ATF Refuses to Answer FFL’s Questions On the Record

The ATF has quite a number of regulations that they’re in charge of enforcing, and most of them are mind-numbingly ambiguous. The lack of clear and precise laws and regulations can make keeping your nose clean in this business nearly impossible, especially if your livelihood depends on selling guns. The ATF has a mechanism for answering questions from the people it regulates, and normally it does that in the form of a letter or newsletter clearly (or as clearly as possible) answering the particular query. However, one such FFL recently asked a number of questions and the ATF is now flatly refusing to answer any of them on the record. What was asked that has them so afraid to put pen to paper? . . .

Here are the questions the FFL sent in back in July:

 Question 11a of Form 4473 determines who the actual buyer of a firearm is for purposes of compliance with federal laws regarding straw purchases.

For instance, if an employee of John’s Gun Store notices Mike’s Gun Store has a firearm in their inventory that they would like to purchase for resale and refuses to initiate a bound book transfer of a firearm from their inventory to the inventory of FFL due to corporate policy, is it legal for an employee of Johns’s Gun Store to purchase said firearm on Form 4473 from Mike’s Gun Store and then transfer it to the inventory of John’s Gun Store for final disposition to a customer?

ATF Form 4 has a section asking applicants to state a reasonable necessity for possession of a machinegun, SBR, SBS or DD on the application.

If a customer represents in that field that a firearm they are purchasing is for “Investment”, does that construe a violation of federal law (purchase with intent to resell)?

Bearing in mind that ATF Form 4′s for NFA devices with “Investment” listed on the form as a reasonable neccessity are typically approved – Does said representation construe a violation in that the intent is to profit from an eventual resale of the firearm?

Does said representation differ when purchasing a Title 1 firearm as opposed to a Title 2 firearm?

Under ATF Revenue Ruling 80-21, ATF has held that a college student that maintains residences in two states is eligble to purchase firearms in both states.

How would a licensee execute a sale of a firearm to an individual that met the conditions of Revenue Ruling 80-21 as most college students do not have an ID issued by the state they attend college in? Box 20a would be a different state ID than the licensee would be located in – so what alternate documentation in 20b should be used to document a sale that ATF holds as legal? Please list all pertinent information regarding documenting the sale so that I may formulate a best practices policy for sales that fall in this category.

It was only today, the first full week in November, that they’ve gotten back to him. And the response was less than stellar.

A lady from the ATF called me today sounding pretty irritated that she had to answer me. She was apparently ASSIGNED by her boss to handle this inquiry.

Her first question was if I was an FFL. I said yes.

She said she would answer what she could over the phone and she could not put an answer in writing. I asked her why.

Apparently I’ve got NFA34 questions mixed in with GCA68 questions and nobody knows how to answer them in that office and they’re not going to call around and find out because they don’t have the resources to do so. She refused to answer the questions in writing, she said she would give some answers over the phone and then the phone started making funny noises and cut out.

TL/DR: Sent letter to ATF asking a bunch of questions. ATF called back and said yeah we’re not answering these and hung up.

Sure, there might be one or two “whackjob” questions in there — I’ve got a whale of a question about a gatling gun and a hamster in the pipeline myself — but there are a good number of questions that could very well land someone in Federal jail if the ATF doesn’t see things their way. The ATF isn’t even selectively answering those that way it wants to, they’re just ignoring him completely.

That’s right, the ATF is refusing to answer the FFL’s questions.

It’s a dangerous situation when a regulating body refuses to answer policy and legal questions from those it regulates. It’s almost as if they want the rules to be as ambiguous as possible so they can selectively enforce the ones they like, or even apply them in ways that no one ever envisioned. Transparency is the key to a good and fair system, and it looks like the ATF is trying to avoid that any way they can.

My source, known only by his codename El Grande Queso, is still waiting for the ATF to answer his questions. And from the looks of it, he’ll be waiting a long time.

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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!

47 Responses to ATF Refuses to Answer FFL’s Questions On the Record

  1. avatarjwm says:

    It’s dangerous for a peasant to question.

