U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- In 2019, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) budgeted $13.2 million in additional funding for the National Firearms Arms (NFA) branch.
The ATF used the new money to hire 25 additional employees, including 13 more examiners, bringing the number to 42 employees assigned to the branch. The new employees doubled the size of the department. Also, at-risk Industry Operations Investigators (IOIs) started a temporary detail in the NFA branch. The additional funding goal was to help the ATF “process NFA applications within a 90-day timeframe.”
The experiment has failed. Processing times for NFA items are higher than ever. The ATF blames these delays on the number of Americans buying suppressors and making short-barreled rifles. The agency says it processed 512,315 NFA applications for 2,353,436 guns. This number breaks down to around 12,200 applications per employee.
This number sounds daunting until you dig deeper into the statistics. Only 9.7% of the applications consisted of a form one or form four. The vast majority of the applications the ATF processed were from dealers, manufacturers, and from things like exportation by the military. None of these applications requires a background check, checking fingerprints, and processing passport pictures. It just needs the ATF to update databases.
Subtracting the number of industry applications from the total number leaves the ATF with 49,695 applications from private citizens. Even if you remove the underperforming IOIs that the ATF put on temporary detail to the NFA division, this means that the ATF is only processing 1,183 non-industry forms per employee per year. This number further breaks down to less than 23 applications per employee per week.
If employees can’t keep up with the volume, maybe it is time the ATF shift gears and attacks the problems from another angle. The ultimate solution would be to get rid of the NFA. Realistically, the NFA’s chances of being repealed wholesale by Congress is probably a long shot due to the Biden administration being hostile to any pro-gun legislation and anti-gun politicians controlling both chambers.
A good start for Congress would be to remove SBRs from the NFA.
This move would cut down on the number of form ones and fours to a more manageable number for the NFA branch. This move would also solve the issue with conflicting ATF guidance that surrounds stabilizing pistol braces. With 10 to 40 million braced pistols currently in the country and no increase in crime, this should be a no-brainer for Congress but still would hit resistance.
Another solution would be removing suppressors from the NFA.
This change has been attempted several times in the past but has failed. For it to work, the public would need to be educated on the actual usage for these devices. Hollywood and anti-gun groups have long sold the public on the myth that suppressors are the tools of assassins. In fact, in most countries in Europe, gun owners can purchase suppressors over the counter without going through background checks.
A third solution would be letting licensed firearms dealers issue the tax stamps at the time of sale.
The background check that the NFA branch runs on a buyer is the exact same background check dealers run when someone buys a gun. The only difference would be scanning fingerprints and passport photos into the system. This small change would save American’s time and American taxpayers millions of dollars that now go to the NFA branch.
The final solution would be for the NFA Branch to use machine learning to process applications. In addition to the cost and time-saving benefits of such a system, it would also eliminate human error from the process. Congress wouldn’t have to change a single law to implement this approach.
Even though there are many different ways to speed up the NFA process, it is unlikely to get Democrats to sign onto any changes. It isn’t about making us safer. It is about creating an artificial bottleneck to inconvenience gun owners.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.