Why We Already Have Registration

This USA Today article gives a peek inside ATF’s huge storage facility in West Virginia which houses all the 4473 paperwork that comes from defunct FFLs. It sounds like there is an effort to make the records electronic, sorted by dealer. Basically, you would look up the dealer and then go through each record of the FFL looking for the correct 4473. Because the individual buyers are not indexed, this technically does not violate the federal law making a registry illegal.


If the out-of-business dealer’s records have been converted to the ATF’s electronic database, examiners can attempt to locate purchasers by tabbing through digital folders organized by former dealer names and then sort through individual sales records to identify individual buyers.

But once those records are electronic, it is exponentially easier to run OCR through every record and compile a registry. There is software out there that do name and address corrections, so even if the OCR doesn’t get everything perfect, you could probably still get a registry that is probably 95% accurate. It wouldn’t be that hard to set up a system that did serial number normalization either. You could get from something perfectly legal to a useful registry in a matter of hours with the right systems in place.

The article mentions the large number of traces the office is getting, increasing year-over-year. A lot of anti-gun politicians have been forcing these “trace every gun” policies on their police departments, whether the trace is really needed for the purposes of an investigation or not. Kind of convenient, isn’t it, that the volume of requests coming into ATF has them crying for more money to digitize more and more records.

Now obviously this registry would not be complete, because it would not include private transfers, but they are doing their level best to work on that side of the equation too.

19 thoughts on “Why We Already Have Registration”

  1. Do we have an idea of how many FFLs actually go out of business every year? That’s the only way that the paperwork ends up in this facility. Would be interesting…

  2. Further, do any of us really believe that there is no record kept of the call-in to NICS? If you do, I have a bridge to sell you. Cheap.

  3. If the only way the ATF ends up with these records is from a failed/shuttered FFL, maybe we as a gun owning community should have a line of funding set up to help failing FFLs find new ownership so the records don’t end up in enemy hands?

    This would be a good project for the NRA to pursue.

    1. FFLs can’t be transferred. If your company gets purchased, that FFL becomes defunct, and the company buying the business has to apply for a new FFL.

      1. So, what constitutes an FFL and what would it take to maintain the existence of that FFL? It’s a business with a business address and hours of operation, plus whatever licenses, fees, etc. local and/or state government requires. If Joe’s Guns goes out of business, what are the minimum requirements (and costs) to keep that FFL legally active? If two FFLs can occupy the same address (sub-leased space?) the “defunct” FFL could operate noon to 1 PM Tuesdays, pay minimal rent plus local biz licenses for 20 years (IIRC, an FFL that goes under after 20 years doesn’t have to send in its 4473s; or, has that been changed?)

        1. The defunct FFL would have be operated by the same people who are on the license. There is no way you can take over someone else’s FFL. Even if it’s a stock issuing corporation, if control or ownership of that corporation changes, ATF has to be notified, and the new owners have to apply for a new FFL.

          So basically, if Cabela’s bought Gander Mountain, two entities that already possess FFLs, Gander Mountain’s FFL would become defunct, and their records would be shipped to West Virginia. If it was a merger, the new entity would have to apply for a new FFL and both previous FFLs would become defunct.

  4. Ummm, we have known that ATFE has been building a registration list since 1995. On “Day One”, a news magazine program, Ronnie Noble admitted that they were making a registration database.

    NRA has slept through my 20 years of warnings.

  5. I’d wager that the NSA already knows everyone who owns firearms and uses the net. We’re far too talkative a bunch. The only think keeping the ATF from that data is general government incompetence and NSA’s secretive nature.

  6. This is something that disturbs me, which is why I would like some experience in, and the equipment for, making weapons.

    It’s a matter of both time and money; while it may be out of reach for me right now, it’s not so out of reach as to make it feel improbable, though!

  7. If an ffl changes address by moving to a different store it is easier to close out your books and re- apply for a new ffl for the new location. I know a gun store that did just this and it alarmed me. Now any guns I bought from them are listed not in his books alone sitting in his files but sitting with the government. Becuase the government has all of his files. He started fresh.

  8. I’m wondering about the law regarding records retention for still active FFL’s. I seem to recall it is twenty (20) years. Is that true? So after 20 years they can destroy their records? If they can, is that what most FFL’s do? If not then there is a shadow registration going on.

    BTW, I’ve had a store tell me they how just store the forms in boxes indexed by year in a storage unit. I bet a lot of places do this. Storage is expensive–especially high security/climate controlled. Anyone know what the law says about storage of these records? One reason I never use SSN on the form. But there is a lot of info there for any ID thief to probably steal an ID!

    What about dealers that are using the all electronic web based form like Cabela’s?

    I’m also wondering how they track the FFL seller down as quickly as they do after a mass shooting if these records aren’t kept electronically. Just done through “brute force” sending agents to all the FFL’s starting at those located close to the shooting till they find it?

    What’s to stop a shadow operation in the government from building this database other than incompetence and funding?

    If one ever sells a gun they purchased from a dealer (meaning there is a record of it going to you) better keep some good records of that since you could get a visit years later about it. Especially if it isn’t sold to a dealer by you.

    Elimination of private party sales is ONLY to get all guns registered. That can be the only outcome.

    1. After 20 years, they can destroy their records, yes. But I don’t know offhand how many FFLs do this.

      My understanding is that the manufacturers A/D records are pretty much all electronic at this point. Same for distributors. It’s only when it hits retail that you have to start dealing with paper records. Though, yes, large FFLs are making their records electronic. I’m pretty sure most FFLs these days probably have at least electronic A/D records.

    2. In 4 years my first gun purchase goes over 20 years, and the FFL is still in business. I’ve been thinking after 20 years to go pay a visit and ask them if I can have my 4473 from that purchase, and offer to pay them for it if it would take time to recover. That way I know for sure which firearms I own that the government does not know about.

      1. Good idea about asking for the form back. My oldest purchases over 20 years are from FFL’s that went out of business.

      2. Another nice thing about inheriting guns is there is no record—especially pre NICS guns. Just wish I had more of those—parent’s divorced forcing my Dad to liquidate lots of stuff over 30 years ago.

        Another reason for the registration crowd’s desire to eliminate family transfers.

        1. Really, though, if they go looking for Dad’s guns and Dad doesn’t have them, your house is the first place they’ll look next. :-/

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