    • avatarnatem says:

      two quotes come to mind:

      “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
      — Voltaire

      “Shut up, slave.”
      — what we hear every time we question authority.
      :P

  2. avatarBob says:

    This is what tyranny looks like.

  3. avatarST says:

    Didn’t Obama promise more “transparency” in the government 4 years ago?

    • avatarJoshinGA says:

      This is obviously Bush’s fault.

      • avatarChris says:

        Maybe not Bush, but has BAFTE’s budget gotten tangled up in that legislative mess we call our House of Representatives? Maybe they really don’t have the resources at this time?

        That said, if they don’t have an answer and don’t know where to begin finding one, they should at least respond with a request for further clarification of what is being asked. Just flat out saying that they can’t or won’t answer questions being asked of them by a taxpayer/customer should be grounds for termination. They have a job to do, and if they don’t do it they belong in the unemployment line.

      • avatar16V says:

        Go back to Reagan. Right after he was elected, the NRA foolishly believed Ronnie’s campaign rhetoric and kicked the campaign to eliminate the ATF into high gear. There was even a movie It Can’t Happen Here.

        Then, on the cusp of elimination of the ATF, the NRA stepped in to save it. Rather than have Treasury and other LE agencies in charge, the thought was to keep the devil they knew. Seemed logical at the time, as the ATF was kept on a short leash and defunded when it got uppity.

        Then Reagan signed FOPA, and it’s been a nasty 180 ever since.

    • avatarWLCE says:

      yes, he promised “the most transparent government in our history”. Then he signed 2012 NDAA. LOL. but look at the bright side, according to politifact, he met roughly 75% of his promises :D

  4. avatarJPD says:

    Shades of the 30′s……question der Fuhrer, or his minions and you vill be shot !!!!!

  5. avatarBlehtastic says:

    He should contact his congressman if he’s in a gun friendly state. Having worked with a lot of government employees, it’s pretty obvious that this is incompetence, laziness, or perhaps a legitimately overworked department. There is probably a legal way to resolve this with lawyers. Yes, it’s too expensive, and no, he shouldn’t have to go through all that, but I doubt very much that he’s at the end of the road with no further ways to resolve this.

    All that being said, if he kept records of all this, as it’s clear he did, this guy is utterly bulletproof in court right now.

    • avatarPascal says:

      Agreed, even gun semi-friendly CT we have a process where we can get a definition of the law. This is how in CT we were able to have clarified that open carry is not illegal although people get arrested and judges do drop the charges. The local PD plays a games depending what there boss happens to think.

  6. avatarWilliam says:

    “My source…”

    You mean the person on reddit that whose post you lifted without attribution?

    http://www.reddit.com/r/guns/comments/12odji/atf_called_me_to_tell_me_that_theyre_not_going_to/

  7. avatarBob says:

    Another reason to fire Obama tomorrow. To get soeone who will cleanup/cleanout the DOJ.

  8. avatarAharon says:

    I think it’s time to re-read Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’.

  9. avatarTommy Knocker says:

    This is why you use intermediaries to deal with the government. Lawyers, CPA’s, brokers etc. Come on everyone knows this. Don’t they ???? Please make this a sub-paragraph to the cardinal rule of STFU when dealing with police…..

  10. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    WTF, I stopped reading half way thru. I’m dying to read what Ralph has to say about this foolish shit.

  11. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    As I said on the other thread about shipping guns:

    Ask five different ATF employees for an interpretation or a reading on the rules, and you will get at least seven different answers. It’s just like the IRS and the Internal Revenue Code. Also, no one will want their name attached to an interpretation – they’ll just fall back on an interpretation they’ve been using successfully, or one that has been held by their supervisors or prior agents/inspectors.

    For the uninitiated into federal regulatory agencies (of which the ATF is but one dealing with firearms), here’s how the hierarchy of stuff goes:

    First, there is federal statute. These will be found in the reams and reams of “public law,” and will be called out by “Title.” Congress creates federal law, which is then added to the reams of federal laws already on the books. Statute law may be overridden or twisted by federal case law, all the way up to the Supreme Court of the US. But lower court decisions are binding upon you if you are within that court’s jurisdiction and the court’s case isn’t under appeal. There used to be conflicting issues of gun control in the 90′s as the various federal circuit courts issued contradictory opinions on gun control laws… Ralph can explain this whole mess further if he cares to.

