If you’re one of the many buyers whose suppressor or other restricted item is stuck in review limbo, things might be getting better. According to interviews with senior employees at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency is hiring additional staff to help relieve the backlog of forms.
This comes after the ATF relaunched eForms, its online form submission portal, in December of 2021 to speed up the process for receiving documents prescribed by the National Firearms Act (NFA), which regulates suppressors, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and automatic firearms. Since its launch, the ATF says eForms has become the dominant platform for NFA paperwork submissions, comprising almost 97% of the 300,000-plus Form 4 applications currently pending. The ATF says most of the paper backlog has been eliminated.
“With the electronic platform and additional personnel, I do think wait times will continue to drop,” ATF Assistant Director Matthew Varisco told America’s 1st Freedom.
Most consumers use either a Form 1 (for manufacturing an NFA-restricted item) or Form 4 (for transferring NFA items). Both require extensive information from the user, including photographs and fingerprints.
Varisco says they’re now creating separate pipelines for each form, with just a few employees reviewing Form 1 submissions, while some 18 staffers are tasked to review Form 4s. With increasing demand for NFA items, the ATF has finally begun hiring and training new employees to process its NFA Division forms. The goal is to hire an additional 20 staffers, although, as of April, hiring and training was still ongoing.
“It does take time to onboard federal employees into a federal law-enforcement facility,” said Varisco. “But the job was posted in December, and you’ll see those employees brought on this year.”
According to estimates provided by the ATF, average wait times have begun to show modest signs of improvement. Historically, wait times could run well over a year before approval. Now, wait times for Form 4 approval have decreased by about a month, down to 239 days in April, from 268 days in January.
That’s still a far cry from the still quite long 90-day-approval goal the ATF set for itself with eForms. But Varisco says he hopes the new staffing will help.
“The electronic platform is very helpful to help us speed up wait times, but when you talk about the volume and popularity of the requests, it really comes down to a capacity issue,” said Varisco. “It’s been several years since the NFA division received additional employees, so I do think we’ll get to those lower processing times. We may even have to go back and ask for additional personnel.”
Form 1 wait times, which are typically much shorter, have increased from 27 days to 53 since January, likely due to increased demand from the new pistol brace rule. Varisco says they’re reassigning staff to meet that demand.
When it comes to rejections due to errors, the numbers indicate it may be better to submit Form 4 digitally, while it might be better to submit Form 1 on paper.
Roughly 6% of electronic Form 4s are rejected, while over 17% of paper Form 4s are rejected. For Form 1 submissions, it’s the opposite, with nearly 25% of digital submissions rejected, versus about 5% when submitted on paper.
The ATF says common causes for rejections include applicants providing incomplete information, failing to provide complete trust names or identifying all responsible persons on a trust, not uploading complete documents, not uploading a completed Responsible Person Questionnaire, and uploading an improperly sized scanned copy of a physical photo.
Even with apparent improvements in processing times, this bureaucracy is still harming consumers and businesses.
“This industry’s definitely still growing,” said Brandon Maddox, CEO of Silencer Central. “Although it’s spread among various dealers, the long wait times tend to ward off would-be buyers who don’t want to clear all the hurdles and still wait half a year to receive their product.” Maddox says the long wait times hurt his business, and he’s still sitting on plenty of inventory because the forms aren’t being approved or denied fast enough.