In the NFA world, the ATF is notorious for poor record keeping. With the advent of computers and databases one would expect these problems to be under control. Unfortunately this is not the case and the ATF continues to lose NFA firearm registration forms.
The effect can range from merely a nuisance to devastating depending on the firearm and the records retained by the owner.
Recent examples of the more minor losses include failure by the transferor to receive the original form 4s. One shop I work with had to request ATF letters evidencing the registration of three silencers. The new owners had been waiting over nine months wondering where their tax stamps were. Turns out, they were lost! They have the silencers and paperwork evidencing registration, but they’ll never see a tax stamp.
Other more troubling occurrences include the disappearance of manufacturer and form 2 registrations. In such instance, the ATF has reported having no record of the registered firearm! The owner, in this case another gun shop, had to provide copies of the form 2 to prove the firearm was registered. Without a copy of such document there would have been little chance of proving registration or legally registering the firearm.
And this brings me to the classic and devastating consequences of sloppy record keeping. Old firearms discovered in estates or on the back shelves of companies without paperwork are often in no-mans land. No one really knows if the firearm is registered. Many times these firearms are machine guns, and thousands of dollars and a piece of history are at stake. The only thing to do is research on the owners and send information requests to the ATF.
The conclusion? Record keeping is vital, and you can’t depend on the ATF to do it. Always keep copy of records with your firearms, and keep the original in a safe location. Electronic scans are also a good idea. And if you ever find yourself with a firearm without copies of the proper registration forms: Proceed cautiously.