New ATF Procedures Speed Up the Processing of Form 4s


AP5 P Core Suppressed
The AP5 P is an excellent suppressor host. IMG Jim Grant

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is processing individual eForms at a record pace due to changes in handling procedures.

On March 15, 2024, Deputy Assistant Director of Enforcement Programs and Services (EPS) James Vann and National Firearms Act (NFA) Division Acting Chief Ben Hiller hosted a webinar for industry members to discuss changes to the NFA division’s handling of ATF Form 4 processing. The announced changes will cut down the processing time for individual Form 4s and will lay out a road map to cut down on the time for processing of trust Form 4s in the future.

The ATF claims that the new speed of processing forms should be the “new normal.”

The ATF is dropping the first-in-first-out method for individual Form 4s, where the NFA branch processes the forms in the order received before sending them off to the FBI to run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The new method is to send all forms to the ATF a few times a week and process the individual Form 4 once a clear NICS check is completed. This will allow the ATF to process applications of those that can be completed first in real time.

According to the ATF 70% of NICS checks are being completed instantly. The remaining 30% are either “delayed” or “denied” meaning the need for additional investigation by the FBI. As of March 12, 2024, there are 77,963 “open status” background checks with NICS. The oldest dates to May 8, 2023. Overall, the backlog of NFA applications has decreased by 35% since October 1, 2023.

One caveat that might cause some delays is the number of forms the ATF processes. The ATF receives an average of 14,000 to 16,000 Form 4 applications a month, and suppressors account for 92% of all Form 4 applications. The number of Form 4 applications is on the rise. In December 2023, the ATF received 31,438 applications. A month later, the ATF received 43,200 additional applications. Last month the number of applications rose higher to 79,465. If the numbers for 2024 continue the number of applications will increase by 96% to 116% over 2023.

Since the system was launched, the industry has embraced eForms over paper applications. Over 96% of all Form 4s are being submitted through eForms. Because of this percentage, the ATF is optimizing its procedures for the use of eForms over paper forms. This change should speed up the processing of Form 4s as more people use eForms.

The ATF has set up several “swim lanes” to process applications. These lanes include individual applications where a buyer purchases one item, individual bundling where a buyer submits multiple individual Form 4s at the same time, trust applications where a buyer uses a trust to buy an item and trust bundling where the purchaser buys multiple items using a trust. The different lanes’ breakdown should help the ATF process the applications quicker than in the past.

Form 4s using a trust will still take longer than individual applications. The ATF claims that since the trust must be verified by a person as valid, it slows down the process. These applications are still being processed on a first-in-first-out basis due to NICS checks only being valid for 30 days. Some of the common errors are the trustee and beneficiary being the same person or simple paperwork errors listing the wrong name. The ATF is planning to change methods to speed up the processing of trust applications, but that will require work by the ATF IT team, so there is no timeline for those changes.

Some of the ways the ATF is looking to speed up the processing of trust applications is by separating out standard trusts used by companies like Silencer Shop and Silencer Central from custom trusts. Since most of the information on these trusts is the same, all the ATF will have to verify is the names, serial numbers, and make and model of the items. The rest should be standard. Non-standard trusts will still have an issue where an ATF employee will have to read through the entire document. The ATF is also planning on streamlining the Responsible Person Questionnaire (RPQ) into eForms to prevent a mismatch between the RP on the trust and the RP on the RPQ.

Many ask why the new forms are being processed quickly, but the old forms are still in limbo. The ATF blames the FBI NICS division for the bottleneck, pointing out the FBI’s backlog of almost 78,000 NICS checks for NFA items. Once those checks are cleared, the speed should increase even more.

These changes have been a long time coming; by leveraging technology, the ATF should not have an excuse to delay a fundamental right more than they already do.


About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. Mr. Crump 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.

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