Rick Vasquez, former Assistant Chief and Acting Chief of the ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch and current industry and government consultant on the National Firearms Act and other ATF and firearms classification matters, penned the following open letter. Directed at FFLs, SOTs, and consumers like you and me, it provides a brief glimpse inside recent changes made to the ATF’s NFA Branch and hits on a few things the industry can do to help speed up the approval process. Including, actually, Silencer Shop’s new barcode system.

The National Firearms Act Branch

The National Firearms Act (NFA) Branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is located in Martinsburg WV.  This branch has the monumental task of transferring and maintaining a registration database of all firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act.

This NFA branch has had a few makeovers over the years, but in April 2017 the branch saw a complete overhaul.    The NFA branch became a division comprised of two branches.  These two branches are comprised as follows:

The Industry Processing Branch (NFA IPB) is supervised and guided by IPB Branch Chief, Amy L. Stely.  Amy is responsible for the daily operations of industry forms, processing at all levels, and working with ATF field personnel and the public to provide the best experience for the supply chain. This includes an effort to continually leverage technology enhancements and refine current operations.

The Government Support Branch (NFA GSB) – led by GSB Branch Chief, David Howell, oversees the daily processing of SOT applications, ATF Form 10 processing, 479.33 exemptions processing, and handling of industry expedite requests for Gov’t and LE.  NFA GSB also oversees complex issues requiring policy evaluation or re-evaluation with FEID & FIPB and addressing Industry general requests such as 479.26 alternate procedure requests that are not policy related. Policy related requests are handled by FIPB. GSB directly supports Federal, state, and local entities with acquisitions and overall LE support.

Both branches of NFA are supervised by Alphonso Hughes, the newly selected Division Chief.  I would say this is an overwhelming task except for the superb talent and the professionalism of the personnel under Alphonso.  Though he has challenges, he has a workforce that supports him.

There are many in the industry that do not know the quantity of work that is completed by a few personnel.  There are also many complaints about the time it takes to receive completed SOT applications.  The following graphs show a short overview of the work being processed.

Fiscal Year Firearms Processed
2016 2,538,397
2015 1,426,211
2014 1,383,677
2013 1,152,163
2012 1,112,041
2011 992,975

As you can see, each year brings a higher number of forms being submitted and, therefore, an increase in the time it takes to receive an approved application back. If you are not aware, each government agency has a ceiling on personnel it can hire.  There is also a budget that is for all operations of an agency.  ATF fought on behalf of the industry and public to raise the ceiling of personnel in the NFA branch and received additional personnel in an attempt to keep up with the increase of applications. The NFA must also establish priorities in how it supports the public and the field.  While it is their responsibility to complete all applications submitted, along with all of the law enforcement work, with limited manpower and resources and marked increases on submissions, the time to completion has increased.   ATF has a small budget, and there will never be unlimited dollars to hire unlimited personnel to provide one day service.

You can assist with this timeline.  First of all, complete your package correctly.  There are discrepancies with approximately 50% of the forms submitted.  Each of these discrepancies take time to respond to in order to get the corrections fixed. Prior to submitting your transfer application, have a second set of eyes review it for you.  Create a checklist that you sign off on ensuring the SOT packages are complete.  Once submitted, DON’T call in every few days to check on the status.  Each time you call, it monopolizes the time of an analyst trying to get the forms completed.   Additionally, all of the Congressional correspondence being submitted on your behalf to the ATF asking for a status, takes a person away from their work to respond to the congressional correspondence.

There are always things that an agency can do to improve its work processes.  The NFA branch finally has the supervisors and personnel in place that will implement new and more efficient processes.  A new barcode system is being implemented that will expedite the process of entering your submission into the work database.  This alone will shave off weeks from the time it takes to enter each submission into the database.

I had the opportunity to meet with the Division chief recently for a cordial conversation.

