BREAKING: ATF Issues Final Ruling on NFA Trusts

The ATF has issued its long-awaited final ruling expanding the requirement for fingerprints, photo IDs, and background checks for “responsible persons” listed on a trust used to purchase items restricted under the National Firearms Act (such as silencers). The single most concerning possibility of this whole proposal was the idea that by expanding the requirement for a Chief Law Enforcement Officer to sign off on every single NFA application then that would effectively enable local police chiefs to eliminate the ability for law-abiding citizens to purchase legal items simply by refusing to sign such documents and without needing to change any laws. That was the primary driving factor behind trusts in the first place (skipping the CLEO sign off), but now it looks like the ATF has eliminated that requirement in its entirety . . .

First things first, the main thrust of the ruling says that everyone listed as a “responsible party” on a trust must submit (1) a set of fingerprints, (2) all relevant personal information, and (3) a set of photographs for the ATF and FBI to conduct a background check. The ATF further defines “responsible parties” as anyone who can posses the items under the terms of the trust. “Responsible persons” does not include beneficiaries, so if you’ve listed your children (or, in my case, my anti-gun little sister) as your beneficiary in the event of your death, they don’t need to be involved with purchasing new items while you’re alive. This can be a pain in the butt if you’ve got a trust with a large number of people on it sharing items though, as now every single person will need to submit these items for every single new application and transfer.

In short, this makes the process of buying an NFA regulated firearm far more annoying and paperwork-intensive for those using a trust and slightly less annoying for those filing as an individual. All this is happening without any rationale as to the crackdown — “gun violence” doesn’t happen with legally registered NFA items, so it feels much more like President Obama is just squeezing the low hanging fruit of law abiding gun owners as much as possible for giggles.

The ATF even admits as much:

Additionally, the Department notes that some individuals who own NFA firearms do in fact commit crimes. A review of trace data and criminal records from 2006 to 2014 disclosed twelve incidents in which owners of NF A firearms were convicted of crimes;however, there is no evidence that these crimes were committed with NFA firearms.


The Department also emphasizes that NFA weapons are dangerous weapons that can empower a single individual to take many lives in a single incident. Therefore, a low incidence of the use of NFA firearms in crimes does not reflect the threat to public safety that they pose. A low usage of NFA firearms in crime may also bespeak the success of the NFA in preventing such weapons from reaching the hands of prohibited persons in the past. The large increase in transfers in which no background check takes place, however, increases the risk that NFA firearms will reach prohibited persons. The Department does not believe it is reasonable to wait for an NFA firearm to be used in a significant criminal incident before crafting procedures reasonably calculated to carry out its regulatory mandate to prevent prohibited persons from obtaining NFA firearms.

They pretty much say it themselves, they don’t care that this will do nothing to stop criminals and only impacts law abiding citizens. They also don’t care that the existing system has so far been 100% effective in preventing the use of these items in crimes. They still want to put the screws to gun owners, so the relatively little used NFA owners get the shaft.

The news isn’t all doom and gloom, though. The ATF has officially removed the requirement for your local CLEO to sign off on your paperwork, no matter if you’re an individual or a trust. From the final rule:

(c) Notification of chief law enforcement officer. Prior to the submission of the application to the Director, all applicants and responsible persons shall forward a completed copy of Form [1 or 4] or a completed copy of Form 5320.23, respectively, to the chief law enforcement officer of the locality in which the applicant or responsible person is located. The chief law enforcement officer is the local chief of police, county sheriff, head of the State police, or State or local district attorney or prosecutor. If the applicant is not a licensed manufacturer, importer, or dealer qualified under this part and is a partnership, company, association, or corporation, for purposes of this section, it is considered located at its principal office or principal place of business; if a trust, for purposes of this section, it is considered located at the primary location at which the firearm will be maintained.

In short, no longer will anyone need permission from their local Chief Law Enforcement Officer to obtain an item regulated under the National Firearms Act. I gotta admit, even though this comes at a bit of a high price in terms of annoyance, that’s a pretty huge win for a lot of people who otherwise had been blocked from buying silencers by their CLEO’s intransigence. The rule goes into effect in 180 days, just long enough that paperwork filed today should clear before it goes into effect.

I should note that the document is extremely long specifically because they’re required to respond to all 200,000+ comments that the ATF received. Out of all those comments, only about 12 were in support of the idea. That’s an interesting result when you get such a small percentage of people who support your ideas.

Author Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he’s a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), instrument rated private pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!