Idaho Republican Senator James Risch introduced the ATF Transparency Act on Thursday to combat long delays and mistakes in processing National Firearms Act (NFA) items by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The bill would take the ATF’s stated goal of 90 days to issue tax stamps and change it to a hard deadline. The ATF recently introduced eForms to help cut down on delays, and for a while, the wait times dropped, but according to the latest data from NFA wait time trackers, like the one provided by Silencer Shop, the average wait time is back to nine months.
The new bill will make the ATF automatically issue the tax stamp after 90 days, regardless if the process is complete.
Proponents of the bill cited the increase in NFA applications expected after the new ATF rule designating most braced pistols as short-barreled rifles (SBRs). Owners of SBRs are required to seek a tax stamp from the ATF. The ATF will issue a tax forbearance on the $200 for the stamp for braced pistols.
The bill would alleviate concerns about rejected tax stamps from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) delays. After 88 days, the FBI returns any checks that are not complete as “open” and will purge the records from the system. During the transfer of a standard firearm, the federal firearms licensee (FFL) can transfer the gun, but under the law, an NFA item can not be transferred without a completed NICS background check.
The ATF will reject the application and direct the gun owner to the FBI to clear up the delay without giving the person the NICS number. The bill would not only have the ATF issue the stamp but also requires the ATF to turn over the NICS number to the person so they can better follow up with the FBI.
One gun owner that AmmoLand News spoke to that ran into this problem with the FBI when trying to get a tax stamp to build his SBR spoke about his frustrations. After four months, the ATF notified him that his application was rejected because the NICS background check was not returned as “approved.” He went through the NICS appeals process and uploaded fingerprints and all documents the FBI asked him to submit. Two months later, his appeal was denied because the FBI stated it did not receive the requested records.
The documents were submitted, but when he acquired about how to resubmit the documents, the FBI said the website was “buggy,” and he would have to restart the appeals process from the very beginning. Only after that is rectified can he resubmit the ATF Form 1 again. This delay means he will be at least eight months into the process before he can resubmit the ATF Form 1 to get permission to build his SBR. Gun Owners worry that these delays will affect those who currently own pistol braces.
The bill will also make it easier for Americans to challenge the FBI’s NICS denials and delays. Gun owners could obtain a lawyer to help with the appeal. If the appeal is successful, the ATF will be on the hook for the gun owner’s legal fees from challenging the FBI.
The bill will also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general to report the number of NFA items involved in unfinished NICS background checks between 2014 and 2021. This number will clarify the percentage of gun owners affected by the breakdown in the system. The FBI and ATF have hesitated to turnover the statistics to the public.
The bill has broad support among Second Amendment advocacy groups. Both the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Gun Owners of America (GOA) have voiced public support for the proposed legislation. Aidan Johnston, GOA’s Director of Federal Affairs, thinks Risch’s bill is a step in the right direction.
“The National Firearms Act is blatantly unconstitutional and this bill does a great job of displaying one of its many flaws: requiring bureaucratic approval before the exercise of a constitutional right turns it into a second-class privilege,” Johnston told AmmoLand News. “ATF has deceived Congress and the American public with inaccurate NFA approval estimates for far too long. It shouldn’t take a bureaucrat any longer than 90 days to process paperwork, and ATF certainly shouldn’t be denying approval to make or transfer a firearm on day 88 just to skirt that deadline because they didn’t finish a background check on time.”
The bill faces steep odds in the Senate and even steeper odds of President Joe Biden signing it, but bills usually don’t pass on the first try. The idea is to build support and add more co-signers so that the legislation can be re-introduced and passed when your party takes both chambers of Congress and the White House.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John 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.