Alphonso Hughes is a superstar and his supervisors are of the same caliber. We often hear of the 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. government employee, and I can confidently tell you that the supervisors of the NFA do not adhere to this.  Alfonso, Amy Stely and David Howell are professionals that are earning their salary.  I can attest that over a holiday weekend I sent in an email, on behalf of a customer with a government contract, not thinking I would get a response until the next work week.  Amy responded over the weekend and assigned the task to one of her supervisors.  Although it was our client’s mistake, it was resolved over a holiday.  Of course, this was for a government contract with a high priority, but it indicates she was working during the holiday weekend.

I believe that you must compliment instead of continually criticizing.  The NFA branch provides a service of monumental proportions.  If you looked at a percentage of mess-ups to proper completions, they would have an extremely good average. However, through communication with Alphonso Hughes, their goal is to have 100% perfect completion.  This is going to take time.  If you have a good experience with a person in the NFA, please call out these occurrences on your blogs and emails.

Rick Vasquez

Former Assistant Chief and Acting Chief of the Firearms Technology Branch
Consultant on the NFA, FTIB Functions, and ATF matters to the firearms community.

94 Responses to A Note From Rick Vasquez, NFA Expert Consultant and Former FTB Acting Chief

      • No kidding. Go piss up a rope Rick. You were a part of the problem from the inside now you are making money off the problem from the outside. With a big fat taxpayer funded pension to boot. Shut it all down.

        • “I can attest that over a holiday weekend I sent in an email, on behalf of a customer with a government contract, not thinking I would get a response until the next work week. Amy responded over the weekend and assigned the task to one of her supervisors. Although it was our client’s mistake, it was resolved over a holiday. Of course, this was for a government contract with a high priority, but it indicates she was working during the holiday weekend.”

          1. Can we get their direct emails?
          2. If we do, can we expect the same level of service?

          I’m guessing the answer to both of these questions is no…..so shove it where the sun don’t shine because if this doesn’t apply to the rest of us, why should anything else that you say?

        • They dictated registration, background check and approvals. They did not dictate a process that takes a year or more, or all the details that are executed today. ATF could do this over the phone in less than an hour. They’ve chosen this process, then send out lackeys like Rick here to tell us how great they are and that we should be on our knees thanking them for being so wonderful.

          lmao.

    • Could not agree more!

      Wonderful letter, Mr. Vasquez. But I just can’t quite manage to feel sympathy for your bunch of bureaucrats inefficiently enforcing unconstitutional laws, and bitching about citizens calling to ask when they might hope to practice the rights promised. Suck it up.

  1. Uuuuhhhhmmmm, like, you know, there would be zero delay in processing submitted forms if this unconstitutional federal agency were dissolved. I do not want to ever compliment ATF to my congressional representative; I do not want to participate in prolonging the ATF behemoth.

    • Yeah it seems like we are expected to be grateful for what they do. With all due respect I’m not. If anyone can tell me how the background check performed by the Nfa branch differs from a 4473 I’d love to know. My state has an illegal pistol registry for all sales. If they can get this done in a couple minutes what’s the nfa branches excuse. Not saying I agree with either unconstitutional government program but for now they are what they are.

      • ” If anyone can tell me how the background check performed by the Nfa branch differs from a 4473 I’d love to know. ”

        An ATF background check is more thorough. A badged ATF agent told me so, once. Must be true; it’s even on the internet.

  2. We really need to help out those poor, over-worked public servants. I think the best thing to do would be to lighten their load.

    Support the SHARE Act.

    • The funny thing is that feds don’t think like that. The feds assume their unconstitutional bs is mandatory and we just need to learn to relax and wait. Just like the irs whining about how many man hours x or y takes. Cool story mr fed, now you and yours go jump off a bridge on(or in?) mass and let us get back to not wishing you already had jumped.

  3. I have zero sympathy for an organization that complains about their workload, and turns around to make sure that workload stays the same, or increases based on some opinions of a few. They cry about having too many forms, but do nothing to change the process, the laws regarding the forms, or anything else. If you want my support, support me, and stop being a bunch of whiners.

  4. All these things with barcodes and shit is just a ploy to make dismantling the NFA less appetizing. Not happening.

    • And the really sad part is private companies like SilencerCo, while thinking they are helping everyone out by “making the process easier” are actually aiding and abetting.

