NFA Wait Times Explode, No Relief in Sight

I’ve been waiting for my NFA paperwork for my silencer since October. When I submitted the paperwork, everyone I talked to said the ATF would take 60 days to process my stuff and then I’d be the proud new owner of a tax stamp. I’m still waiting. And getting slightly annoyed. So I emailed Erich, the guy in charge of NFAtracker.com, and asked him to give me a dump of his database to figure some stuff out. He complied, and then I almost lost my mind.

First things first, a quick note on how NFA paperwork works and the methodology for the following graph.

As soon as you submit your paperwork to the ATF, they cash your check and then sit on it for a bit. The length of time they sit on it varies, but at some point you can call the ATF’s NFA branch hotline, provide your serial number and they will inform you that your paperwork is “pending.” That means that an examiner has been assigned to your stuff, and it is now being worked on. Eventually, if you have led a good life, your paperwork will move to “approved” and your stamp will be issued shortly.

The ATF doesn’t release statistics about wait times and things like that, so in order to figure out what’s going on in terms of wait times NFA paperwork applicants have taken to indirect observation through self reporting. NFAtracker.com is a website where applicants self report the time it’s taking them for their paperwork to process through the ATF, and in turn the site auto-computes some statistics so that those still waiting can have an idea of how long things are going to take. So while these results may not be completely accurate, they are derived from the only 2,458 records I could get my hands on.

I focused my efforts on silencers, since they constituted the largest proportion of the database (and for personal reasons), but I figured that the wait times for silencers would give an image of what the times are like for the other NFA items as well.

And that image is not very hopeful lately.

This graph is the product of a night of pouring over the data dump from NFA tracker, slicing the data into 30 day windows based on when the paperwork was sent in and focusing solely on silencers. I examined how long it took for the paperwork to go from “pending” to “approved,” slicing out shipping time and most of the other factors that would influence how long it takes to get a tax stamp but be unique to a specific case. Last year the average wait was indeed somewhere around 60 days, but lately (the last 3-4 months) the wait time has exploded past 140+ days and stayed steady at that point ever since. Wait times have almost doubled.

Why? We can only speculate, but I have an idea.

The primary force behind this increase is probably that the volume of NFA items being processed is absolutely overwhelming the ATF. Which, considering the recent uptick in entries for NFA items in NFAtracker.com’s database, makes sense. Silencers have taken off in recent months, especially with the legalization of silent hunting in certain states and the ever-decreasing financial pain of that $200 stamp (thanks inflation!). And while the volume of paperwork has increased, the ATF has not (that we can tell) made any investment whatsoever in their NFA paperwork processing systems. It’s like trying to funnel all the traffic from I-95 down your town’s main street — it just can’t handle that type of volume.

The solution is obvious: hire more NFA paperwork people or modernize the process. But given the ATF’s priorities I get the feeling that it will be a while before any of their budget is available to make things easier for law abiding gun owners rather than harder.

Back in Fairfax, Virginia, the local law states that an applicant for a concealed carry license can be kept waiting no longer than 45 days for their permit. Even though the paperwork only takes a couple of hours to complete, the county sheriff will purposely wait until day #43 to mail it to you. Why? Because making things inconvenient for the law abiding public seems to be a way of life for some government officials.

Just like Fairfax County, I get the feeling that the ATF is rejoicing in the increased pain and suffering of law abiding gun owners. But I pray that I’m proven wrong and they actually ramp up their NFA branch to deal with the flood of paperwork.