Two weeks ago Dead Air Armament, Gemtech and Silencer Shop announced they had worked together with the ATF to help with the modernization of the National Firearms Act (NFA) application processing. The new procedures include the voluntary use of a barcode that is generated on forms when created on ATF Form 4s and ATF Responsible Person Questionnaires from the three companies above and soon available at other wholesaler websites.
Not surprisingly, there are as many questions as there are answers. In an attempt to fill the void, there arose a litany of discussions and assumptions on the barcode, the data encoded from the forms and the processing of applications once they reach the NFA Division in West Virginia.
I had the opportunity to sit down (virtually) with those involved in the NFA modernization from the beginning – Gemtech, Dead Air and Silencer Shop – to address some of the rumors. Although I will probably not answer everyone’s questions, the below responses should help to alleviate the majority of concerns.
First, here are a few facts as confirmed with Dead Air, Gemtech and Silencer Shop by way of the ATF:
- Barcode scanning started on August 12, 2017
- Since July 11, 2017 over 4000 forms have been submitted with a corresponding barcode.
- The barcode stores data as well as interacts with the ATF systems to speed up the entire application processing timeline.
TFB: Tell us a little more about the bar code system and how it works?
DEAD AIR: Dealers can go to the Dead Air, Gemtech, or Silencer Shop sites and use the form generator link to create a barcoded Form 4. The dealer inputs their name and the system auto-populates the correct FFL number, address, and CLEO information. This saves a huge amount of time for the dealer and circumvents the number one ATF processing error rate item which is incorrect FFL numbers. Of the 50% error rate regarding new Form 4’s, the wrong FFL number is statistically the most common screw up.
Once the dealer inputs their name, they only need to enter the transferee’s information, and the weapon’s information. The dealer then prints the form and the printed form now has a barcode on it’s face. Its totally free, and can be used to purchase any NFA weapon by any dealer
SILENCER SHOP: Not only does the barcode enter in some customer data, but it also has specific code to assist with data entry and speed up the process. Additionally, it verifies information and helps reduce errors within the ATF processing.
As a stocking dealer of NFA products, I am all for anything that will help to streamline, and speed up, the Form 4 approval process. This new process will greatly decrease the error rate for processing and approving Form 4’s, thus speeding up the time it takes to get them approved and back in the hands of the of end users, the customers. As a dealer, the biggest complaint that we hear on a daily basis is that potential customers just don’t want to wait. The wait times are a bigger deterrent than the $200 tax stamp.
– Thad McLaurin, III, The Armory, Ridgeland, MS
TFB: Can a barcode be generated outside of the current form creators and be used by the ATF to process NFA applications?
DEAD AIR: No. We’ve deliberately made the system available for free to the industry because we want universal acceptance. We worked very closely with ATF and had access to their system so that a 100% reliable solution could be developed and provided to the industry. If another industry member provides their own barcode system it will not translate to the scanners/system that ATF is using. In other words, a system that is free of charge with zero error rate becomes compromised by third party developed barcodes. This may result in ATF simply going back to the old analog system out of frustration and this would be a huge blow to the industry. Regardless, the ATF advises that the ability to barcode forms with our co-developed barcode will be made available to dealers through the ATF’s own eform system very shortly. Once this happens then there is really zero incentive to develop some other type of barcode in the market.
TFB: All of you have been to the NFA Division and witnessed forms being processed first hand. Can you give me an idea of what that system looks like? How do the forms come in? Where are they stored? Who handles them?
DEAD AIR: The barcoded forms are handled like any other forms once received by the NFA processing center but there are a couple of key distinctions. The NFA branch now has hand held scanners which contractors then use to scan in the data. What once took about eight minutes now takes a few seconds. Statistically this may not sound like much, but a two minute savings in process time of a Form 4 translates to 300 man days for the NFA branch, so do the math. Once scanned, there is virtually no error rate which means that the forms don’t then go to an RA further slowing down the process. What the barcode does is that it fixes the 6-8 month front side processing delays that the industry has seen over the last twelve months.
GEMTECH: Before barcodes, the ATF would work through paperwork one sheet at a time, to enter all necessary date into their registry. From there, they can perform their background checks and necessary screenings. Then if your form checks out and you are found to be approved, they put a stamp on it and send it back to your dealer USPS. Once approved they also update the transferor’s NFRTR to reflect the transfer. A Form 4 has 23 different fields of information that would get brought into the database. Needless to say, the time and effort to continually type in specific data could and does lead to errors when transferring information from paper to database.
