About a year ago the shooting world started to observe an increase in ATF revocations of Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs). This was no small increase, and revocations have skyrocketed around 500%. This coincided with the ATF’s release of a “Zero Tolerance” policy for certain paperwork mistakes. The net result: a lot of good intentioned gun shops have been put out of business for simple human error.
The current ATF Zero Tolerance policy is to immediately issue a notice of revocation, regardless of any lack of previous disciplinary history, if a gun shop makes one of five mistakes. What are these mistakes?
- Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person while having reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited.
- Failure to conduct a background check on the transfer of a firearm, including the return of a firearm.
- Failure to respond to a firearms trace request in 24 hours.
- False statements in required record keeping.
- Refusing to admit ATF for an inspection.
How Does This Happen?
At initial glance, you might think these mistakes are impossible to make, but they are not. Failure to conduct a background check can be as simple as not noticing a CWP is expired, or conducting a background check but completing the transfer more than 30 days later. This accusation is also automatically leveled when a 4473 does not contain a NCICS Transactional Number (NTN). All of these actions are considered failure to conduct a background check. The truth however for most of these is that an error occurred in the paperwork process. Very seldom do I see blatant disregard by FFLs of background checks.
A false statement in required records can be nothing more than a dyslexic entry of a NCICS verification number. A year later in an audit who can tell that one out of hundreds of entries was recorded incorrectly? The ATF can use mathematical equations to determine if an NTN is from the correct sequence for the time frame given, but there is not a master list to which to compare. Thus transposing a digit, or recording a 1 as a 7 or an I, is not easily detected.
Failure to respond to a trace in 24 hours? Fortunately, I’ve not seen this one locally. However, it is easy to envision a small shop closing for a week for vacation. During that time, it will be purely luck whether or not a trace request comes in. Meanwhile the FBI and local governments can drop the ball completely on background checks with deadly consequences.
More Common Errors
The errors above are considered egregious by the ATF. There will be many other errors cited in an audit. Outside of missing inventory, i.e. lost or stolen guns, these errors are mere paperwork mistakes: incorrect dates, failure to check a box, failure to record information in the correct box, checking the wrong box, failure to sign a form, etc.
Unfortunately, many of these errors are not initiated by the FFL but instead by the customer. It becomes the FFLs responsibility to look at the same form dozens a times a day to ensure that thirty some entries are correct. From failure to answer a question, to incorrectly dating the form, there are a host of simple mistakes to be made.
It amazes me the number of people who write their birthdate in every date field. Today’s date? Birthday. CWP expiration date? Birthday. Date gun is picked up? Birthday. When did the ATF export firearms to Mexican drug lords under the auspicious of Fast and Furious? Birthday! A working knowledge of the Gregorian Calendar could eliminate twenty percent of errors in some audits.
What Can You Do?
For the FFL:
If you are not generating your 4473s electronically, start doing so. You can print and store the 4473s still, but using a computer program to generate will eliminate some of the most obvious errors such as forgetting a field, answering a question incorrectly, or recording the wrong date.
Inventory your firearms. This is the first thing the ATF looks at in an audit. Regular checking ensures you have not lost any guns.
Self-audit. Don’t wonder where you stand; take an audit. Learn from your mistakes.
Read the form 4473 cover to cover. It can answer a lot of simple questions!
For the consumer:
Realize that the inconvenient piece of paperwork you complete when buying a gun is the difference between an operating business and a closed shop for the FFL. Take some patience, read the form, and answer everything required. Know your Gregorian Calendar and check today’s date. Have your driver’s license and CWP ready, and check both to make sure they are current and not expired.
Unfortunately we will see a lot of gun shops close during the Biden administration. This is by design, and small independent shops are being driven out of business. The cost of doing business is increasing, and we can expect the cost of firearms to increase with reduced competition and a greater regulatory burden. A few extra dollars on a Colt SAA is not going to phase the collector, but for the single mother who needs a basic Taurus for self defense the price increase will be significant.
Robert has helped gun shops all over South Carolina respond to revocation notices. This isn’t trivial work, but there is hope. If your shop is faced with a revocation notice, or if you want to conduct a self-audit, Robert can help you understand how to best position yourself for success.