Traveling with NFA Firearms: the Form 20

When you own firearms regulated by the National Firearm Act (NFA), you must remain aware of your continuing obligations to the ATF. One of these obligations is securing written permission from the ATF before traveling out of state.

The NFA Guns Affected

This permission is not required of all NFA firearms, but only certain types. Specifically, you must properly notify and secure ATF permission before traveling out of state with a Short Barrel Rifle, Short Barrel Shotgun, Machine Gun, or Destructive Device.

So what firearms are Exempt?

Prior notification before travel is not required for Suppressors and the class of firearms known as Any Other Weapon (AOW).

Notification Procedure

So you are planning a trip our of the state and need the ATF’s permission. What to do?

File a Form 20! In duplicate of course.

What information is Needed for the Form?

The Form 20 is relatively simple. In Section 1 you will need to provide the trust name, address, and the best telephone number to reach you. Next in Section 2, indicate whether the move is temporary or permanent, and in Section 3 provide the dates of the transportation.

Section 4 is for describing the firearms to be transported. If you exceed three firearms for which lines are provided, you’ll have to complete additional forms.

In Section 5, describe why you are transporting the firearms. This can be as simple as ‘Hunting Trip’ or ‘Target Shooting.’ If you want standing permission for a regular trip, you should explain why you make the trip regularly and will not be able to, or should not have to, notify the ATF each time.

Sections 6 and 7 are the addresses which the firearm will be transported from and to. A specific address or location is needed, and this should be where you will be found with the firearms.

Section 8 is how the firearm will be transported. Typically ‘private vehicle’ is the appropriate answer. Of course if you are flying or using other public conveyance you should adjust your answer as necessary.

Sections 9 through 11 are only relevant if exporting the firearm. That is a tricky proposition, and I suggest seeking assistance prior to any proposed export of the firearms, even if only temporarily.

Sections 12 and 13 are for your signature and date.

The remainder of the form is for the ATF’s use.


The duplicate copies should be mailed to the ATF at:

Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Att.: NFA Branch
244 Needy Road
Martinsburg, WV 25405.

If you want a faster response, you can email a pdf copy of the signed form to: This will eliminate the mailing time at least.

Once all is mailed (or emailed), you must wait for an approved Form 20 to be returned to you. The form is typically returned within a few weeks to the address on the Form 4 (or the address provided in your last permanent address change). Though do know the ATF may return the Form 20 to the new address where the transport is permanent and set to happen immediately.


Requesting the ATF’s permission for transporting a NFA firearm out of state is a relatively simple process. But completing the Form 20 the first time can be a bit tricky if you are not used to it. If I can ever be of assistance with this, or another matter, please do not hesitate to reach out.

The Shockwave and Stakeout

The Mossberg Shockwave made a splash earlier this year and now Saurez International is offering the similar Stakeout based off of the Remington 870. These two firearms are “birds-head grip” shotguns with barrels slightly longer than 14 inches. Each is pump operated with an overall length slightly longer than 26 inches. And neither is considered a firearm under the regulations of the National Firearms Act (NFA).

How is that? Continue reading

ATF 41-P Extended for a Month

For those of you who have followed the ATF 41-P proposed rule you know that the ATF is considering requiring additional paperwork and documentation supporting Form 4 and Form 1 applications for entity submittals. Specifically, all “responsible persons” will be required to submit fingerprint cards, pictures, and a chief law enforcement officer (CLEO) sign off.

This saga has been ongoing since the ATF published a proposed rule in August of 2013. The comment period closed in December of 2013 and the ATF set a response date for six months later. Ever since, the ATF has pushed the date forward in six month increments until now. Recently, the ATF extended their self appointed deadline from December 2015 to January of 2016. 

NFA owners are asking themselves: “What does this mean?” Unfortunately, I have no inside information to offer, but I can speculate with the best of them!

The short extension period indicates ATF expects action sooner than later. This is in line with the Obama Administration’s announced intention to take as many executive actions as possible to restrict gun rights. With only a year left in office, Obama has little hope of pushing controversial gun control legislation through a solidly Republican House and Senate. Instead, the President is intent on accomplishing his goals through executive fiat. ATF 41-P is one way to extend background checks and discourage gun ownership through increased transactional costs of acquiring firearms.

The President, and by extension the ATF, is likely motivated by the potential passage of H.R. 2578 which contains funding prohibitions designed to prevent agencies from implementing anti-gun rules. One of these prohibitions would stop the ATF from spending any funds on making a rule that would extend the CLEO signature requirement of the NFA to entity submittals. This bill has already passed the house and is in front of the Senate.

If the threat of H.R. 2578 passage is motivating the ATF then it is likely that any final rule will require a CLEO sign off. Assuming this the case, the ATF is likely racing the Senate to put in place a final rule prior to implementation of legislation preventing the same. This is in keeping with Mr. Kraut’s article detailing the addition of three extra comment reviewers for ATF 41-P. 

Thus, as pure speculation based on the reasoning above, I expect to see action sooner than later (say the first half of 2016). And I’m guessing that any final rule will include the requirement of a CLEO signature. This is bad news for people residing in counties, such as York County, SC, where the sheriff refuses to sign. Only time will tell what actually happens.

Hearing Protection Act of 2015

US Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona introduced H.R. 3799 that would remove suppressors from the list of firearms controlled by the National Firearms Act. Under the proposed bill suppressors would remain firearms and be subject to all restrictions and controls currently in place on firearms such as handguns. So should we rejoice?

The Good

Removing suppressors from the purview of the NFA would certainly make life easier for many people. Suppressors will become cheaper and easier and faster to obtain. We can expect to see their use increase, and shooting in densely populated areas would become much more practical. Ranges, in general, could be less noisy.

The bill also includes a sort of ‘grandfather clause.’ If you file a Form 4 and pay a transfer tax after October 22, 2015, the ATF would have to refund the tax upon the passage of the bill. So waiting will not save you money, though it may save you paperwork. (Or you may wait indefinitely: see below.) This clause is a nod to the suppressor industry to prevent potential buyers from closing their wallets and waiting for Congress to act.

The Bad

Congress does not act fast, and Obama will veto any naked pro gun legislation. This bill would have to be part of an amendment to must-pass legislation, such as the debt ceiling extension the Republican controlled Congress pushed through in late October with the help of Democrats. The future of this bill is very much like National Reciprocity for Concealed Carry.

National Reciprocity, in its current form, appeared on the political scenes in 2009. While a majority of both chambers of Congress support the law, passage has always been a couple of votes shy. With the threat of a veto, this idea has idled away in Congress for six years, and passage still appears a few years out. (Pending the 2016 elections you could say.)

With the Republican establishment refusing to attach controversial legislation to must-pass funding bills, and President Obama’s desire for gun control and further restrictions on the right to bear arms; the chances for such pro-gun reforms to become new law is slim.


The introduction of this bill is good news for gun owners, but this is likely just the beginning of what could be a decade long fight. Much of the Democratic party is dead set against lessening gun laws, and attempts to pass any such bills under the current administration invites anti-gun amendments and / or vetoes. I personally welcome the lessening restrictions, however, I advise those wanting silencers to not wait for Congress to act. Chances are good you’ll put a couple thousand rounds through your suppressor before we know the outcome of this legislative game of tug-o-war!

Moving and a Duty to Notify

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.