Buying NFA Items? Know Your Dealer

suppressor silencer

Jeremy S for TTAG

Fedex had just dropped off a bunch of stuff for transfer and to go into the book. As I was waiting for customers to pick up their stuff, a local attorney walked in my door asking for some help.

I’ve never been arrested and the last time I was in court was a small claims matter with a landlord not giving me a security deposit back, but I was happy to listen. What I discovered was a learning experience that everyone should think about.

The attorney, Beth, is a semi-regular customer of mine. She handles civil matters like personal injury and she got a referral from her old firm about a firearm issue. With her husband, she loves shooting with suppressors out on her farm. I’ve sold her plenty of firearm for anniversary and Christmas gifts. She’s not quite Annie Oakley but more than familiar enough with firearms and how most of this stuff works.

Her client had a problem with a gun, but it wasn’t a mechanical problem. It was a legal one. The client had purchased a gun and a silencer from a dealer about an hour away from me. The client got an ATF approval on his Form 4 about four months ago.

dead air silencer suppressor

Courtesy Dead Air Silencers

The problem is the dealer had vanished into thin air. Nobody knew where he went, and nobody knew where the silencer went. The store is empty and vacant and no one has any idea what happened.

Before you all state the obvious and tell the client to call the ATF…he tried that. The ATF’s response was that this is a civil matter and that he should try (and I wish I was making this up) hiring a lawyer and suing the dealer.

I looked over some business cards and miscellaneous paperwork Beth had. In addition to the dealer not having a working phone, a place of business or even paying the state their annual fees to keep his corporation active – the client had filed a complaint with the better business bureau and gotten nowhere.

His last recourse was to hire an attorney. But she wasn’t sure what to tell him.

Not being from that area, I didn’t know the dealer personally or anything about the situation so I called the local ATF office and asked around to see if anyone knew anything and left the speakerphone on so Beth could hear the conversation. We found out that despite vanishing into thin air and leaving behind a long list of questions – the ATF was under the impression that he was still in the same space and was running his business as normal.

Some time on Google and a few firearm forums dug up threads that basically echoed the “Where did this guy go?” problem that Beth’s client was having.

All of this doesn’t add up to anything very good. I grabbed a legal pad.

Known:

The merchandise and the dealer are somewhere, but not here.
ATF approved a Form 4 and there’s no telling where that item is or where the custodian of said item is.
ATF has suggested to the client that he sue the dealer.
The dealer’s phone is disconnected, the store is empty and there’s no forwarding address, The business’s Facebook page is blank and people all on the firearm forums are all asking the same questions with no answers.

Unknown:

We’re gonna need another legal pad.

Nothing here suggests to me that there’s a clear course of action or a simple solution. The regulation book that we’re given as licensees doesn’t have a section on this, nor does a law school education help.

I asked Beth how much her client had spent with the dealer. She didn’t know. For the sake of analysis I said let’s just say he spent $2,000 on a gun and silencer with the dealer that has now vanished.

Functionally, this case is the textbook scenario of paying a roofer $2,000 to fix your roof – you give him $2,000 and then he never comes back. None of those cases end well, smoothly or easily. And that’s even when the roofing contractor is licensed and bonded.

I asked Beth what she charges to sue someone, flat rate or hourly. She said her firm bills her out at $450 an hour in litigation and that filing a lawsuit on something like this would cost easily cost $5,000-8,000 without any guarantee of success. And that’s assuming she’s able to find the dealer and serve him with a summons properly.

Even if her client pays to have the dealer sued, or if the client takes him to court in small claims by himself, that still requires locating him, which could cost some money by hiring a private investigator. Then any court case which could take months to resolve.

There just wasn’t much sense in this case. Or actual dollars and cents for that matter.

With the state having declared his corporation in administrative dissolution, it’s unclear to me as a gun dealer what they are legally allowed to do with any ATF license that may be hanging on the wall.

Throwing out a few what if scenarios, even if we could locate the dealer – if he’s shut down and moved his business, the ATF license that he has is ONLY valid for business to be conducted at the premises listed.

There’s no provision for selling from the parking lot of a McDonalds or any other casually acceptable place to both parties. Would the dealer be able to legally perform a disposition of firearm to the client without the ATF signing off on his unannounced move? I would say probably not.