TFB: There has been some criticism about how much time the barcode system will actually save. Can any of you comment on what the ATF said about the new system speeding up approvals?.
DEAD AIR: We are not promising overnight approvals. The barcode provides a vehicle for fast error free accurate data entry. Without this capability, NFA branch had to move substantial resources around in order to try to deal with spikes in the market. They simply didn’t have the tools or the resources. We’ve fixed this. Moreover, the technology also allows for further future enhancements such as digital print submissions plus greater efficiencies in terms of payment processing. For those that have chimed in regarding the antiquated nature of a barcoded solution versus something that is cloud based, I would offer that we needed a solution that would work with what ATF has today not one that required a new multimillion dollar hardware system that ATF might get in the next 2-5 years.
This is all about reducing wait times right now, using the existing rules and hardware. Changing the rules, forms, or hardware takes years and that doesn’t help the industry today. One important addition to the barcode process glossed over by many is the more or less instant approvals on e-form 3’s. Form 3’s make up approximately 1/3 of the total forms submitted to NFA. E-form 3’s can be processed more than 80% faster than analog paper 3’s. If suddenly paper form 3’s are no longer taking up an examiner’s time and if error-free barcoded form 4’s are submitted then huge process efficiencies and reduced wait times occur. It’s no coincidence that the barcode and instant e-form 3’s arrived at the same time as its all part of a broader plan.
The long and sometimes indefinite wait for Form 4s to clear has always been and continues to be the biggest barrier to suppressor sales. The $200 tax stamp is a bit of a hurdle, but telling a customer that they may have to wait up to a year to have their suppressor in hand is often a deal breaker. Streamlining the Form 4 process is a no-brainer. It’s a win-win for everyone involved: The Govt gets more revenue, the customer gets to protect their ears, and we get to pay our operating costs ;).
– Brooks Van Camerik, Thompson Machine Director of Sales
TFB: Will the barcode forms “leap frog” the forms already in the system?
SILENCER SHOP: At this point no. However, the ATF should be able to clear the old forms our over the new few months and be to barcoded forms by the end of the year. There is also talk of a line just for barcoded forms. Similar to form 3’s, where there are two lines, one for paper and one for eforms.
DEAD AIR: “Leap Frog” is probably the wrong term and its hard to say how ATF will or may choose to prioritize barcoded forms. By the 4th quarter of this year NFA will have processed the backlog of pre-41F forms. Once this final ‘bite of the elephant’ is finished wait times should come down and stay down as we’ve provided a solution which should avoid future excessive processing delays.
TFB: People have said that this is the end of HPA. What is your take?
SILENCER SHOP: Wait times are never an excuse for deregulation. Ultimately the goal is for silencers to be removed from the NFA. However there has been no movement on HPA since 2015. We saw an opportunity to help the industry and reduce wait times so that is what we did.
DEAD AIR: I don’t think that one has any relationship to the other. If the HPA becomes law – wonderful. That said, congress can’t get Obama Care fixed so where does that leave the HPA? Regardless, the barcode is about trying to fix an antiquated processing system today and this has nothing to do with the HPA. We realize that others are working very hard on the eventual passage of the HPA and we applaud their efforts.
These are glorious days right now. ATF has the E-forms process for Form 3s so dialed in right now that Form 3s are mostly being approved in 24 hours or less.
What this means to the man on the street: If your dealer doesn’t have a particular Bowers can in stock that you want, it can usually be shipped to the dealer the next day. We’ve been doing this a long time and its never been this fast. Wait times of three weeks to a couple months have been common until now.
– Tom Bowers, Bowers Group LLC
TFB: Any final thoughts?
SILENCER SHOP: It is important to remember that using a barcode on your application is completely voluntary and free to all dealers. We encourage everyone to use it because the more forms submitted with the barcode, the faster and more efficient the process will become.
DEAD AIR: The barcode is not a silver bullet, but the implications of its acceptance will pay huge dividends for the industry and consumers in the very near future. It opens a bunch of doors and this absolutely could not have been done without the help of ATF. This really is a win-win for everyone involved.
It’s obvious, it makes total f***ing sense. Has anyone else heard of the NICS check? High-five to Silencer Shop, they are obviously the brains behind the voice of reason.
Author’s Note: Silencers need to be deregulated. Continue to support bills like HPA and SHUSH by calling and writing your legislators. Support the industry by teaching new shooters about the wonders of silencer ownership. Oh yeah, and buy more silencers.