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.