It seems like every post about an NFA firearm — whether SBR, silencer, etc — is followed by comments along the lines of “owning an NFA item isn’t worth giving up my Fourth Amendment rights.” These comments stem from the belief that NFA ownership means the ATF is legally allowed to stop by and enter your home at any random time for a no-warrant-or-notification-needed “NFA inspection,” and that you’re obligated to comply. The truth of the matter is. . .
This is completely false! These are unfounded rumors. The BATFE cannot and will not show up at your home to inspect your NFA items. Ever. At least not without a warrant, and they damn sure cannot enter your property without a warrant. No, owning NFA-regulated firearms is not any sort of reason for any sort of judge to issue a warrant, either. End of story. You absolutely do not waive your 4th Amendment rights in whole or in part by owning NFA items.
Now, these rumors and fears probably do have some root in fact, though. The ATF can randomly inspect FFLs. ATF’s fact sheet on compliance inspections states that the Gun Control Act allows them to conduct as many as one warrantless, annual compliance inspection (full text of the law is here). It can be random, but it must be during stated business hours at the FFL’s premises. This has nothing to do with NFA firearms in particular, though, as it’s part of the GCA and applies to any FFL regardless of whether or not they deal in NFA items. Again, it only applies to FFLs, not to private parties, gun trusts, etc.
It does apply to licensed C&R collectors as well, although as most C&R licensees are home-based there is no requirement for stating “hours of operation” and, therefore, the ATF will call to make an appointment. The law also states that a collector can elect to have the inspection (it’s an inspection of the collector’s “bound book” of transactions and, if desired, the firearms collection itself to validate it against the bound book) at the nearest ATF office rather than at the collector’s premises.
Bringing this back to the NFA, if a C&R licensee owned NFA items personally or via a trust, they wouldn’t be allowed as part of the inspection anyway since they aren’t C&R (Curious & Relics) and therefore wouldn’t be in the licensee’s bound book as part of the collection. In this case the up-to-once-per-year inspection is very strictly restricted to only the property that falls under the C&R license.
Hope this clears up a common, FUD-filled rumor! I know of a few folks who wanted an SBR but avoided it for years due to the belief that it meant their home would suddenly be open for Federal inspection at any dang time, day or night. This simply is not the case. At all. At least, it doesn’t make Federal intrusion any more likely than it is for a non-NFA owner or, for that matter, a non-firearm owner.