Getting a court order to compel the dealer to do a 4473 and give the customer his stuff is an option, but the dealer had already ignored everything already to this point. Would a court order make him take the situation any more seriously?

Questions like this make me glad I didn’t go to law school. Beth had a puzzle on her hands and as much as I tried to help her solve it, there was no clear solution.

I hate to say this but I’ve seen this happen from time to time over the years. My hunch is that her client will likely never be made whole from this mess.

The client is into Beth’s firm for a couple of hours of legal work trying to chase this dealer down with a minute amount of information trying to get his property back…or a refund. Even if the legal undertaking results in a judgement or a court order, at the end of the day he’d probably still be without the silencer and a lot of his money.

The moral of this story: know who you’re doing business with. I don’t understand how people treat customers this way. All that customers can do to protect themselves is a little due diligence. Make sure that a dealer you’re thinking of buying from has been in business for a while and has established a good reputation in the community.

Could there be a reasonable explanation for what happened? A death in the family? Plane crash? A plague of locusts? Maybe. Do I see one materializing anytime soon? Not really.

What I do see is a headache for Beth’s client. Just before she left, I gave her my business card and told her that if her client needs someone who can actually do the job, have him give me a call.

Have you had an NFA-related horror story with a dealer? Know someone else who has? What did you have to go through and how was it resolved?

comments

  1. avatar Jack says:

    I was ripped off for an SBR. Lots of interesting details but the short version is, he filed the paperwork then a couple months later he called the ATF and canceled the transfer. I didn’t know anything until the atf called to verify info for my tax refund(that took the better part of a year). Turns out he did the same thing to at least one other guy. I’m assuming more.

    There was a local Sico Speq dealer that I sent people to because it was cheaper than I could sell to them. Guy was exmil/operator type that was doing a guns/ training business. Short story, he ripped off several people, sold the same can multiple times, had some other legal stuff, took off to south Florida. One guy I know got his money back after the cops got involved, the other didn’t.

    With both these situations the ATF was little to no help. I had a personal friend who was local atf that helped but that wad more because he knew the guy. The value of the cans wasn’t worth the time/ effort to try and sue etc.

    You’d think as controlled as the NFA is it’d be hard to get ripped off….. not so much.

    1. avatar arc says:

      Guess those assassin weapons and super dangerous items aren’t as dangerous as the government makes them out to be, since its no big deal if they go missing.

  2. avatar Cruzo1981 says:

    Bought a SBR and when I went to pick it up the rail has marks where an optic would be mounted. I opened up the receiver and took out the BCG and it was dirty. Way too dirty for a test fire of a couple of rounds…
    Can the client call the manufacturer and have them make another suppressor with the same serial number for him to pick up?

    1. avatar Rincoln says:

      Not legally. The official opinion of the ATF is that a manufacturer may not recreate a serial number, even if they destroy the only known copy of that number. Previously, they had ruled that it could be done, if the replaced device was confirmed destroyed. But, that has been superseded by a definitive NO.

  3. avatar borg says:

    This is one more reason to use a credit card that way the customer can commence a charge-back. Also it probably would not hurt to report it to the attorney general since the dealer may be reselling these guns to and NFA items illegally. How would the ATF respond if an NFA dealer were to disappear NFA full auto machine guns? If an NFA dealer were to disappear with NFA full auto machine guns it would mean that such guns would be unaccounted for and possibly heading to the black market.

    1. avatar Rincoln says:

      Credit card would be useless. A charge back can only occur within 60 days, and these things take nearly a year to complete.

  4. avatar WARFAB says:

    This is just another instance where the law abiding citizen jumps through all the hoops and then the crook who broke the gun laws doesn’t get punished. Considering all the fuss made about NFA items, it seems like the ATF would put more effort into tracking down the delinquent dealer.

  5. avatar borg says:

    This is one more reason to use a credit card that way you can commence a charge-back on the ground of fraud.

    1. avatar Rusty - Molon Labe - Chains says:

      Borg, that isn’t gonna help you. You pay for your can, and file your paperwork and wait for the ATF to get off their butt and approve you several months later well after the time to get a charge back from the vendor has expired. Yet another reason to pull silencers off the NFA.

    2. avatar Don from CT says:

      Using a CC can help. If I’m buying something from out of state, the form 3 will clear in a couple of weeks.