    Then there’s the regulation. The regulations are created by the federal regulatory agencies who are given the task of enforcing and implementing federal statutes. The regulations are proposed, and a “NPRM” (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking”) is flown in the Federal Register, and a comment period starts for responses from the public about the proposed rules. Changes to existing rules are also flown in the Federal Register. If you have never seen the Federal Register, you should have a look:

    https://www.federalregister.gov/

    Where the ATF is concerned, they can sometimes see that the law, their regulations and reality don’t coincide very cleanly, so they’ll issue ruling papers or ruling letters:

    http://www.atf.gov/regulations-rulings/rulings/

    Most ATF employees don’t want to be pinned down to an interpretation of a regulation or the law. It isn’t their job to furnish interpretations or ruling letters – that’s the job of the lawyers within the ATF to do so. Issues of technical distinction will involve not only the ATF’s legal staff, but also the FTB – Firearms Technology Branch. Example questions could be about “Is this a NFA item?” where you’re unsure whether a gatling-type gun powered by a hand-crank is a ‘machine gun’, for example, will be examined by the FTB, their opinion is fed to the legal staff, who might or might not publish a ruling letter.

    By the way, the obligatory disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. I’m just tasked with trying to follow federal law and regulations. Some days, you feel like you’re a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest when trying to interpret and follow federal regulations.

  12. avatarReader says:

    “Under ATF Revenue Ruling 80-21, ATF has held that a college student that maintains residences in two states is eligble to purchase firearms in both states…”

    That would be mildly life-changing. I (and no few peers) would very much like an answer.

  13. avatarDJ says:

    I wonder if one of the NRA’s lawyers could prevail upon them on behalf of the FFL for a written response.

    If I were the FFL, and I really wanted an answer, I’d involve an attorney.

    Of course, the ATF is not above trying to drive an FFL out of business, either.

  14. avatarBob says:

    This is intentional. It is a to creating a chilling effect to deter people from dealing in firearms sales.

  15. avatarspeedracer5050 says:

    The ATF really does need a serious housecleaning. Take Eric”My Ass Is Covered By The POTUS” Holder out with the rest of the garbage.
    I recently contacted the ATF about getting my C&R License for personal use only(I collect old military weapons when I find one I can afford) and the run around and myriad of answers and non answers I got were very frustrating to say the least. I was told that when I had my personal interview with the ATF Agent that they would have to check my home for a proper gun safe, make sure that my “business” was zoned in accordance to local law( I live 11 miles from the neared town) and that I would have to have proper insurance for my business.
    Tol the agent again that was not for a business but for personal collection, no auto’s, just old rifles an pistols manufactured before 1942(per ATF guidelines) and was told that they would have to get back with me.
    3 months and still no answer!!!

  16. avatarAccur81 says:

    Is sh!tcanning the ATF the best solution?

    At least I have the discretion not to take action against a law that is so thoroughly incomprehensible that I wouldn’t be able to make effective testimony in support of it.

    • avatarGyufygy says:

      Is that last part a normal aspect of being an LEO? Or does it vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction?

      • avatarAccur81 says:

        It’s a normal aspect of the legal process. Not every law is written well, and they also don’t always make sense. The saying we often use is “the appropriate enforecement action” based upon the “totality of the circumstances.”

  17. avatarSilver says:

    Silly Americans, you think the government should answer to the people? Sorry, this is “progressive” America, we’ve progressed beyond silly antiques like the Bill of Rights and Constitution that stand in the way of government’s total rule.

    Government’s not the problem. The people are the problem for letting it happen. Which will be proven tomorrow when fellow “countrymen” re-elect the One. I’m so utterly certain that O will be re-elected, there’s no question in my mind. Just look at history. Once a country begins down the path to tyranny, it doesn’t stop.