      The correct moral stand is to either not produce the contraband items or produce them and completely nullify the bad law, statute, regulation, opinion, etc.

      But, but, but,but…no…methinks thou dost protest too much!

      • SilencerCo off course is not doing us any favors. If suppressors were no longer regulated and being sold everywhere, SilencerCo would go belly up. They are in survival mode.

  5. If the left had their way everything from BB guns on up would go through this agency and the deliberate registration process. Imagine that scenario.

    • BB guns?

      The bar is a lot lower than that. Blowguns are illegal in several areas.

      If the Leftists had their way, *anything* accelerated down a barrel by whatever means devised used would be controlled.

      Up to and including my personal childhood school favorite, spitballs fired by a lunchroom milk straw…

  6. wait!

    I can solve the problem and my solution will work forever!

    Get rid of the NFA!

    See? easy peasy. Once it’s gone, we will no longer the BATFE and really big fires anymore. DOUBLE WIN!

    • Oh, the agency would still be around. Fedzilla would simply shorten their charter to alcohol and tobacco and their new acronym would be BAT.

      As long as federal elections are close to 50% / 50%, neither political party wants to dissolve a federal agency AND LOSE THE VOTES OF THE FORMER FEDERAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES WHO THEY SENT TO THE UNEMPLOYMENT LINE.

      • I worked for three federal departments. Repubs are virtually nowhere to be found. The GOP has nothing to fear by antagonizing feds.

  7. “You can assist with this timeline. First of all, complete your package correctly. There are discrepancies with approximately 50% of the forms submitted. Each of these discrepancies take time to respond to in order to get the corrections fixed. ”

    I smell a business opportunity here –

    A company that has one job only, a consulting firm that makes sure you paperwork is proper *before* it is sent in.

    Considering the monetary value of some NFA toys, folks might be willing to pay a fee to make sure it gets to them in the shortest possible time…

    • Geoff PR,

      Not to worry: our beloved Firearms Concierge already handles customers’ ATF paperwork for a mere pittance of several hundred dollars — after his customers beg and plead of course and if he/she is feeling particularly charitable that day.

      • Worse, think of all the well-heeled MFs out there that have a bunch of transferable pre-1986 full-auto firearms. That is an “investment” to them and they will beat hell to keep you from being able to circumnavigate the NFA or to have the rolls opened up to post 1986 weapons.

  8. Mr. Vasquez,

    I could empathize with ATF employee workload if they actually added significant value to our lives. As it turns out, not only do they do NOT add any value to our lives, in fact they actually detract from our lives.

  9. The NFA branch provides a service…

    I think that is the fundamental disconnect between bureaucrats and normal people. I can’t imagine how anyone would consider that a service.

  10. I have to give ATF-NFA Branch the benefit of the doubt. It’s perfectly clear to me that whatever complaints we have about: the existence of the ATF or NFA; cost of stamps; registration; wait times lies at the feet of Congress, not the employees with respect to the ordinary processing prescribed by law. (In no way do I excuse Fast & Furious or abuses of peaceable gun owners abused by the ATF.)

    I’ve had a few occasions to call NFA Branch and was always treated cordially (if a bit hurriedly). So far as I can tell, the excessive delays on one form were entirely due to my errors in filling out the form. I have the impression that delays on another form might have been due to an employee who is no longer employed there.

    Yes, let’s work on criticizing the NFA where that criticism is due to acute faults (silencers being the outstanding example). Let’s criticize the ATF for its most egregious violations of law and human rights. While doing so, we should also pause to give credit where its due. In so doing, we only buttress the legitimacy of our complaints – because we are taking the time to be fair.

    It’s my understanding that most FFLs have no trouble with their routine encounters with the ATF. It’s one thing to complain that something the ATF does is a waste of public resources; it’s another thing to complain about the employee doing his job in a manner deemed gracious and reasonable by the subject of his effort. It’s counter-productive to bash such an employee just because we don’t like his employer or the law that established this Bureau.

    • Let’s criticize the ATF for its most egregious violations of law and human rights.”

