NFATCA Report: V20N8

By Jeff Folloder

One of the most recognized points of contention in the world of NFA firearms is the implementation and accuracy of ATF’s National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR). Part of the contention is the level of accuracy that one can reasonably expect from a record keeping effort that has spanned more than eight decades. For most of the “life” of the NFRTR, ATF has staunchly upheld the superb accuracy of the data, in public and in court. Recent events have proven that the accuracy level is not quite what anyone has reasonably expected. There are a wide variety of issues that can compromise the integrity of the data.

Take, for example, NFATCA’s recent FOIA debacle with ATF in attempting to secure an updated count on the number/type of registered machine guns on the NFRTR. Although ATF had provided this information nearly a decade ago, ATF’s gate keepers rejected a request for update. NFATCA repeatedly appealed the rejection and eventually prevailed. Receipt of the data contained an important caveat: although each and every record in the NFRTR was deemed to be accurate, the method of receipt and retention of each record varied over time (manual entry, obsolete database/system, new database/system, presence, addition or subtraction of specific data elements, etc.). This variability in recording and storage meant that there is no “perfect” method that would capture all the data across all the methods in the same way. Any aggregate number would be subject to a margin of error. Still, getting very close is better than not knowing. As of February, 2016, ATF reports that there are 175,977 transferable machine guns, 17,020 “pre-May” sample machine guns and 297,667 “posties.”

With a reinvigorated surge in NFA applications for transfer, ATF has availed themselves of the opportunity to attempt to increase the accuracy of the NFRTR. No doubt many of you have experienced a response letter from NFA Branch demanding a verification of one or more data elements in a transfer application. These verification demands have been triggered by Form 3’s, Form 4’s, Form 5’s and even routine 5320.20 Applications for Interstate Transport. The verification may be as simple as requesting confirmation of a model name, caliber or a barrel length. Or the verification may require an actual photograph of markings or an image of the weapon laid out against a tape measure. What is driving this?

There are many reasons that can be ascribed to this effort. There is plenty of documentation that shows that people have deliberately distorted descriptive information in NFA transfer requests in a variety of criminal enterprises. There are also a large number of instances where people have legally modified one or more aspects of their registered NFA items. And there is the ever present fact that humans make mistakes, both in filling out the forms and in entering the form data. Quite simply, if there is a discrepancy between an existing record and a recently filed NFA transfer application, expect NFA Branch to demand verification.

Will this slow down the application process? Absolutely. Will it achieve 100% accuracy in the NFRTR? Probably not. Does it add to the frustration of filing forms? Of course. NFATCA advises its members and the NFA community to check, double check and even triple check the accuracy of all information submitted to ATF. Getting it right the first time should be everyone’s goal.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N8 (October 2016)
and was posted online on August 19, 2016


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