The brand new ATF eForm 4 makes the transfer of an NFA item (i.e. suppressor or SBR) quicker and easier than ever for a federal firearms licensee (FFL) registrant. Purchases, transfers, and other NFA items-related transactions had to go through a fairly complex approval process (ATF tax stamp process for Form 4 and Form 1) that is regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, commonly known as ATF or BATFE.
We all know, that making any formal request starts with filling and submitting a form, especially in the case of government agencies. ATF has made different forms available for different purposes, for example – ATF Form 1 can be used to get approval for making and registering a Firearm. There are several other forms for approvals, registration, transfers, etc.
Finding the right form, having it printed, and filling it can be an unnecessarily time-consuming process to follow in today’s digital age. On top of that, if you have to send these hand-filled forms by mail, it will add to further delay, leaving you frustrated if you are in a hurry.
In order to make the process easier for the people, ATF has different e-Forms available on its website for different purposes, which can be filled, submitted, and processed electronically. However, when you look for ATF eForm 4, you would find it missing as only ATF eForm 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 6A, 9, 10, and 5300.11 are currently available for electronic filing. However, the news is that ATF can make the eForm version of Form 4 available soon, which is expected to dramatically cut down the time taken in the process.
What is AFT Form 4?
Before we jump in detailing how ATF eForm 4 will benefit you, let’s understand what is an ATF Form 4 for? ATF Form 4 is an “Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm”, i.e. it is used for requesting the approval for transferring an NFA item to an individual. Despite being one of the frequently used ATF Forms, Form 4 is yet to have its electronic version available. So far (as of November 2021) ATF Form 4 submission has been taking place all manually, i.e. sending hand-filled forms to the ATF.
ATF Form 1 vs. Form 4
What is the difference between Form 1 and Form 4? AFT Form 1, i.e. “application to make and register a firearm” is the form you need for approval if you make your own NFA items, while ATF Form 4 is for requesting approval for transferring an NFA item. ATF Form 1 is very popular among firearm hobbyists due to its availability as eForm and faster processing time. ATF Form 1 can be filled and submitted electronically but can you eFile ATF Form 4? Or can you speed up Form 4?
Now you might ask – how long does it take for Form 4 to be approved? Currently, the time taken by ATF to process Form 4 can be as long as six to nine months, which can further extend up to 14 months in some cases. There is no definite timeframe provided by the agency to process Form 4. However, ATF Form 4 eFile system is expected to bring down this duration to 3 months by the end of 2022.
How to check the status of ATF Form 4
Since no certain period of time is provided by the agency to process your application, at this point, you might ask – how will I know when my Form 4 is approved? ATF allows people to check the status of ATF Form 4 over the phone. You need to simply call the ATF at (304) 616-4500 and request – check the status of ATF Form 4.
When you call, you may be attended by an interactive voice response system (IVRS). Simply follow the instructions and it should eventually connect you to an NFA employee to check the status of ATF Form 4. You will be asked to provide your information such as the name used while filling ATF Form 4, the name of the transferor, and the serial number of your NFA item.
When the approval process is completed, your dealer is also informed about it. Since the agency mails their response to your dealer if your application was submitted on a paper form, you may hear from ATF about your approval before your dealer receives the response by mail.
In today’s internet age, you might want to check ATF Form 4 status online, unfortunately, currently, there is no system in place to check ATF Form 4 status online and all you can do is call ATF. Even via the phone, it is a pretty straightforward process to check the status of ATF Form 4.
ATF eForm advantages
Buying or selling NFA items can be a time-consuming affair due to the different regulatory procedures and red tapes it involves. Time-consuming and lengthy paperwork can add insult to the injury as it further delays the process. That is why ATF eForms has become a preferred way to apply for approvals, transfers, etc.
ATF eForms can be processed faster
Being all electronic, ATF eForms can be processed faster. Right from filling the data to submitting them electronically, they offer a significant improvement over traditional paper-based mailing and processing. In paper-based applications, your approval process does not start until it reaches the agency. However, ATF eForms cut the time taken in the mail to zero.
Lesser data entry errors
ATF eForms can be designed to reduce errors by validating data type in each field, for example, in a date of the birth field; a drop-down calendar can be added to avoid errors. Instead of providing data by typing, users can be provided with drop-down menu items to choose from. That’s not all, ATF eForms can automatically check for usual data entry errors and alert users (e.g. numerical data in the text field, etc.), which is not possible in paper-based hand-filled forms.
ATF eForm 4 eFile: what to expect?
ATF going live with all electronic eForm 4 will definitely have a significant impact on the sales of NFA items. Currently, filling and submitting ATF Form 4 is an all-manual process as you have to snail mail the hand-filled Form 4 to the ATF. Then there are long wait times of six to nine months or more. ATF eForm 4 eFile process is expected to significantly reduce the wait time to 2 to 3 months, or even lesser depending on how efficiently ATF will streamline the approval process.
How long does it take to get a silencer?
Currently, with the non-electronic version of ATF Form 4, it may take six to nine months (and even more) to get approval from the ATF. ATF sends back the approved tax stamp after which you can pick your silencer.