      Your statement implies that we should not criticize the ATF for “lesser” violations of laws and human rights. I hope you can see the folly in such a position.

      Perhaps even more importantly, we should criticize almost everything that the ATF does with respect to firearms because almost everything that the ATF does with respect to firearms violates the United States Constitution, Second Amendment. Reminder: the United States Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment, is the Supreme Law of the Land. Every law that Congress ever passed which infringes on our right to keep and bear arms is null and void. As such, almost every action that ATF employees carry out with respect to firearms violate our rights under color of law. And since ATF employees work together to violate our rights under color of law, they are also guilty of felony conspiracy.

      In case that is not absolutely crystal clear, allow me: forcing me to pay a $200 tax and wait for several months to purchase a rifle with a 15.9 inch barrel infringes on my right to keep and bear arms. It is just as heinous and just as serious an infringement as making me pay a $200 tax and wait for several months to have a dentist pull a bad tooth.

    • In other words, just relax and be patient while being raped…. Don’t actually have to ENJOY it, but just remember he’s doing the best he can under the circumstances.

      Such rot.

  11. Only Government would fail to increase the speed at which it processes forms at $200 a pop.

    Basically, the guy is saying, Hey, we work inside this shithole with shitty policies and shitty antiquated processes with antiquated technology. But we’re doing our best.

  12. I suggest the BATFERBF shift some resources out of their tricking-mentally-challenged-kids-into-federal-charges program to beef up their NFA processing division.

    • Maybe they can transfer some FBI guys, who brainwash and arm vegetables for mass shootings and bombings, to support the cause at the ATF as well.

  13. So, UPS can actually provide a service, and maintain a website that tells me EXACTLY WHERE AN ENVELOPE I SENT FROM DETROIT IS AND WHEN IT WILL GET WHERE ITS GOING…

    But I shouldn’t call and ask the ATF approximately about what month they might get back to me to point out the errors on the form they made too stinking complicated?

    Ok.

    • and all for significantly less than $200.00/pop. Hmmm…private enterprise more efficient that government agency – who would’ve ever guessed?

  14. “The NFA branch provides a service of monumental proportions.”

    If ramming it up the public’s ass is a service, then I guess that Rick is right. The ATF is servicing the shit out of America.

    But you have to admit that they’ve really upped their game since Ruby Ridge. Kudos.

  15. Ok this is the Information Age. The barcode system is an improvement BUT why even have humans involved in processing information ? Why not automate the whole thing. Silencerco will donte the code and even the computers I’m sure. The process should be able to be competed in like 30 seconds.

    Really all you need is to generate a tax stamp , seems a form letter toocalmlaw enforcement and run a nics check.

    • Considering that bar codes have been around since the 70s, way to catch up to grocery stores indeed. The problem becomes the idea that a lot of gun shops refuse to do computerized anything due to the threat of intrusion by the government overlords. Ares Armor is a great example of this, the ATF was told by the courts to stand down and they went in and took the computers anyways. Not to say they wouldn’t have taken paper books but still.

  16. ” I can attest that over a holiday weekend I sent in an email, on behalf of a customer with a government contract, not thinking I would get a response until the next work week. Amy responded over the weekend and assigned the task to one of her supervisors. ”

    Oh how nice. Gets to email people and get privileged accesses and processes not available to the rest of us and asks that we be so thankful for having to wait a year to process some forms. But we shouldn’t even call to ask. What?

    Rick, when you have to wait a year to get tags for the plates on your car and you are thankful for it, then I will be too.

    • This is why government should not be involved in any way, shape or form with anything commerce related.

      Businesses in a free market have to compete. That means create a better product or service at a better price and with better customer service than your competitors.

      But the government and their crony corporate friends prefer monopolies. Then the prices can be raised, the quality lowered and the customer service can be non-existent. Nothing you can do because you have no alternatives.

