The new requirements under ATF-41F changes the old CLEO certification to a CLEO notification, and extends this to trusts and other entities. So what will happen with that notification?
In theory, the CLEO will be under no requirement to investigate the trust or “responsible person.” But they can alert the ATF to a legal prohibition against the trust’s or “responsible person’s” possession of the firearm. This certainly is better than the threatened change requiring a CLEO sign off for every “responsible person”. However, we are unsure how this will play out in each location.
Currently there are counties in SC where the sheriffs refuse to sign off for NFA firearms. This is for a mix of reasons, and many times unknown. There are two known unknowns that only time will teach us.
First known unknown
First: What will the CLEO of each location do with their notices?
Those who were already readily signing forms will likely welcome the removal of this burden. Some who refused to sign off before may just accept that NFA firearms will be in their jurisdiction without their “blessing” and move on. This is likely with sheriffs who thought they were undertaking personal liability by signing off on NFA forms. Of both of these groups, we suspect that some CLEOs will keep these documents in an organized manner so they have their own “registration list” of NFA firearms. Finally, those CLEOs categorically opposed to the NFA may raise a host of concerns, both real and imaginary, to the ATF regarding any NFA firearms in their jurisdiction.
Second known unknown
This brings us to our second known unknown. How will the ATF respond to CLEO objections not founded upon state or federal statutory prohibitions on the possession of firearms? Will the ATF give any credence to the sheriff of a populated county if he objects to the ownership of a machine gun because “there is no place to safely shoot it in the county?”
We don’t think they should, but we don’t know what will actually happen. The ATFs response to comments within ATF-41F indicated that the ATF acknowledged the legit concerns of firearm owners that CLEOs were using the sign off requirement to categorically prohibit the ownership of these firearms where it would otherwise be legal. While the ATF did not come out and condemn this activity, and they certainly would not agree to a Constitutional right to own these firearms, they did attempt to address these concerns by changing the certification to a notification.
The notification, on its face, is much better than a certification. Inertia and the busy workload of local CLEOs likely means that the ATF will receive few responses. This preserves the ease of access to NFA firearms that trusts have historically enjoyed.
However, there exists the possibility that some CLEOs may raise unfounded concerns out of a prejudice against these firearms. How the ATF responds to these concerns will define whether or not the notification requirement is actually better than the certification requirement.