Wait Time for ATF Approval of NFA Paperwork Still Sky High

A few months back, while I was still waiting for the ATF to stamp my paperwork, I discovered a disheartening trend — wait times for NFA paperwork have exploded. A form that used to take less than 60 days to be approved (well, in some cases at least) was pushing well past 150 days. It was enough to make even the most law abiding citizen start looking at his oil filter in that “special way.” Now that a couple months have passed I thought I would revisit that absolutely terrible graph and try to come up with something more usable. I give you fair warning: you’re not going to like it…

This graph was compiled using the latest available data from the NFATracker.com website, the means we have of indirectly observing the ATF. And yeah, there’s no hope whatsoever. Wait times are continuing to increase, having surged past the previous 160 day mark and heading with unwavering certainty towards 180.

One of our readers, Charles, thought he had discovered something that would help explain the increase in wait times. Turns out, the ATF changed their mechanism for assigning investigators to paperwork from alphabetical to region based around the time the wait times started really taking off. But there’s an issue: the wait times started taking off BEFORE the policy was put in place.

With the U.S. Government, you can never completely rule out incompetence as the root cause of anything — even success. But personally, as a guy who fiddles with computer networks, I have a different opinion on the matter. To me, its an issue of bandwidth.

Here’s a graph of how many new NFA forms are submitted to the NFA tracker website each month. And while this might just be an issue of our friends at NFA Tracker becoming more popular, I see this as an indication that the number of forms being submitted to the ATF is growing nearly exponentially. The same handful of investigators that used to handle  a dozen or so forms every month are being hammered with ten times that amount of paperwork. There simply aren’t enough investigators to handle the flow, and so its taking longer to process the forms.

The solution is simple: hire more staff. But there’s a hiring freeze — in an attempt to save money, the Government has stopped hiring new workers. Which is ironic, considering that shorter NFA wait times would mean increased revenue in the form of tax stamps. Personally, the only reason I haven’t plopped down the cash for can #2 yet is the wait.

The good news to take away from this is that the silencer industry is booming. Well, figuratively at least. More demand means cheaper products, increased competition, and superior quality down the road. But the bad news is that the industry is still entirely dependent on the ATF to approve the transfers. Its like trying to drag race in a car that has the parking brake applied.

Hopefully, one day, I won’t need a Form 4. Until then, all I can do is wait longer and longer for something that is completely legal to own.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

20 Responses to Wait Time for ATF Approval of NFA Paperwork Still Sky High

  1. avatarHulley says:

    I received my stamp last week (SS Sparrow) and it took 206 days. The only thing keeping me now is the wait.

  2. avatarHenry Bowman says:

    The solution is simple: eliminate the requirement for a tax and approval forms.

    FIXED.

    • avatarElliotte says:

      Close, but 99.9% of the time governments will not voluntarily give up taxes/fees/any kind of money coming their way. I agree, there should be no need for tax stamps and approval paperwork for SBR/SBS (especially when you can get pistol versions of some rifles) or for silencers (it’s a hearing safety device and a tool to avoid disturbing the neighbors). Unfortunately, a good intermediate compromise would be to eliminate the paperwork (scale it back to the same stuff needed for a long-gun) and just keep the $200 tax stamp, for now.

      • avatarLevi B says:

        A system that issues a small card that says you’re allowed to own them, plus a NICS check they charge $200 for would solve every issue with it, besides the excessive fees and breach of our rights as they should be protected under the 2nd amendment.

      • avatarTotenglocke says:

        Easy solution in the medium term – FFL’s or other stores that sell suppressors must charge an additional $200 tax at the time of purchase and send it to the ATF. Everyone wins.

  3. avatarCurzen says:

    “the only reason I haven’t plopped down the cash for can #2 yet is the wait.”

    so because you don’t like the wait you’ll instead wait indefinitely longer. not sure how that makes sense.

    • avatarMichael Bluth says:

      It could make a lot of sense if one anticipates a move within that time window. Who knows what bureaucratic black hole one falls into or how many additional transfer fees they face if they move from state to state while their form is in progress.

    • avatarBlueBronco says:

      With a 12 month wait, that is an expensive piece of hardware to be purchased and sit in someone else’s safe.

  4. avatarChrisM says:

    The increasing wait was exactly the reason I went and ahead and decided to get my second can on order. (So I guess I’m part of the problem.) I don’t even have the platform for it yet, but I might by the time the paperwork comes back.

    • avatarL. Y. says:

      lol i don’t know why but your post makes me chuckle. “but I might by the time the paperwork comes back.” sounds like you were in the military haha

  5. avatarKen says:

    Yeah, now 6 months and still counting for my 3rd can. I was at my dealer last week and they just received stamps on items submitted in October. Mine was January. That 180 day wait looks good compared to what it looks like I’m still in for.

  6. avatarPT says:

    Tax stamp revenue is not spent on the ATF. It goes into the federal general revenue fund.

    The first step would be to use tax stamp revenue to hire more examiners. This would significantly decrease wait times, increase NFA ownership, and get more people agitated about repealing gun laws.

  7. avatarCarlosT says:

    You know why you have to do this, right? It’s because a bunch of moralists in 1920 decided that alcohol was evil and needed to be banned. So they did. That allowed the gangsters to move in on the alcohol market and what had been the province of honest, peaceful men became several running gang wars with their own arms race.
    p
    “There oughta be a law!” And so there was. The NFA was written to get rid of “gangster” weapons. But they couldn’t see a way around the Second Amendment, so the decided to price them out of existence. $200 was a lot of money back then (it’s $3221.87 in 2010 dollars).

    Ironically, and sadly, Prohibition was over by the time the NFA was passed, so the original cause of all the violence was gone, but yet we still live with its gun control legacy today.

  8. avatarChris Dumm says:

    ‘Benign neglect’ of the NFA Branch staffing levels is probably part of the game plan for Eric Holder & Friends. When congress won’t flat-out ban suppressors and SBRs, the Executive Branch can use this method to virtually guarantee that NFA wait times stretch out until people simply give up.

    When the wait time hits 12 months, I think most people will simply give up because very few people have an extra $800-$1200 to spend (right now) on a limited-use toy that they won’t even be able to take home for a whole year?

    For $800 interest, you can borrow whole lot of money for a year.

    • avatarDan says:

      Yes, please give up now. Don’t order any NFA toys. That way MY paperwork will clear faster.

  9. avatarPeter says:

    Can bribery speed this up?

  10. avatarMatt in FL says:

    You’ve convinced me. Starting the paperwork by the end of the week.

  11. avatarstompahippie says:

    My oil filter sure is looking good ’bout now.

  12. avatarJohnB says:

    I received two of my stamps yesterday. One was mailed off on dec 7th and the other on dec 14.

  13. avatarJ.Parks says:

    A pre approval process and pay the tax at point of sale would take care of any issues. The real issue, as I see it, is that “they” don’t really want you to own any of the items they are tasked to approve.

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