    • avatarJoshinGA says:

      Dear lord I hope you’re wrong. But that sour feeling in the pit of my stomach seems to lend credibility to your statement.

    • avatarST says:

      Tomorrow we face two choices as a nation. We either turn down the path of recovery to a nation true to its founding ideals, or we collectively will embrace the careworn path of national decline.For the sake of the good men and women who laid down their lives to protect the first option, may option two never trouble us to happen!

      • avatarspeedracer5050 says:

        Let’s hope everyone chooses to take the road to recovery and not subject us to 4 more years of the crap we have put up with for the last 4 years.
        That being said with everything going on in the NorthEast from Hurricane Sandy it will probably be after the first of Jan 2013 before we even get a true idea of who we will have for our POTUS!!!!

  18. avatarorangeblue says:

    At the end of the day, the Courts decide what a law means. Which means that even if an ATF attorney tells you something “on the record” a court can still interpret a given law differently. Which would be a problem for everyone involved…

  19. avatarThe Stig says:

    Just to clarify, Private Letter Rulings are only binding on the ATF by the party that receives the ruling. So regardless of what they tell this FFL, no one else can rely on it (which isn’t to say that people don’t or wont). The letter ruling will only tell you what one employee of the ATF thinks about this issue at that moment, subject to change with the prevailing wind in his office hallway (those government buildings can be drafty).

    Therefore while these maybe interesting issues we’d all like concrete answers to, we wont get them this way.

  20. avatardanio3834 says:

    Just like I have found with many Government agencies, their employees whos job it is to know the regulations, in facto do not. When you come face to face with these people in the wild, they will arbitrarily enforce their interpretation (or lackthereof) of the rules, effectively a shoot first, ask questions later approach to the law.

    Why anyone puts up with this, I don’t know. Personnally, I don’t, and it usually lands me in warm water and wastes a lot of time. But I see challenging this nonsense as a very important part of standing up for your rights and freedoms.

  21. avatarRalph says:

    It’s not the ATF’s job to answer a bunch of stupid hypothetical questions, and I don’t blame the Bureau for not replying in writing. Frankly, I think that the ATF was being generous in replying at all. The FFL was acting like an typical 8 year old, breaking daddy’s balls with questions designed to irritate rather than to obtain useful information.

    “Where are we going?”
    “To the store.”
    “Why?”
    “To buy some toilet paper.”
    “Why?”
    “Because we’re out.”
    “Why?”
    The kid will keep this up until daddy reminds him that he brought the kid into the world and he can take him out, too.

    There’s a process for asking actual, real, questions. A lawyer would know how to obtain the necessary clearance from the ATF — and the FFL should probably know the ropes, too. Viewing the dealer’s actions in the best light, he’s ignorant. In the worst light, he was just breaking balls.

    There’s enough real criticism that can be leveled at the ATF without making sh!t up.

  22. avatarWLCE says:

    I think the BATFE (and really big fires ((brilliant addition TTAG)) ;) should be disbanded…

    any takers? anybody? As a taxpayer i feel like saving some money

  23. avatarbigcuz says:

    And even if the FFL had gotten a written answer remember Office of Personnel Management v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414 (1990). Basically the government is not bound by the statements of its employees. This is true for everyone from IRS agents to military recruiters.

  24. avatarBambiB says:

    Sounds to me like the BATFE dumb f**ks aren’t appreciably different from the other dumb lazy f**ks who are paid by the government. That is, if you can’t do anything, produce anything, create anything, build anything – get a guv’mint job.

  25. The ATF needs to be permanently shut down and guns need to be treated no differently then golf clubs or baseball bats.

  26. avatarBill Gray says:

    I have found a way to put a phone call in writing. I take good notes during the conversation. Then, I compose an e-mail (snail mail w/ a return receipt may be better for some purposes) and document what was said. I write “Confirming our telephone conversation of this date, I said … and you said … .” Fire it off and wait. If the other party has no problem with your version of what was said, they will not reply (or you will take that position). If you got it all wrong, they will reply and straighten you out. You now have their position in writing one way or the other. You kept a copy of course.

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