2014 ATF Inspection Results from FFLGuard

FFLGuard is a company that specializes in Legal Services & Compliance Solutions
for the Firearms Industry.  One of their departments monitors outputs from the BATFE and puts out advisories, and the most recent is the end of year report from BATFE inspections.

The BATFE actually publishes this information as a Power Point presentation that you can access here: http://www.atf.gov/sites/default/files/assets/Firearms/FirearmsIndustry/2014_shot_show_stats.pptx

I’m a data nerd so I found the presentation interesting.

The quick summary:

  • Overall licensee population has increased (the majority of the increase was in dealer licenses).
  • The number of new applications (for licensees) denied is high at close to 20%. [edited]
  • The most frequent violation is transferees not properly completing ATF Form 4473, Section A.
  • The second most frequent violation was failure to timely record information in the A&D Record (which is mainly related to poor inventory control).  The scary thing is that even after audits, 14,455 firearms remained missing (which is actually slightly down from last year, but way up from 2012).  There are gross numbers, not the trend (which as was pointed out by David in the comments is moving in a positive direction). [edited]

I think the take away is that if you are going to interact with the BATFE in an official capacity, try and have your documentation in order and follow the rules.

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


  • Drew Coleman

    How hard is it to fill out a 4473? Just read the damn thing and answer it honestly.

    • Doc Rader

      Based on those numbers, exceptionally hard. Which is frightening.

    • HSR47

      While I acknowledge that there are some licensees that do very sloppy paperwork, it’s important to know that there’s also a lot of room for interpretation as to where the line between “acceptable” and “violation” lies. This line can vary agent to agent, and it can vary between field offices.

      What do they want in boxes that don’t apply to a given transfer (e.g. 9, 12, 15, 19, 20b-25)? Do they want them blank, or do they want an N/A?

      Will they accept corrections to checkboxes on the front (e.g., if someone answers 11L “no” and then answers 12 “no” as well instead of skipping to 13 as instructed, can it be corrected, or does the entire form have to be redone?)?

      In boxes 26-30, how much detail do they want: Is “Colt” acceptable, or do they want “Colt’s Pt. F.A. MFG.?” What do they want if there is no model number, manufacturer, importer, caliber, and/or serial number present on the firearm? Blank box? Some variation of “None visibly marked?” Something else?

      In other words, while there are certainly dealers that do bad paperwork (I’ve seen them do it), the entire enforcement system is fundamentally arbitrary and capricious.

      • Doc Rader

        What a nightmare. So basically you have to learn what your local individual agent is looking for and make sure *those* i’s are dotted and *those* t’s are crossed (in addition to all of the other rules).

  • VirginiaGunSafety

    I think its more a matter of FFLs not properly double checking the forms before they complete the transaction with the customer. We’ve had a few busy Saturdays where we’ve had a customer’s incomplete form slip past us. Then we have to track them down and have them come back to the store. A lot of folks fill out County wrong, especially if they live in an Independent City inside a county, and a lot of folks forget to fill out 10A even after we tell them ahead of time to fill out both 10A and 10B. It gets even more hectic if your State has its own form to fill out as well as the 4473.

    • HSR47

      In my experience, the worst one is 12: People tend to read the first line of 11L, and answer the question without reading the specific instructions.

      Another one that I’ve seen a few times so far is customers who fail to correctly spell their own names. Michael/Micheal as a middle name seems to be the most common example.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        To be fair, it is extremely poorly laid out.

        • HSR47


          A better layout would put questions about immigration status AFTER what is now question 14 (what is your country of citizenship), which could then instruct U.S. citizens to skip the rest of the immigration questions.

      • Dan Atwater

        You can cross out 12 and tell them to skip it, 90% of the time they’ll still answer it.

        • HSR47

          I’ve found that the best way to keep them from answering 12 is to minimize the instructions I give them when I hand them the form.

          I’ve taken to simply telling them “Skip questions 12 and 15” — I’ve found that if you give them a lot of instructions (answer 10a AND 10b, don’t abbreviate, etc.) they tend to forget the most important one, which is to skip 12, but that if you leave your instructions to “skip 12” they are more likely to remember.

          That, and it helps to watch them fill it out.

    • Dan Atwater

      “Check either ‘hispanic’ or ‘not hispanic'”
      “but I already checked ‘white!'”

      And people putting “USA” instead of their county, or putting their own birthday in box 17, not reading any of 11/12 and checking “yes” to everything..

      Always get a double check.

      • I am guilty of misreading ‘county’ as ‘country’ on a few occasions myself…..

        • Dan Atwater

          I’ve done it myself. I can’t recall any other form I’ve filled out that’s asked me for my county, easy mistake to make

  • akim h lettner

    if they can not fill out a form propely . you still think they can load a firearm safely and not shoot someones foot off

  • Renegade

    In CA, this is especially true at the state level.

