HuntingRifle2

Hello gentle readers, your favorite firearm concierge here reporting on the latest developments in the NFA Industry. One big change that many folks have heard about is that ATF will be accepting electronic forms for tax paid transfers. This strikes me as both good and bad . . .

First and foremost: this is, in theory, a step in the right direction — the direction of making it easier to get your hands on NFA items. After many years in the gun business I have learned that most gun owners hate big government until they find out how long they have to wait until they can take home that silencer for which they paid the full $1,000 sticker price. Then government isn’t big enough for their liking.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

As of this writing, I have a stack of form 4’s on my desk that were submitted on paper in mid November that have just been approved. That’s 9 months from sale date to final disposition. The word on the streets are that electronic forms are going to shave the time down by [speculative integer here] but I would be reticent to speculate. The technology and process are presently rather inchoate and any person asking the industry to speculate on times is just begging to be lied to. That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Hearing the news from industry colleagues I registered and it took several days for the system to recognize my license and link it to my profile. My first impression: this thing sucks. The back-end to this thing is riddled with JavaScript errors and is supposedly optimized for use with Internet explorer. What that means in theory: every gun dealer under 35 using a mac book, iPad or non IE platform is SOL.

It was very painful to use, and although accurate reporting of my NFA inventory was present it took forever to build the tables and retrieve the data. We are able to select ONE NFA device out of inventory at a time to do this. This differs in comparison to paper Form 4’s where I can run off a stack of 10 sets, enclose one check for $2000 and one trust and be done with it.

The form generation process was slow as was most data retrieval. After selecting my license number for each transaction it built a very rudimentary form and asked for transferee info. Should the transferee be an FFL, they use license number database retrieval to populate the fields to minimize errors. In theory, good. In practice, cumbersome. I have boilerplate Form 3 and 4’s that I can cut/paste customer information into that takes me 3 minutes where most of the time spent is on cross checking data for errors and making sure serial numbers are correct whereas the electronic version means we spend a bunch of time waiting for Godot.

Transferee info must be entered in manually if not an FFL and it automatically populates certain fields based on zip code. Not bad if your customers keep forgetting to tell you what county they live in.

If at this point you don’t hit any browser crashing JavaScript errors you can upload certain documents supporting your transfer. If transferring to a trust, you can upload your trust documents. If transferring to a corporation, you can upload your articles of incorporation or organization. If you live in a state that requires a state level license (Louisiana, I’m looking at you) it supports an upload of that as well.

There’s one catch. The file sizes are limited. So, if you happened to have some shyster attorney that got paid by the word to do your trust and you wind up with a 22 megabyte wall of text, you are not going to find the electronic submission system very accommodating. I haven’t been able to figure out the limit yet but a customer with a 4 MB trust was rejected for an oversize file whereas two of my customers with one trust being 110 KB and the other being 2.2 MB had no issues. After uploading the required supplemental information (slowly) you are prompted to digitally pay for the transfer via credit card and then enter in your password again to digitally sign the document.

In attempting to give this article as much accuracy as possible, I am currently logged into the site to make sure my description is correct in as many respects as possible and JavaScript errors prevent me from viewing any of my past work. So much for integrity in reporting.

I have to ask the readers, after reviewing the plight of the JavaScript error – paper forms are looking more attractive, wouldn’t you agree? Form 3’s follow the same basic protocol (save for the tax payment of course) and I’m going to have to make my McKayla Maroney face because I am not impressed.

What does this mean for the ATF? I wasn’t sure. So Friday afternoon after spending hours of data entry for half a dozen silencer sales that drained my sanity, I called the ATF NFA Examiner for my state. We won’t name names or get too detailed, but here is what I took away from the conversation. ATF did not give the NFA branch any training (yet) on this new system. Tuesday they will receive instruction on how to handle electronic NFA transfers.

As of our conversation, Ted Clutter (the supervisor for NFA branch) has been getting the electronic NFA transfer requests. Because the regular examiners simply do not know what to do with them. And only a few dealers have undertaken the electronic process so far.

What does this mean for consumers? Not sure yet. I have had a handful ask me to do this electronically and I have done so with mixed success. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right — if I’m honest, we’re working in a vacuum. I will say this: If consumers think it will make the processing time drop, they will insist that the dealers do them. I take a lot of time to do NFA sales and the number one reason other dealers seem to avoid NFA sales is because they’re such a huge time commitment. When I have a form that I can print out and hand to you in 3 minutes versus spending 30 minutes fighting a government data entry website, what do you think I’m going to prefer doing for the same amount of money? After this week I will have to give the electronic submissions some more thought given the difficulty of the process.

