Written by By Alan M. Rice, Life Member and Firearms Instructor -- Gun Owners of America Published: 13 February 2020
Last month several Gun Owners of America staff members attended the SHOT Show to deliver our “no compromise” message to the firearms industry. It is an exciting time at GOA as we build relationships with some of the best names in the industry. Watch our Partners Page grow over the coming weeks and months.
I have not attended SHOT Show in many years and wow, I certainly learned a lot.
There were many new guns to check out. Twenty first century gun buyers seem to have an unlimited amount of quality firearms to choose from. Many of the new models were designed using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software which enables engineers to save time and development costs. This is a good thing — it allows for a very short time interval between a concept or idea for a firearm. And when these modern designs are manufactured and begin to appear on gun dealer’s shelves, it gives gun buyers a multitude of choices. Choice in guns is a good thing.
I also learned about a computer software package that is dangerous and that is the topic of this article. But first, a little background on the ATF laws and rules that firearms dealers must follow.
Federal law and ATF regulations require a licensed firearms dealer (an FFL holder) to record the date a firearm was received, the date of receipt, and the name and address or the name and license number (FFL number) of the person (or corporation) from whom the firearm was received. The dealer must also record the name of the manufacturer and importer (if any) and the model, serial number, type and caliber or gauge.
Then, when a firearm is disposed of, for any reason, a dealer is required to record the disposition: showing the date of sale or other disposition– gift, loan or testing (anytime a gun leaves the licensed premises it must be logged out of the bound book) and the name and address or the name and license number (FFL number if a dealer) of the person (or corporation) to whom the firearm was transferred. If to a non-FFL holder, there will also be a completed form 4473 in the dealer’s records and the information will include the person’s full legal name and address, NICS approval code and make, model and caliber.
These requirements have been in place since at least 1968 and dealers must make their records available for ATF inspection during business hours — and no warrant is required. The law prohibits ATF from making complete copies of dealer’s records which could be used to create a registry of guns and gun owners.
Now that I’ve explained the law, I want to explain how computer technology is causing a problem for gun buyers.
While attending the SHOT Show, I learned about a software package that makes dealer record keeping easier.
The software allows dealers to keep an electronic bound book. It is an online package and the dealer pays a monthly fee based upon the number of transactions. When the software is being used, the screen resembles a bound book. The software has spell check and prevents misspelling of names such as Glock (Gloc) or SCCY (SKKY). And because all of the information is typed on a screen, it makes it easy for those who have poor quality handwriting to keep legible records that can then be made into a PDF which, when printed, looks like a traditional printed “bound book.”
Software, making daily tasks easier… what could possibly go wrong?
When speaking with the software vendors, I specifically asked how does ATF conduct compliance inspections of dealers who are using this software package. I was given a demonstration and shown how the software exports the data (guns and gun buyers names and addresses) into either a PDF that resembles an old-fashioned bound book or a Comma Separated Values (CSV) file that can be opened in Microsoft Excel.
I was told that this “feature” makes a compliance check easy because the dealer simply exports the CSV file to a thumb drive and the ATF leaves with the data. I was told that ATF analyzes the data away from the FFL’s premises. If there are any discrepancies or problems the gun dealer is notified and usually given an opportunity to correct the errors.
When dealing with compliance with government rules, many people do what is easy. That’s why so many file their US form 1040 tax return electronically, even though experts claim that increases the likelihood of an audit. I wasn’t surprised when the software vendor told me how well-received their application has been. Especially since it makes things easy, and ATF is not on dealer’s premises for more than a few minutes.
I accept that it is bad for business to have ATF personnel hanging around. This scheme is a danger, and allows ATF to easily create a gun registry — in violation of 18 USC 926 (a)(3). We have no way to know if a registry is actually being created and if the ATF is or is not destroying these records at the conclusion of the compliance check. One might argue they’re not, because GOA has received reports of ATF demanding copies of entire (paper) bound books. That is bad, but at least with paper, the data still needs to be converted to an electronic format to be of any real use. However, a CSV file that can be searched in MS Excel is of significant value to a government that wishes to track gun owners.
How do you feel about your personal information — linked to guns you own, by make, model and serial number — being put into the ATF’s hands? If you’re like me, you don’t like it, and you know that registration can and has led to confiscation. Not only in far away foreign lands but in US states like New York.
So what can you, the regular GOA Member and gun buyer do to protect yourself?
Ask. That’s right, ask your dealer how he keeps his or her records. Are they compiled in an old-fashioned bound book, or are they using one of these twenty-first century software packages?
GOA’s advice is to find a small, preferably home-based FFL — one who still keeps paper records — and transact exclusively with that FFL dealer. Take affirmative steps to protect yourself.