      I can then go to my local dealer and inspect the item. If its not up to my expectations, I can have it shipped back. No NFA taxes have been paid up to this point, so a return is little to no cost.

      If I’m buying something in-state, I can inspect it at the dealer I’m buying from.

  6. avatar borg says:

    I wonder if any of this dealer’s guns are ending up in the hands of gangs or possibly into the hands of terrorists.

  7. avatar Rick the Bear says:

    I did have a similar circumstance of a dealer that suddenly wasn’t answering phone calls or emails. An area discussion board had people asking what happened to him as well. As it happened, he had died. Fortunately for me, I had nothing in progress with him, but I’d guess that others did. He did have a couple of items of interest in inventory though.

  8. avatar MB says:

    The FFL dealer is now in possession of stolen property, a NFA item, which is highly controlled and comes with a 20 year term in a federally funded gated community. Send the local police or FBI after this guy.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      That was my thought. You have the form 4, including serial number, which shows you and only you own that particular can, even though you’ve never seen it. Step one (seems to me) is to report the can stolen, which should get the ATF into the game since it’s a NFA item.

      1. avatar Rincoln says:

        Useless, unless you can show that the 4473 was completed. Without the actual transfer form (4473), it’s not yours.

        1. avatar MB says:

          @Rincoln It’s yours if you paid for it. It’s that same a leasing a car, the leasing company owns the car, they paid for it , but are not in possession of it, and it’s not owned by the lessee until the title transfers, but the lessee can report the car stolen. I think the local State Attorney General would be motivated to address this.

        2. avatar Rincoln says:

          If only firearms were like cars. But, they’re not. There are laws. Stupid laws, but laws none the less. Money changing hands does not imbue ownership. Just like the lease to that car, there is paperwork that transfers it into your effective possession. However, the firearm paperwork also has a background check requirement that must pass at exactly the moment (really within 30 days IIRC) the property is transferred, or everything to that point is moot.

          Can you report it stolen? Of course. Will it ever be construed as your property? Barring Supreme Court intervention, most likely not. The best you can hope for is getting your money back.

  9. avatar IN Dave says:

    I don’t personally have a story but the last time I was in my dealer there was another customer that was currently going through a situation. Customer had a transferable machine gun that was chambered in a less than popular round. He sent it to another dealer/gunsmith to have a conversion done. The price that was quoted was not the price that the dealer tried to charge. Since the guy refused to pay the outrageous amount and the dealer apparently decided he was going to keep it, paint it, and engrave his name on it. It was even displayed on the dealers website to show off some of his work (maybe even try to sell it). ATF was called and said it was a civil matter. How it can be a civil matter when I have been told not to store a suppressor in the same safe as my other guns because my wife knows the combination, but this is okay, is beyond me.

    Anyways, I wish I knew what came of this but I feel bad for the guy but also taught me a valuable lesson. Beside the obvious of know your dealer, this really show the ineptitude of the ATF. Here you have a “highly regulated” item, serial numbers, pictures, emails, shipment records, website updates but they can’t put one gun back in the hands of the correct owner but they are going to be in charge of confiscating MILLIONS of “assault weapons”. My only response to that idea: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  10. avatar Defens says:

    At this point, I’d think that it would become a criminal matter. The dealer accepted money and didn’t deliver. Depending on the state, I’d imagine that theft of a $2000 item would be Grand Theft. And the crime is even more egregious because gunz. Swearing out a complaint would cost the client nothing.

  11. avatar Anonymous says:

    Does the ATF maintain a list of NFA items reported stolen?

    If so I’d report the property at stolen right away. You paid for it and the ATF approved it.

    Hopefully if sold again the ATF would then flag it as stolen and alert police to wherever it winds up. Then the cops can come in and sort out who should have it and/or bust the old dealer for stealing people’s stuff.

    If this isn’t happening, it’s certainly something conservative legislators should add to the list of “good gun laws” to offer up as compromises when the text gun tragedy happens. Because this is a good one.

  12. avatar borg says:

    Since according to the form 4 the client is the legal owner he should file a complaint for theft of an NFA item against the crooked dealer. The client should file with the local police as well as the ATF and/or FBI since NFA items are federally regulated.

  13. avatar Enuf says:

    The advice to only pay with a credit card has a lot of merit to it.