What I can say is that the majority of this industry still revolves around phone calls and fax machines. If most of this industry cannot master email, I would not count on your local merchant of NFA devices to be embracing electronic NFA forms anytime soon.

The bigness of the thinking is admirable. For instance, Southwest Airlines managed to reduce their costs and pass the savings along to passengers by having passengers do the work of ticket agents by printing out their own boarding passes, online check in, etc. It strikes me that the goal of this process is to shift the bottleneck of data entry from the government employee to the dealer, and with the increase in efficiency – everyone wins. My question is that if consumers want things transferred this way, and the dealer’s time is barely valued now – how are we going to adapt when we have to deal with the time suck that is not just selling the NFA item but managing the transfer through a government website that is ostensibly built by the lowest bidder? Only time will tell.

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53 Responses to The Truth about Electronic NFA Forms

  1. Thank you for taking the time to document this. Just like Emily Miller in DC, documenting the C.F. that this is, perhaps we can make some head way in working towards doing away with the entire thing altogether!

    • Yes, Thanks. And I second the doing away with it part. Hell, just removing Suppressors and SBR’s from the NFA would eliminate the backlog all but entirely, without ending the world. And they could do the rest on paper as per usual.

      • Without a more freedom-friendly Congress, that won’t happen. The benefit of keeping these things on there is control, power and money. Tax money, the power and control to say ‘no’ and determine the length of the process, while discouraging people from acquiring said items due to the lengthy process.

        • Agreed. Silencers aren’t firearms, and don’t make firearms more dangerous. SBRs are just firearms that are arbitrarily smaller than other firearms. Its all about control and money. Maybe after 2014? Get out there and vote!

  2. Someone will probably build another website or program soon that interfaces with the ATF website if this continues to be an issue.

    But hopefully it’s just a few startup bugs.

  3. Your example of the love hate relationship with big government also proves the self perpetuating nature of bureaucracy. Pass a rule, regulation, law, then you have to provide the people to deal with it.

    • Got to be more creative. Pass a rule or law that requires fewer or no government anything. No NFA or background checks on short barrels or suppressors. NFA controlled anything is just a means as a sentence enhancer. That phrase just burns me up.

    • “After many years in the gun business I have learned that most gun owners hate big government until they find out how long they have to wait until they can take home that silencer for which they paid the full $1,000 sticker price. Then government isn’t big enough for their liking.”

      Thanks for the write up on the process but I have to say, I don’t really like this part of your post- it seems like a mischaracterization to me

      Adding more processors would hardly turn it into “Big Government”. Is there a good reason it takes 9 months for NFA?

      • You said: Is there a good reason it takes 9 months for NFA?

        Yes. There’s 34,000 people in front of you in line. Your question is tantamount to is there a good reason why it takes 3 hours to checkout at Best Buy on Black Friday?

      • i was thinking along the same lines, if they are going to make exercising our rights difficult the very least they should put the resources to do it in a timely manner. its already making big gov bigger to require nfa’s, adding more people isnt really making it bigger

  4. Here’s my solution:
    All CC holders get instant purchase and NFA item approvals.

    No reason not to.

    A citizen possessing constitutional rights is just that. The same citizen that has done a state and Fed DOJ BGC is no different than an approval for an NFA item.

    There, no more wair times, no need for bigger, more intrusive, Governement.

  5. I think when people say that they don’t like big government, they generally are not referring to the number of employees doing clerical work, they are referring to the requirement for that clerical work.

  6. I still hate big government. Making it bigger won’t make the process faster, as there are 100’s of examples in all departments to the opposite.

    Government creates the red tape, and then you want believe them when they say we need to be bigger so we can cut through it faster?

    If you think the problems they create are bad, wait until you see their solutions.

    • Harry Browne (a libertarian leader) used to say:
      Government is like a doctor who breaks your leg, hands you a pair of crutches, and says, “Thanks to me, you can walk again.”

  7. Since this is a govt project we’re talking about, I very much doubt it was done by the lowest bidder. Cost overruns I am sure abound. That being said, it sounds like a debacle of a site. I really hope they at least sanitize their inputs so some guy with the “FC’);DROP TABLE Registrations; Trust” doesn’t hose the entire thing. (see:http://xkcd.com/327/)

      • These are the lowest of *government* bids, my friend. Ever go to an auto shop and have the guys ask you if you’re paying out of pocket vs. billing insurance? It’s kinda like that.