      And yet, as a libertarian, whenever I bring these types of things up I get laughed at and called various names…

      Well, all I can say is we have the government we deserve and it’s not like there aren’t alternatives…

  17. Go ahead and call all you want about the status of your forms
    The person on the phone is at a call center hired by ATF
    They have access to the computer and can tell you the pending status of your form. That is all the info they have
    They do not make the examiners answer the phone to tell the public the form is in pending

    • “It seems that most TTAG readers would push an “easy” button that killed ATF agents.”

      I think most would like an “Easy” button that killed all ATF payroll positions (and left the employees with a criminal record).

      I was once, twice, three times a fed, and I ruled you. Long detox program required, but near-successful.

  18. The ATF could fix the delay tomorrow, because the law doesn’t specify the process. Change the process to a combo of the NICS and duck stamp processes. You go into a gunshop, pick out your NFA item, pay your $200 tax, go through the NICS check, pay for your new toy, and walk out the door with it.

    They don’t do it because it isn’t their job to process forms in a timely manner.

    Screw giving them kudos until they do.

    • Only if you don’t do it as an individual. Under the statute an individual is required submit fingerprints and, I think, a photo. Trusts and what not are not required to do so under the statute. Other than that, you are right on the money.

      • That could be fixed to. People could pre-register, send in prints and photos to be ‘On File’ and do subsequent transactions OTC. But ATF isn’t interested in doing that. They are an ANTI-VICE squad, by design. They don’t have an bona fide interest in making this expedient – quite the opposite.

  19. “Each time you call, it monopolizes the time of an analyst trying to get the forms completed.”

    This is absolutely not the case. The hired hands who answer the phones and answer questions on status are not the same as the examiners (not analysts) who complete the actual paperwork. The rest of the article is now suspect…

    • You mean to tell me that you read the author’s credentials at the beginning, yet the entire article wasn’t suspect right from the start? Hmmm….

  20. If they want more accuracy on the forms they can do one of two things:
    Accept forms with descrpencies that don’t match what is already in the db.
    Provide a standard prefilled form where all you fill in is the unique details like caliber, sn, and length.

    When I did my f1 I had 5 options to choose from for my model.

    Or as others have suggested, get rid of the system.

    • Or even better… allow you to enter your information into their database via a simple online form. Whenever you want to make a new purchase you enter that data for the individual item in another standardized online form (which prompts you when there is potentially incorrect data). That would put you in the queue, and all you would have to do is send in your check and photos (if it’s outside say a 2 year window from your last photo). Fingerprints should already be in the database, so no need for new ones every time. They receive and process your check, then print and mail your stamp the same day your funds clear. The longest part of that entire process should be on the customer’s end in the time it takes them to write, take photos and mail the check.

      God forbid they start to take credit cards to REALLY speed up the process.

  21. The name of the agency should be changed. It seems they are now the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, Really Big Fires, and Major Storms. BATFERBFMS

  22. I understand that sending a pizza decreases forms to just one day. It is in a FOIA document as fact. Can I send in 3 forms and 3 pizzas and get timely service. Seems like another organization that is corrupt just instead of money they take pizzas. Care to respond ?

  23. ATF: In just 6 years, we’ve more than doubled our revenue from your NFA tax dollars alone, yet our wait times are longer and the process is just as cumbersome. Please have some patience and understanding with us while we enforce unconstitutional laws.

  24. http://replygif.net/i/181.gif

    Transcript of proceedings, Rick Vasquez in US v. Forrester:

    Q: But your telling us that possessing that receiver with the magic number 2 stamped on it rather than a number 1, that turns that receiver into a machinegun under your agency’s definition?

    Rick Vasquez: That is correct, sir.

  25. Just thought I’d leave this here (from NSSF’s Federal Bill Tracker):
    “(Introduced 01/12/2017)

    H.R.509 – To abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, transfer its functions relating to the Federal firearms, explosives, and arson laws, violent crime, and domestic terrorism to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and transfer its functions relating to the Federal alcohol and tobacco smuggling laws to the Drug Enforcement Administration, and for other purposes.
    Sponsor: Rep. Sensenbrenner, F. James, Jr. [R-WI-5]”

    • Moving deck chairs, and changing letterhead. An old, and effective, technique of demonstrating how money is saved by eliminating a federal agency.

