A funny thing happened on my way back from lunch this afternoon. Ted Clutter from ATF’s NFA branch left me a voicemail. He didn’t sound happy with me at all. I’m usually a pretty easy guy to get along with and Ted is a pretty happy fellow, but when ATF’s NFA branch calls – it’s because something went wrong or they came up with a response to a complicated question that I framed for them and they had to research it some more. This time it was the former rather than the latter. I know Ted Clutter by reputation to be one of the folks at ATF that has more answers than questions on most things, so I was surprised to hear him calling me . . .
Most of my interactions with him have to do with looking at a Form 3 or Form 4 that he has rubber-stamped. I returned his call right away and he got right into it. The conversation went something like this.
FC: Mr Clutter, what can I do for the bureau today?
ATF: We have two NFA articles that were submitted and approved for transfer that are supposed to be on your books from the middle of last year. Can you tell us what the status is?
FC: Can you be more specific?
ATF: Stoner 63 with a silencer. Approved mid July 2014.
FC: Now I remember.
Flashback to 2014.
Last year, right about this time – I got a call from a fellow who had just bought a machine gun from a dealer out of state and wanted me to run the transfer. No problem, I said. I’ll get right on it, I said. I’ll make sure the dealer gets my shipping info and everything he needs, I said.
This began a series of regrets that I will now document in a (hopefully infrequent) TTAG series I call “Gun Deals Gone Bad.”
Machine guns are great. They’re even greater when they’re yours. In this particular transaction, I eventually find that none of the paperwork submitted was of the Form 3 variety. They are all Form 4s. The dealer that the fellow is buying from is actually not the owner of the gun but rather an intermediary. A broker of sorts.
This means that instead of clearing on a Form 3 relatively quickly, the wait on a Form 4 to get the item local for another Form 4 would be a while. I get yelled at by the new owner about this running on a Form 4 and not a Form 3. The rage is displaced because this falls in the category of NOT MY CIRCUS – NOT MY MONKEYS.
What comes next is a line straight out of an ATF sting operation. I’m asked by the new owner to prep and submit ATF Form 4s on his new gun. A gun that’s not even here yet.
“You know ATF just ages these forms like a fine wine before they get around to it. By the time they look at the Form 4 we submit, the other one in process will have already been approved.”
For the uninitiated: The bottom of ATF Form 4 — IN BOLD BLOCK LETTERS — just above my signature states, “Under penalties of perjury, I declare” (transition to regular typeface) “that I have examined this application and to the best my of knowledge and belief it is true, correct and complete.”
Not having even seen the gun’s photos online, much less held it in my hands, I am reticent to sign my name to a document that says I believe something is true and correct without ensuring that it is in fact true and correct. There are dealers who will intentionally make paperwork errors to lock up a place in the processing queue and then once the approved forms on the inbound clear, they file a correction to their desired form and they get a Form 4 back relatively quickly using this concept. In aviation – there’s a term that’s used when people want to explain how a complicated system works. They call it PFM – pure fucking magic.
I think this, however, is PFB – pure fucking bullshit.
Webster’s dictionary does not have a definition for “dirty pool” but if it did, I think this would be the exemplar. I find it to be disingenuous at best and unethical at worst for dealers to create more work for ATF in the long run in order to create a desired short term effect. It slows down the process for everyone else. There is virtue in rejecting applications with errors as that is long term insurance that dealers do not fuck around and make sure that their forms are done right the first time.
My response to this request is not a regular ‘no,’ but rather a decisive and unambiguous HELL NO. We argue about this for 15 minutes with my blood pressure rising and my tolerance for bullshit dropping in an inverse relationship. The fellow acquiesces and refrains from pushing the issue further. This detente lasts about a week.
The next installment is where I get yelled at by the new owner because the seller/intermediary had not done things correctly and ATF did not get the right data on the forms, resulting in even further processing delays. This leads me to an old joke.
Q: What’s the difference between a psychiatrist and a gun dealer?
A: The psychiatrist only has to listen to one person complaining about the government at a time.
Finally, the forms are approved and the gun ships out. Mission accomplished?
Not exactly. One of my friends visited me the first week of August on his lunch break to pick up a new 9mm pistol and a week later, shot himself in the head , ending his life and our friendship. I’m still bitter about that, but at the time I was in an alcohol-fueled angsty rage. I took some time off work. After getting off the phone with the homicide investigator who needed me to give him a statement as to the departed’s state of mind and overall demeanor and the origin of the firearm, I decided some drastic measures were warranted.
I opened up the Delta app on my phone, cashed in some Skymiles and a few hours later I was on a flight to LaGuardia to spend some time with the family I don’t get to see very often. A certain song by Dierks Bentley came on my playlist and I sympathized with the artist as I too decided to get drunk on a plane.