  8. I have learned that most gun owners hate big government until they find out how long they have to wait until they can take home that silencer for which they paid the full $1,000 sticker price. Then government isn’t big enough for their liking.
    Um, I think I speak for the majority here, when I say our anti-government solution is to repeal the NFA, GCA, etc., so we can take our hearing protection devices home immediately; not to hire more paper pushers, so we can take them home after “only” a month or two.

  9. Unless you’re in the entertainment industry, real work gets done on Windows on the desktop, and Windows or Unix/Linux on the backend. While there’s no excuse for a poorly coded, non-standards compliant website, the ATF’s website is not the exception, it’s the rule. Try dealing with insurance claims, DMV websites, or other business oriented websites and you’ll run into the same thing.

    Unfortunately this is what you sign up for when you purchase a Mac. The greatest compatibility still exists with the Windows platform, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future. Even those of us under 35 understand that… And for those who “need” a mac to do their work, most will install Parallels to allow them to use Windows, so they can actually do work.

    The Mac is the SCAR of the AR world. Expensive, but highly functional when working with FN’s own equipment. Does that mean that a Colt/Daniel Defense/S&W/etc AR build sucks? No, it’s still a functional weapon. Unfortunately people build their own and screw it up, or purchase the cheapest AR they can find, and have problems. Compare a $1500 enterprise (not some ridiculous gaming build) laptop to a $1500 macbook pro and you’ll find they’re amazingly similar… but people complain about their $400 black friday special not working like the $1500 Macbook Pro and blame Windows. Lunacy…

    • But even on windows, most users don’t use IE; I believe it’s now the second most popular browser in the US. During my stint at the Evil Empire, most of my coworkers used Chrome, and had iPhones or Android phones (even after SteveB announced the free Windows Phone 7 Phone).
      In the modern world, not making an HTML 5, platform agnostic website is inexcusable.
      iOS and Android devices are outselling those beige windows boxes, which means this site won’t work with the majority of computing devices sold today.

      • In most businesses you have to have a copy of IE on your machine, because certain goverment and proffessional organization sites won’t work right without it.

        • You can’t actually remove IE from Windows, so it’s always available. Use it on those few sites that require it, and use Firefox or Chrome for everything else.

      • Apple wouldn’t be selling 500000 of their overpriced toys/year if not for the incestuous relationship they have created with the government “education” industry. My highschooler was just issued his $1000 Apple laptop, 12″ screen, 250gb HD. What a JOKE. But the taxpayer is spending thousands (millions nationwide) for the silly little toys. But every child needs a computer. What a pathetic idiotic laughable POS and concept.

        Show some stats for the IE vs giggle browser claim. Personnally Google is bigger suck that even Apple.

    • That may be the way it was even a few years ago; but I am a software developer for a fortune 50 company and we now make sure our stuff works for all major platforms (even our internal sites). Our company is even considering making FireFox it’s preferred/default browser for all internal machines.

      It is not acceptable in this day and age (with all of the tools out there for developers) not to code for multiple platfors, and it is not that difficult either.

      • Actually, it’s perfectly acceptable for compliance, administrative, security, etc reasons. The versioning would be singular and exclusive. Whether you choose to use the service under the platform it was designed for is your preference. But, then it’s your problem if the service does not perform as promised.

        Some state it is not hard from platform to platform to administer this. This is wrong on so many levels especially at the furious rate of change with the internet. If you believe it is a simple task in any industry to homogenize expectations and performance of any product among different platforms be it computers, browsers, bullets, 1911’s or cake batter, I would invite you to shut your filthy cake hole.

        Done with that rant!

      • As I said in my post, there’s no excuse for not building a standard compliant website that can work in any browser, in any OS, but that’s still not how many sites operate. And it largely seems to depend on who accesses the site. If consumers access it, then it’s probably coded to allow for a wide variety of platforms. If it’s coded for use by businesses, then they’re more likely to be lazy and simply code for IE.

        This is not every website, but it’s enough that using a Mac simply isn’t a good fit for many industries whether it be legal, medical, property mangement, etc.

  10. So, all the hassle and delay using the e-app … bug or feature? I’m also wondering if it would run better if it had less spyware in it. (I assume. I mean, why waste the opportunity?)

    Not to go all tinfoil hat here but given various recent developments, I’m beginning to think the alien overlord conspiracy folks didn’t go far enough. What else are they recording? Or can they record? For giggles try this: https://panopticlick.eff.org/ That ain’t half the stuff your browser will tell a server if asked. What, you thought these things mostly got data from the servers? Silly earthlings.

