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.
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.
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.
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.