  • Doc Rader

    David the 20% is for licensees. A lot of the focus in the discussion here has been around transfers I think. The information from the advisory stated

    “The number of new applications filed with ATF continued a downward trend to be only 10,288 applicants. Since the licensee population overall increased by only 2,000, this reflects the “turnover” in the licensee population.

    The number of new applications denied remains high at close to 20%. While the typical denial rate had been close to 15%, the increase occurred in FY 2013 when ATF changed their Administrative Action Order (internal policy) regarding applications filed by those succeeding revoked or denied renewal licensees.”

    Re: point b. Valid observation. I’m just shocked at the gross number of missing/unaccounted for firearms. Relative amounts are down given the years, but the total number is just crazy. If those numbers were strictly rifles that would be enough to field a division (or at least a couple of brigades).

    IMO, if you are going to invite the BATFE into your life, you should make sure your a** is covered and keep good accountability.

    • HSR47

      It’s important to understand that many of those guns are missing, or even in existence, only on paper.

      For example, if you are logging guns into your bound book, and after an interruption you proceed to enter the same gun(s) into your bound book again (with or without errors), firearms are now “missing” per the BATFE. They’re on your books, so why can’t you show them the gun or where they went?

      Another example: Imagine that you’re an FFL that takes in guns for gunsmithing. Imagine that your policy is to have them logged into a physical bound book by the employee who takes them in, but logging them out of that book is done by a specific employee. If, for some reason, the gun gets returned to the proper customer, but it is never correctly logged out, the gun is now missing on paper.

      Yet another example: If a firearm is sold, and the buyer (for whatever reason) takes the FFL’s paperwork (4473, state form, etc.), the gun will never be properly logged out, and will simply be missing.

      There are also FFLs who have in inventory what are, in effect, personal guns. If they’re not logged in/out correctly, and/or not returned to the premises, then that’s another source of “missing” firearms.

      It is also entirely possible to misplace firearms — to have firearms in inventory, and in the building, but not where they are supposed to be, and not where they’re likely to be found.

      That’s all before you factor in guns being stolen. While many dealers take reasonable steps to ensure that gun don’t get stolen, others take a far more lackadaisical approach. Next time you go to a gun show, take a look around to see what steps dealers are taking to protect their inventories from theft: Are handguns in cases, or are they just out on the table for all to grab? If the latter, are they tethered? Is any employee trying to supervise more than one handgun out of the case at any given time? How are their long guns secured? Are they just on the table, or are they tied down/together? For multi-day shows, what kind of physical security does the hall have overnight?

      I certainly grant that there is a non-zero number of licensees that do not take inventory protection, and/or proper paperwork (read: they’ll sell guns without proper paperwork) seriously, it seems likely to me that a significant percentage of the “missing” guns are either only missing (or even existent) on paper, or were simply stolen.

  • PatrickHenry1789

    I’ve always believed that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should be more like a one stop shop rather than a govt. bureaucracy. They could make it more convenient by putting in a drive through window.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    It’s impossible to overstate just how much your nonsensical post fits into the “first world problems” category.

    The US has the absolute best firearms laws overall of any country in the world.

    Read that a few times and let it sink in, because it’s the truth. We have an incompetent ATF, stupid laws for lengths and suppressors, an unlawful ban on machine guns, paperwork and red tape here and there, but overall there is no where on earth it’s flat out “better”. [Everything is broken] in a country you can own as many weapons as you like, of almost any caliber, with silencers and close to military specs, you don’t need special permission, and won’t (really) be persecuted for your choices. So really, just chill.

    • HSR47

      “Everyone else is worse, so you should be happy things are only as bad as they are.”

      While I won’t argue your point that pretty much every other first-world country is worse, the fact remains that things here could still be far better.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Which is an ENTIRELY different argument than “Everything is broken here”.

        • HSR47

          Actually, I would argue that the entire system IS fundamentally broken/unconstitutional.

          Distilled to the most basic, federal statutes regarding the 2nd Amendment almost universally take the position of RESTRICTING a natural right, rather than PROTECTING it.

          At present, the only act of Congress of the last 100+ years that actually approached the 2nd Amendment from what could be argued to be at least mostly the correct direction is the FOPA of 1986 (minus the Hughes Amendment as least).

          Every single other act of Congress has largely worked in the opposite direction. Indeed, the FOPA of 1986 wasn’t so much an improvement for it’s own sake, but a partial repeal of the earlier GCA of 1968 in order to roll back some of the more odious and oppressive sections.

    • supergun

      Good comment. You hit the nail on the head.

  • The one thing that got to me was the missing firearms. I mean, holy crap! That’s a lot of missing guns! How does that happen? Can anyone explain this?
    I think people should just take their time and double check their paper work. People can wait a few extra minutes. The business and getting things done right the first time, I feel, is more important than trying to rush through things.