    It gets worse. A browser with JS enabled is basically a malware injection device. Any Micro$oft product should be suspected of sharing data and run time authorities with any other Micro$oft product. Like IE & the “security” features in the OS. Running IE without scripting at least managed is kind of like mainlining the T-Virus. Given Micro$oft’s recently revealed deep collaboration with NSA, and the ATF’s incompetence and overreach, doubtless it’s worse than even this.

    FWIW, I won’t run a browser that doesn’t support something like NoScript, so I can at least see how many grope-y data frat boys are pawing my internet session. Back in the day I’d also run ZoneAlarm with the alerts turned up to 11 if I was going somewhere even a little sketchy. (Social networking sites. Online media. Gaming & gaming related sites.) I’ve since ditched Windows (except for a sandbox so I can run a couple games, played stand-alone), so I’m not up on the current security products.

    At any rate, if it flies over the wires the NSA has grabbed, parsed, collated and recorded it by now, somewhere in the e-cluster they have on you. (It’s not “e-mail” so restrictions on e-mail don’t apply.) I figure only a matter of time before they require e-filing this stuff. Can’t pick it out of the air to build the database of evil guns and evil gun types if it the data never goes there, ya see.

  11. Further evidence that the whole system is FUBAR. Why do we so willingly jump through the hoops, pay the fees and yell out “thank you sir, may I have another” for the priviledge of a quieter controlled explosion at the range? Too bad the founders didn’t write “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms and cool accessories for those arms…”.

    I, for one, have been reluctant to go through the process and expense mainly because I don’t want my name on any more government lists identifying me as a person of the gun than I already am on now. I would love to pursue my hobby in a quieter manner but I’m not going to do this. A was a newbie when I bought my first firearm. If I knew then what I know now, I might have limited all my purchases to private party sales. Of course then there would be the dilemna of a concealed carry permit. Egads! The only way to stay off gubermint lists is to live like a hermit in the woods somewhere and I’m too old for that krap…
    End of rant.

  12. The assertion you make right off the bat is plain wrong. The problem isn’t that government isn’t big enough, it’s that the government shouldn’t get involved in any way during the purchase of a firearm or a hearing safety device for a firearm. The wait times continually increasing for NFA approvals just further supports the correct notion that the government screws up everything it touches, and is incapable of doing otherwise.

  13. I have learned that most gun owners hate big government until they find out how long they have to wait…. Then government isn’t big enough for their liking.

    Um. No. Opposite of that. The gov’t shouldn’t be involved in regulating these items in this manner in the first place. It’s already too big. That ship has sailed. Horse out of the barn. Etc… Since we do have the NFA, though, wanting applications to get processed faster does NOT mean wanting more or bigger government. It’s about efficiency. Big is slow and lazy and wasteful and inefficient. Improvements can be made without making it any bigger or even while making it smaller. I disagree with your statement entirely and I think the little jab is off target.

  14. Can this even improve the processing time? An electronic submission just means they get a digital copy, rather than getting it in the mail. From what I gather, most of the delay is waiting for a reviewer to get around to that application. Then the reviewer has to do the review process, which is pretty quick. Now if they could get the computer to automate the review and update the NFA database (which is probably a room full of filing cabinets, knowing the feds), that would be helpful.

  15. BTW I just got the tax stamp back for my Liberty Mystic suppressor. It came in on Monday (August 12th). The application was mailed to the ATF on November 2nd. Almost exactly 9 months.

  16. FWIW, the JavaScript and IE-optimized factors tell me (a retired computer programmer for a governmental agency) that what someone did was hire some lower-payed MicroSoft-certified kid/group-of-kids with little to no experience, gave him/them some rough specs, added some feature-creep, and expected something useful to pop out.

    Unfortunately, this type of managerial mistake is not confined to governmental agencies (for details, see your local Dilbert comic strip – which is too close to real life to be funny to me). And with the shifting landscape of electronic devices and modes of interacting it is hard to avoid and keep the bottom line down.

    I do think that taking a lot of the items off of the NFA list would be a good, economical alternative.

  17. I had hopes for this to at least speed up Form 3’s. why do these now take months when going from license to license? No background check needed, just confirm licenses and SOT current.

  18. Your argument is specious about We the People wanting bigger Gov. What we want is efficient government and in reality, we wish that the NFA didn’t even exist.

  19. How do you register to submit your forms electronically? I have tried and have had issues. Also can you do it for all form’s or just form four’s? I would love to do it electronically if only I could figure it out!! If someone can point me in the right direction I would love that! Also is it compatible with the AIMI System?
    Thanks!

    • You can’t do any of it right now. The eForm system is gone dark due to the government shutdown, along with most of the rest of the ATF.

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