    The other angle is to approach these things as the theft of a firearm. Report it as a crime beginning with local law enforcement. If it is an NFA firearm you can use more frightening and scary terms, “a machine gun has been stolen” is likely a much more exciting thing to the police than hearing that your deer rifle went in for a scope mounting and won’t come out.

    Be prepared to list the laws you believe are being criminally violated.

    Work your way up reporting it as a stolen firearm. Start with locals, move up to county and state cops. Not getting the response you expect, try hitting up the bosses to the cops. The county prosecutor and State Attorney. Go to Federal cops only after the lower rungs have been tried.

    Always present it as theft of a controlled firearm, not as a dispute between retailer and consumer.

    1. avatar The Crimson Pirate says:

      In addition to what Hush said, do an online search for an obituary. Maybe the guy died.

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        Go to the store front he bolted from, and contact the property owner.

        See if property owner has a name on the lease.

        Then hit google and track his ass down…

  14. avatar Not Larry From Texas says:

    I know people scorn at dealers charging $100 plus sometimes for transfers but your paying for that dealer to stay in business for a low profit item. I travel a good hour and a half for my SOT dealer , it’s a solid store front with a solid customer base. When dealing with $10,000 plus items sometimes it’s worth the cost and time.

  15. avatar DallasRenter says:

    First suppressor purchase, back in 2003. The transfer took about a year. 6 months into the wait, I stopped by the transferring dealer to find a new pocket knife.

    When I walked in, I noticed they were shooting a .22 pistol into a small bullet trap. It surprised me because it seemed unsafe/illegal — they were a small retail shop in the parking lot of a shopping mall and there were at least a dozen holes in the wall where they’d missed the trap. Then as I got closer, I recognized my can on the end of the gun.

    When I protested, the shop owner told me it was a common and accepted practice for dealers to use class 3 items while the paperwork was pending. I was too young and ignorant to catch on to the BS.

  16. avatar Timothy Toroian says:

    Escrow accounts!!!

  17. avatar Wood says:

    Depending on state law, the customer in this story may be required to report this item as stolen to the local police. Perhaps even in a specific amount of time.

  18. avatar Dave G. says:

    The client could try taking out a where-has-this-guy-gone advertisement in a local newspaper on the grounds that some reader might know the answer. Also the “client” could check with the landlord of the now-empty building. He or she might also have a clue.

  19. avatar borg says:

    It probably would not hurt to also report it to the FTC since it violates federal consumer protection law to fail to deliver a purchased item and the FTC is responsible for enforcing federal consumer protection laws.

  20. avatar FedUp says:

    Pay a litigator $450/hr plus prep time?
    Not worth it.
    If you know the guy’s name, do some searching and see if he had a funeral.
    Then go to small claims court and sue him or his estate.
    Send the summons certified to his business address.
    When it comes back as undeliverable, ask the court for leave to serve by publication.
    Take out an ad in the local paper.
    When he fails to respond, motion for a default judgment. Now you have time, probably ten years, to find him or one of his bank accounts.

  21. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

    Only a minor note here to this sad, sad tale.

    It’s regrettable that the writer opted to use the word “silencer” in lieu of the proper noun, “suppressor.” By doing so, the writer is inadvertently playing into the hands of our enemies, especially the ones blocking passage of the Safe Hearing Act (or whatever the hell it’s called; it’s dead anyway).

    Calling the device a “silencer” is like people calling an AR-15 an assault rifle, which the public at-large is beginning to buy into believing.

    My sympathies to Beth’s client, and to everyone else who has suffered wrongs, and substantial losses of time and money, by doing business with an unscrupulous “dealer” who wouldn’t make a decent scab on an honorable man’s ass. Let us pray that this bastard’s penis gets leprosy, his hemorrhoids get acne, and that he one day awaken to the strong pungent aroma of sulphur and an extremely warm environment.

    1. avatar BradP says:

      I wonder what the inventor, Hiram Maxim, called them? Hmm, look at that! He called them silencers.

      1. avatar H Allen Davis LLD says:

        Just because Colt called his wheelgun a “revolver” doesn’t make it a revolver. The cylinder doesn’t revolve around anything. The cylinder ROTATES. The earth ROTATES on its axis as it REVOLVES around the sun. I know we don’t call handguns with cylinders “rotators,” but it would be more accurate.