A frequently asked question is – what ATF form is needed for a suppressor/silencer? If you are buying a silencer then you need to fill out ATF Form 4, currently (as of November 2021, this form is not available in electronic version and you will need to mail a hand-filled paper form to the ATF.
On Form 4, you will need to provide your information along with your passport photo. In addition to that, you will have to go through NFA fingerprinting. NFA fingerprinting can be done either with a live scan, in which your fingerprints are captured electronically and can also be submitted electronically. Or you can go with more traditional ink-based fingerprinting on fingerprint cards. You will need a fingerprint card FD-258 to capture your fingerprints.
Does silencer shop eFile Form 4? As we discussed above, currently, ATF Form 4 is not available to eFile. However, ATF has been using form generator and barcode technology in order to speed up the processing of approvals with Form 4. This form generator technology is developed by Silencer Shop and its allies to reduce delays caused by data entry errors and seamless data exchange between the dealers and the ATF.
Do I have to carry my tax stamp with my suppressor?
Silencers/suppressors are legal in 42 of the 50 states, and it is legal to hunt within 40 states. Theoretically, you should carry your tax stamp along with your silencer/suppressor but what people generally do is keep the original one safe at their place and carry its photocopy or a scanned copy in their smartphone. In most cases, it will be able to prove that you are authorized to have the silencer/suppressor in your possession.
How long does an NFA tax stamp last?
At first, buying a silencer/suppressor (or any NFA item) may look like a complex process due to the paperwork and red tapes it involves, however, it is not as complex as it seems. The first step is finding a silencer/suppressor that fits your requirements and paying for it. Additionally, you will also have to pay $200 for the tax stamp. The next step is to file your paper and get your fingerprints scanned. You can use live scans or fingerprint cards for this purpose. Get your passport photo done and send it all to the ATF. Now all you need to do is wait for six to nine months for your tax stamp to return with approval.
If you are going to buy an NFA item (silencer/suppressor, machine guns, short barrel shotgun, short barrel rifle, machinegun, a destructive device (DD)), you will have to purchase a tax stamp and have it approved by the ATF. Tax stamps were introduced in 1934 to collect a $200 federal tax on purchasing firearms. NFA tax stamp is a one-time payment and is specific to an NFA item. If you are buying a short barrel rifle with a silencer, you will have to pay for two NFA tax stamps, i.e. $400, as they are two different items.
When your tax stamp returns with approval, you can go and pick your silencer/suppressor from the dealer. You will also need to go through a quick NICS background check at this point. You will have to fill a Form 4473 aka Firearms Transaction Record, and the dealer will take your information through the FBI’s NICS. NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System), as the name suggests, is a system to instantly perform criminal background checks on a person. For individuals, looking to purchase firearms, running NICS background checks is a mandatory process. NICS background check result takes as little as 30 seconds and if nothing shows up in your records, you can get away with your NFA item.
File as an individual or NFA gun trust?
One important consideration to make while purchasing a silencer/suppressor is – who is going to use it. If you buy it as an individual, you will be expected to be in possession of your silencer/suppressor all the time. Does it make any difference?
Yes. Let’s understand it with an example – if your friend or family member wants to go to the range with your silencer, they cannot. You will have to go along with him/her as you are the only authorized owner of the silencer and should be in possession of it all the time. You cannot simply hand over your silencer/suppressor to someone to use it on their own.
This is where purchasing a silencer as a “Trust” comes into the picture. NFA Gun Trust is an arrangement, in which your NFA items, as well as people, can be included in the Trust, and these items can be possessed by them without any restriction.
It is not just the silencer/suppressor that can be added to your trust. You can also add other firearms to it. That is not all, if a trustee wants to will his/her items to anyone other than the government, he/she can put them in the trust. It will make things a lot easier for the other trustees (such as spouses, children, etc.) when a trustee passes away.
It makes complete sense to set up a trust if you have family members who may be using the NFA items. A local lawyer can help you set up a trust and put members in it then all you need is to mention the trust’s name while making a purchase of NFA items such as silencer/suppressor.
Some firearm dealers may help you set up a “Single Shot NFA Gun Trust”, which is even easier to set up and offer more flexibility despite being comparatively inexpensive. In a Single Shot NFA Gun Trust, one NFA item (such as a silencer/suppressor) is assigned to each trust.
Single Shot Trust offers the flexibility of a traditional NFA gun trust along with the ease of filing as an individual. Once ATF approves your NFA item transfer, you can add trustees to your Single Shot Trust.
Since no trustees are added to the trust initially while creating a single shot trust, filing it becomes as easy as filing as an individual.
There are some news reports that claim that ATF will be making the new eForm 4 available by the end of 2021. ATF eForm 4 will be made available by first taking the current system offline and completing the migration of the new ATF Form 4 eFile system.
The new ATF Form 4 eFile system will allow users to submit fingerprints electronically as an EFTS file. EFTS (Electronic Fingerprint Transmission Specification) file is created with specifications prescribed by the FBI to ensure interoperability with its Next Generation Identification (formerly: IAFIS) system.
If ATF is successfully able to launch the new electronic Form 4 process, it will be a huge step towards making ATF approvals faster and more efficient.