      (Actually been there, done that, shared the reward money)

      • But at least the new people working the gun laws wouldn’t be people who wanted to work for the ATF. Being at the FBI is romanticized by Hollywood.

        • “But at least the new people working the gun laws wouldn’t be people who wanted to work for the ATF.”

          Ah, but therein lies the trick, and all the fun; no one is dismissed. Only the “accounting” shows X number of people cut from the dissolved agency. In reality, all the employees of the dissolved agency get new caps and jerseys, life goes on. Everyone involved gets accolades for streamlining and saving money. Nothing actually happens, but rewards are issued all around.

          When I was a fed, this sort of thing was considered just gool ol’ fun; putting one over on the rubes.

        • “I meant when the others retired or died. It would take forever.”

          Maybe. There were many I knew who displayed all the outward signs of being dead.

  26. What kind of smarmy self righteous bureaucrat does one have to be, to use an example of how he received special treatment due to his status as an example of how well the system works? Yes, the law that the NFA Branch is enforcing lays at Congress’ feet, however, who killed E-Forms? Congress? No. 41F. And it was a horrible, *horrible* web implementation. Why this entire process is not easily served by a web submitted form that *prevented* the supposed 50% mistake rate (rather than encouraging them like E-Form v1) in 2017 is nonsensical.

    • “What kind of smarmy self righteous bureaucrat does one have to be, to use an example of how he received special treatment due to his status as an example of how well the system works?”

      Actually, it is a trait ingrained from day one as a fed employee, albeit one that sometimes must wait until adequate promotion allows one to demonstrate one’s skill level at that.

  27. Write a letter about Fast and Furious and the many Mexicans murdered by the operation.

    Oh, and write a few letters to Brian Terry’s family about how sorry you are to be associated with some of the scum in the ATF.

    Also, write some letters to the mentally challenged kids who are in jail from your f$&ked operation in Milwaukee, the kid had an IQ of 50, BUT WAIT, that’s what your IQ is.

    Go f:;k yourself, idiot.

  28. Cry me a river.
    You’re doing your master’s bidding by making it difficult to purchase these quite legal items to keep the serfs in subjugation. You persist in keeping a 1930’s paper system when the world has moved on to automation. Totally inexcusable in 2017. Driver’s license, vehicle registration, and EBT cards can be done in minutes. A police officer can run your ID in seconds at a traffic stop. YET!! It takes you a full year to process a 1930’s form. With a lick&stick stamp that well could have come from the 1790’s.
    I’d been fired long ago from my job if I did it as poorly as the ATF does.

  29. It’s ridiculous that they can’t automate this. Time to outsource to a private company with some motivation to actually improve the process.

  30. You, guys, work way too hard. I’m all for lightening your load by repealing the NFA. Feel free to pass the message to congress critters next time they consult for your invaluable opinion. The people and the ATF for hearing safety!

  31. I’m not going to criticize.

    Yes, we know the NFA application process is taking a while. The BATFE should get a pat on the back for working with SilencerShop to implement the barcode system, it is making things easier for everyone, and BATFE didn’t have to agree to do any of it. I’m sure the folks working at BATFE are doing their level best to get as much done as possible, and for that, they should be commended.

    Ultimately, whether we like it or not, Congress are the ones that make the laws. If we don’t like the laws, we should tell them so. There’s no need for us to be adversaries here. There are things that can be done to speed the process up and make the BATFE’s job easier. I have written my congressman expressing support for any idea that speeds the process and reduces paperwork. If BATFE’s leaders could express similar sentiments to congress, this could only help.

    If we could reduce the paperwork to a manageable level then consumers and industry professionals wouldn’t have to wait as long, and BATFE could dedicate more resources to catching criminals, ie, trafficking in weapons into our country by drug gangs and terrorists.

    In the meantime, I appreciate the BATFE’s willingness to work with the industry to streamline things as much as possible within the current legal framework.

    Write your congressmen and, Rick, express to Congress that a lot of what you are required to do isn’t necessary and creates needless work for your people when their talents could be spent on more important pursuits.

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