        Maxim’s inventions didn’t silence anything, either. The suppressed the sound of a gun’s report.

        You missed the point I was attempting to make.

        The word “silencer” has already been co-opted by the Left to invoke images of bad guys lurking in the shadows seeking to kill and maim with his deadly “silencer” attached to his “revolver.” Hell, the whole nomenclature thing could keep me going for days.

        Calling cans “suppressors” more accurately describes their function, and the word hasn’t been hijacked by the Left… at least yet. I was only pointing out that we should all be more attentive to the phrases we employ, even amongst ourselves. I’ve heard far too many otherwise knowledgeable gun people referring to AR and AK rifles as “assault weapons,” and it makes me want to scream.

        Words mean things, some seemingly more so than others. All the more important for us to choose our terminology more carefully.

        1. avatar Anymouse says:

          The chambers revolve around the central axis as the cylinder rotates. Not only are you trying to be needlessly pedantic, but you’re also factually incorrect. Your parents may have named you H Allen Davis, but Cliff Claven is your proper name.

      2. avatar Wood says:

        Great. But we can play the name game just like the left. We need to call them mufflers.

    2. avatar Anymouse says:

      You’ve fallen into the trap of calling it a “suppressor” when it doesn’t actually “prevent” or “forcibly put an end to” anything. A technically correct term is “audible noise attenuator” (lessen the amount). Note that simply “attenuator” is not correct since some properties, such as heat or back pressure are increased.
      As for an AR-15 being called assault rifle, “assault rifle” does have a specific definition, and most AR-15s aren’t select-fire and don’t meet the definition.
      “Silencer,” on the other hand, has a legal and common usage (inventor’s naming, Silencerco, Silencer Shop, NFA, etc) for an audible noise attenuator. “Suppressor” doesn’t have a legal or technically accurate description. It tends to be used by prigs who have nothing useful to add to the conversation.

      1. avatar BradP says:

        Just looked at 27CFR Chapter 2, subchapter B, part 479 and what do you know? Under subpart B definition of terms, right there in the law, “…a muffler or a silencer for any firearm whether or not such firearm is included within this definition…”.

        Some people are afraid of words and bend to the politically accepted word instead of the common use, lawful, word.

  22. avatar Hush says:

    To: Hank the Gun Dealer, did the post office where his business was located verify that he left no forwarding address or is this just assumed? You might try addressing an envelope to the old “known” address and place the words “Address Correction Requested” under the return address(your address) and if he did leave a change of address with his local post office they should supply you with the forwarding address, IF he left one. There may be a fee for the new address but it will be less than $1. If the piece is returned stating “moved left no address” then wait a month and do the same thing again. If he has any mail he considers of importance arriving at the old address, then at some point he will submit a change of address order. If you have tried this and had mail returned then at this time there is no forwarding address but that does not mean he will not submit one at a future date. If you do this simply use a business size envelope and stuff a blank sheet of paper inside. Also, you do not have to place your name on the return address line but you will have to place a mailing address there in order to receive any mail from the post office…….good luck.

  23. avatar Hank says:

    Well all this shady stuff has convinced me to stay away from NFA items. Seems way to easy to get ripped off. I think a better route would be to legally make the item yourself. SBRs and suppressors aren’t that complex.

  24. avatar Wedge259 says:

    My regular LGS had to deal with a ton of NFA stuff when they were abruptly foreclosed and forced out of business. I was a regular customer there (#3 customer in 2017), and had built good relationships with most of the employees, so I was pretty bummed when they were so suddenly closed. My understanding is that they had dozens of NFA items in atf jail at the time, along with a collection of machine guns that were used as rentals at the range. I was fortunate and had bought and received three suppressors before this happened. It worked out ok in the end though for those still waiting, as everything was transferred to a different gun shop, so no one lost anything that they paid for (that I’m aware of).

  25. avatar George from Alaska says:

    You can go online to a number of search for people places and pay up to $60 for a full and complete report of everything if you have at least a little information such as name and last known address.
    Also try and go to the State Troopers (they often help in matters like this more than local PDs) and report the Federal Crime that was committed in their state and ask them to run a NCIC search for him.
    Google his full name and be prepared to scroll through a lot of names…
    People just don’t disappear unless they are in a drum full of cement.

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