The next morning, my alarm clock said I’d been out for 12 hours. It seemed like a New York minute, but I woke up with a slight headache and noticed that an email came in from Stoner 63 buyer.
I just checked usps tracking and it says they left a registered mail notice at your place for my package. I would like to get my transfers started. Please advise. Thanks
I crafted a short and succinct response as I sat on the toilet regretting my beverage choices of the previous evening. Take note, gentle readers: the cheapest liquor is the most expensive.
will let you know as soon as I can get it done
Is it possible today or most likely tomorrow? I ask because I have a meeting in st louis early evening tonight. Thanks
I look down at my phone. It’s Saturday morning. I have the redeye home on Thursday. Friday will be the soonest I can do anything.
Friday at earliest
Usps said they tried to deliver my package Friday at 923 am. (Name of dealer that fucked it all up redacted) has already cost me an extra 2 1/2 months. Why am I waiting another week to start my final transfers? Not happy!
(He also leaves me an angry voicemail stating that the situation to him is “totally unacceptable” and is generally furious. He claims we have a contract and I am obligated to perform work. We don’t.)
Just to recap: I’ve been a punching bag during this transaction ever since the party in another state failed to file the forms properly. I’ve been asked to run paperwork and sign under penalty of perjury to transfer a gun that wasn’t in my possession. And now I’m being asked why it’s taking an extra week. I’m reminded of a line from ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance’ spoken by everyone’s favorite angry man, Samuel L Jackson, as I craft my response.
I really did not care to share this but in the interest of full disclosure..since you asked why you are waiting another week. Recently a very good friend of mine came in to buy a new gun. I showed him a few things and he liked one enough to write me a check on the spot. I found out that he puts a JHP in the pipe and a bullet through his head. Not that it matters but it was a right entry and left exit, bullet expanded and death was not immediate. He bled out. Unless you want to cover the DOZENS of hours of professional psychiatric care to get me back into the office – I’m taking some time off. I think that’s pretty fair. I told you I’ll let you know when I can get it handled – and I intend to stay true to that statement. However, since you have stated the situation is “totally unacceptable”… You need me a lot more than I need you. You don’t like the way I do things? Fine. I quit.
He then got mad and proceeded to blow up my phone and inbox. I left the phone in the hotel and walked to 53rd and 6th to get some food from the world famous Halal Guys. I begin wondering if there’s going to be any blowback from this and my thought process is interrupted when I realize that I am out of white sauce and head back to the cart for a refill.
After I got back home the next week, the local ATF supervisor called and she told me that she got a call asking about this incident and wanted to know what happened. I explained the situation in detail. She said that the government cannot compel a licensee to do anything and I was tired of being asked to do the illegal and unethical. We don’t serve combo platters here, unlike the fellas at 53rd and 6th. There’s no law that says I have to lift a finger – I knew it, she knew it and the guy that ticked me off didn’t. That was the source of the dispute.
She then asked me what she’s supposed to do with two Form 4s with tax stamps attached on items that have already been returned to sender. My response: ATF approved the transfer, ATF can un-approve the transfer. That’s the buyer’s problem.
I then went into detail about the process on the NFA side as that was not an area where she had a lot of training or experience and she relayed the info on to the buyer. That was the end of it. Or so I thought.
Flash to present.
Once I explained to Mr. Clutter the situation, he seemed less mad, but I still have a hunch that he was irritated that the ATF was doing twice the work for the same amount of tax dollars. He also expressed some concern that items that are on my books — according to ATF — never went on my books in person and that there were irregularities in the NFA registry. I explained to him the method to the madness.
On the transfer of NFA devices, the transfer tax is $200. The item was shipped to me, but they was returned to sender. I explained to Mr. Clutter that I and my company never seen, never touched and never took possession of that item. Had we done so, the tax liablity would have been incurred, the items would have gone into company inventory and they would have to Form 4 back to the originating party with another tax liablilty incurred.
Translation: If I had signed for the package, it would have cost me/my company $400 in tax and an 8-11 month wait for forms to clear and return the product in order to quit the job. By not signing for the package, I saved myself $400 and having to deal with an impatient jerk.
Question for the readers: If someone would get that mad over an extra week – should they be buying NFA stuff?
Ted needed an explanation for the files and asked me to write it up in an email so he could make notes. I wondered why he’s calling now of all times and the void requests had just now reached his desk. I told him to have a good week, sent him the requested info and called it an afternoon.
With the current churn rate on Form 4s – had a Form 4 been generated and submitted in early August, it would have been reviewed and approved late December or early January — he’d have had his gun for five months as of this writing. ATF is just now getting around to voiding the original stamps and I expect the Form 4 to turn final sometime late this year.
The moral of the story: Delivery delay due to an incompetent gun dealer’s paperwork errors: 75 days.
Delivery delay due to a competent gun dealer’s institutional knowledge: 375 days.