Owners of registered firearms commonly ask about their duty to update paperwork and notify the ATF if they move. While there is some disagreement about the extent of the duty to notify the ATF, it is clear the ATF has been charged by Congress to keep a list of registered firearms including their location. 26 U.S.C. 5841(1)(3) (requiring the ATF’s records to contain “identification and address of person entitled to possession of the firearm.”).
The Form 4 is the first place alerting the owner of a registered gun that he has a duty to notify the ATF if he moves. On page 3 of the current Form 4 we find the following instructions:
“Change of address: Unless currently licensed under the Gun Control Act, the registrant shall notify the NFA Branch, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 244 Needy Road, Martinsburg, WV 25405, in writing, of any change to the address in item 2a.”
This duty is not specifically backed by statute. Rather the ATF relies upon 18 U.S.C 924 which makes it a felony to provide false information or make a false representation as related to information required to be kept under the act. 18 U.S.C. 924 in combination with the Form 4 can be interpreted to require owners of registered firearms to update the ATF upon a change in the address of the firearm, because the ATF is delegating their duty to keep an updated “National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record” to each owner of registered firearms through the Form 4. While this interpretation could be challenged in Court, I do not advise my clients to serve as test cases.
For interstate moves involving machine guns, destructive devices, short barreled rifles, and short barreled shotguns there is an explicit statutory requirement to secure the ATF’s written permission prior to moving the firearm. 18 USC 922(a)(4). This section creates a pro-active requirement to secure government permission before one of the four items listed can be moved from one state to another.
How to Notify
The ATF created Form 5320.20 for owners of registered firearms to update the registry and secure permission to move certain guns across state lines. This simple form can be used both to request permission to move firearms interstate or as a means of notice that firearms have been moved intrastate.
When using the form as a means to notify of a permanent move, block 2 should be checked “no”. If the move will involve one of the four types of registered firearms mentioned above, and said firearms will cross state lines, the applicant should provide ample time for the ATF to approve and return the form prior to the move.
Intrastate moves, and interstate moves of only suppressors and/or “any other weapons”, need not wait for governmental approval, however it is wise to send in the notification in a timely manner.
Intrastate moves, and moves of suppressors and “any other weapons” interstate, do not require ATF permission beforehand. However, the terms of the Form 4 do require the registered owner to update the ATF on any permanent changes in the address of the registered owner and the location of the firearms.
When an interstate move will involve a machine gun, destructive device, short barreled rifle, or short barreled shotgun, the Form 20 must be completed ahead of time and an approval by the ATF received before the firearms can cross state lines.