By Jeffrey Folloder
One of the most common myths regarding the ownership of NFA items: “By registering, I’m giving the ATF and every other federal agent the ability to come inspect me at any time.” Many of you know that this is simply not true. However, the myth persists. There is not an outreach event that NFATCA has attended in the past decade where this passionate fear is not clearly proclaimed by multiple attendees.
The trepidation is palpable. People believe that filling out a Form 4 or a Form 1 is going to result in federal police showing up in assault gear at their door step, demanding to see the serial number on their recently purchased .22 rimfire suppressor. The Internet feeds the fear with the widely circulating meme of ATF showing up and killing your dog. And uninformed firearms dealers, usually ones who do not sell NFA items, are also complicit in perpetuating the just plain wrong state of affairs.
ATF can, and does, have the ability to show up and inspect the premises and inventory of federal firearms licensees (FFLs). The ATF can do this annually as a regular course of business and more often, with cause. ATF does not have this “power” in regard to individual and legal entity NFA owners. It doesn’t matter what you were told by your best friend’s cousin’s gun dealer in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It doesn’t matter what the Facebook group that is the “ultimate” authority on guns has posted. You do not give up your rights by registering the making or transfer of an NFA weapon.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This is the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. It applies to you, and the ATF does not get to suspend it because you have filled out a form.
So when does the ATF get to come pay you a visit as an individual or legal entity owner of a registered NFA item? When they have probable cause that a federal law has been broken. The most common federal firearms statute violations are in 18 U.S.C. § 922, 18 U.S.C. § 924 and 26 U.S.C. § 5861 and a few others. The charges range from lying on a Form 4473 to obliterating a serial number, to all manner of prohibited persons in possession. It’s also quite illegal to make an NFA firearms without registering it, sell an NFA item without getting the NFA form approved, possess an NFA item that is not registered to you … do you see a pattern? If you follow the law, ATF does not have probable cause. However, a whole host of issues materialize when you screw on that unregistered solvent trap to the end of your Remington 700 and then proceed to demonstrate how quiet it is on your YouTube channel.
Machine guns are legal at the federal level. So are suppressors, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, destructive devices (such as grenade launchers) and more. Your particular state of residence may not allow you to own, collect and use such items, and that is a considerable issue. But registering these items in compliance with federal law simply does not give the ATF the green light to come kick in your door to inspect your Gemtech Halo in the middle of the night.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V21N3 (April 2017)