ATF Announces Roll-Out of New E-Form 4 Platform
Historically, the words Government and technological advancement do not seem like they should go together. However, recent events with the ATF seem to (finally) belie this somewhat.
The BATFE has announced they are rolling out a new E-Form 4 platform, one specifically hoping to modernize how Form 4 submissions are handled.
In preparation for the new platform coming online, the ATF stated that they will need to take the current platform down from Friday, December 17 through the morning of the roll-out Tuesday, December 21. During that time, the E-Forms would be unavailable, for obvious reasons.
True to some expectations, on Monday, December 20, the ATF announced the delay in the roll-out of the new E-Form 4 platform until Thursday, December 23rd at 6 am. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.
Even so, the roll-out has been a long time coming for a lot of individuals in the industry. This new platform will be able to allow dealers to submit their customer’s Form 4 electronically, thus theoretically speeding up the process. For all of us who have waited patiently, and lots not so patiently, this idea is a welcomed one.
For those who may not really know all the details, the path of a typical ATF Form 4 is a pretty long one—from submission, to approval, and then the user finally being able to pick up their suppressor.
With the first step in the process, the selling dealer fills out the Form 4 with all of the pertinent information. The end-user must supply two copies of their fingerprints, passport photos (or similar), and the $200 transfer tax. From there, the packet of information gets sent to the general clearinghouse address for the ATF where the check is stripped off the packet and deposited.
After that, the packet gets sent to the NFA Branch of the ATF offices for processing. But the packet doesn’t go straight to the examiner’s desk. First, it has to go through data entry and processing, and the information goes to the FBI for a background check. Once all of that is completed, then it hits the examiner’s desk.
At that point, the ATF examiners approve or disapprove the Form 4 and send the form back to the originating Dealer. From start to finish, this process can take anywhere from 4 months (if you are super lucky) or over a year for some unfortunate souls.
Why is this a big deal?
With the sheer number of submissions in the past two years, the number of paper transfers for each examiner also has gone up exponentially. Now, add data entry errors into that equation, as well as Form 4 submissions getting lost in the mail or in transfer, and you can imagine what it would mean to have the ability to submit a Form 4 electronically.
But don’t get too caught up in having an E-Form 4 option if you have already submitted a paper Form 4. Trying to withdraw your current paper Form 4 in favor of submitting the form electronically is a very bad idea. Why? Well, let’s walk through the reasoning.
If you call up ATF and request to have your form withdrawn, your request goes to the appropriate examiner, who has to sort through all of the forms on their desk to pull out your paper form.
But that’s not the end of the process. Instead of just approving it as they could have, they have to acknowledge the withdrawal and release the serial number on your form. You have to wait to receive that acknowledgment before you can resubmit another Form 4 with that serial. Essentially, you are adding months on to your approval wait instead of just sitting tight and trying to be patient.
All is not lost though. ATF states that they expect the roll-over to take between two and four days to complete and for the system to go live. Once that happens, they will notify the industry of the transition a day or two beforehand. Folks in the industry are pretty excited in the hopes that the system works the way that ATF promises (yeah, we know) but it will purportedly eliminate data entry errors and delays in the processing as well. This is welcome news whether you’re acquiring a can for every caliber you shoot or just a single suppressor that is multi-caliber.
Along with the transition to add the electronic Form 4 submission, the existing E-Forms platform is getting a facelift of sorts. The web address and existing user information will stay the same and unchanged. The system will allow the electronic submission of fingerprints with the Form 4, allowing the user to attach a digital copy of the prints. Additionally, the system has upped the attachment file size limits to 30 MB.
Some might not remember when the original E-Forms platform rolled out to industry folks back in the early 2010s. People were pretty excited about the possibility of speeding up Form 2 and Form 3 submissions. The process worked well, until it did not. Over the years there have been a series of growing pains for ATF around their electronic submissions. Specifically, the glitches in the system that cause forms to get stuck or to go missing.
Now, there is nothing saying that this new E-Forms platform will have any of those same issues. Time will tell on most of them; however, the ATF has stated historically that they aim to get Form 4 submissions processed under 90 days. We are remaining ever hopeful, but not holding our breath just yet. Regardless of the outcomes, this is a great step forward for all individuals trying to exercise their rights.