the local ATF field office being unable to contact you for the purpose of the face-to-face interview; your need for additional time to satisfy the requirements of your local zoning boards or other State and local agencies in order to bring your proposed business premises into compliance with State or local law; your need for additional time to obtain or construct the correct storage facility for the explosives product you plan to maintain, the FBI being unable to adequately complete the required background checks because of incomplete or aged court records or fingerprint card imprints that could not be “read” and require re-submission, or insufficient fee payment.

If the field office’s recommendation is to deny your application, then a different process applies. That process requires the field office to notify you in writing of the reasons for denial and give you the chance to request and attend a hearing to review the evidence upon which the denial is based. The Safe Explosives Act also affords an applicant the right to appeal an adverse hearing decision to Federal district court. The hearing process would obviously exceed 90 days.

If you submit a license or permit renewal application with the appropriate fee to ATF prior to the expiration date of your current license, you can contact the FELC and request what is called a Letter of Authorization (LOA). An LOA will act as evidence of your licensed status until we act on your pending renewal application and can be provided by the license holder to suppliers to verify that you are a licensee in good standing awaiting final ATF action on your renewal application.

Sample FEL License

Please note that actual FEL licenses are printed on pink paper; this sample is provided in white for clarity.

Sample FEL License