ATF Ruling 2021R-05 4473 Cloud Retaining Records for Frames and Receivers

As you are undoubtedly aware, as an FFL, you are required to retain a record of your firearm transactions.  The regulations maintain that you keep a record of acquisition and disposition, in “bound form”, hence the name Bound Book and you must complete and maintain the “over the counter” Firearms Transaction Record, commonly known as ATF F 4473, for a period of 20 years.  However, the time you are required to retain 4473s, in certain circumstances, is only 5 years.  Oh, and one more thing – you may need to retain supplemental documents with your 4473s, but that all depends on the transaction that is taking place at your counter, and the state you live in may impact this requirement as well. 

Ok, got it?  Clear as mud? These requirements, currently under the purview of the Gun Control Act of 1968’s regulations, are about to change.  When will these retention requirements change and what changes are being made?  Glad you asked. 

ATF Ruling on Firearm Frames and Receivers

ATF publicly stated at the Firearm Industry Conference (FIC) in April of 2022 (this year, that the new ruling affecting record retention will take effect on August 24th, 2022.  It is part of the ATF new ruling on firearm frames and receivers.  You can review it here.

To summarize, as far as how this ruling impacts your record retention, starting August 24th, 2022, you will be required to retain all bound book records and ATF Form 4473s records for the life of your FFL.  All 4473s, whether simply “started”, completed when transferring a firearm over the counter to a non-licensee (transferred), a NICS denial, or a void/no sale (in which NICS is contacted) must be kept forever.  Or at least as long as your FFL is operating.

Your current back room, file cabinet, closet or wherever you currently store your 4473s just got a lot smaller.  Keeping records indefinitely will certainly impact your current footprint and now is a good time to start thinking about a solution to your long-term storage needs.

Remember, it isn’t just the 4473 itself that you are required to keep.  Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Pistols and Revolvers (ATF Form 3310.4 or commonly known as the multiple handgun sales form), Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Certain Rifles (ATF F 3310.12) for those of you operating in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, Theft Loss Report (ATF F 3310.11), Firearms Transaction Record Continuation Sheet (ATF F 5300.9A) or Exemptions to Non-immigrant Alien Prohibition are all required to be retained and attached to the corresponding 4473.  Some states require additional state-specific documents to be kept as part of your permanent firearms records as well and many FFLs will add a copy of the ATF Form-4 approval on NFA transfers.  There is no shortage of what is required to be kept, by you, the FFL, with your records.

Many FFLs also keep copies of driver’s licenses, utility bills, PCS orders, register receipts, etc. with their 4473s as well.  While there is no restriction on what you can keep with your 4473s, now might be a good time to think through why you are keeping documents that are not required to be kept with your 4473s.  I have heard some FFLs say they do so for internal auditing purposes, to tie the 4473 back to a register transaction, etc.  Which seems to show due diligence on the FFL’s part but could also be used to serve these same purposes if those documents, which the regulations do not require you to retain, were stored separately from your 4473s.  If, at all. 

Considering the amount of paper that is required to be kept–and now kept for decades longer than previously required—revisiting these practices from a compliance, practicality, and operational perspective would probably be worth your time.  Also, while reviewing these practices, it is a good exercise to ask: how is this benefiting my ATF compliance health?  What are the cons that could stem from keeping copies of documents/documentation that are not required? 

If you have read any of the many articles with regard to ATF compliance inspections in the past 9 months or so (dating back to October 2021), you are very aware of what is being seen as a massive increase in action taken against FFLs.  ATF, itself, announced an increase of more than 500% in FFL revocations this year, stemming from previously closed inspections that were “revisited” by ATF and DOJ—and that doesn’t count dramatic increases in revocations from current inspections.  The NSSF™ has hosted numerous webinars reviewing what has become known as the “5 deadly sins” of ATF inspections results.  We will have an article in the coming weeks taking a deep dive into each but have also heard from FFLs who are facing revocation for having ONE instance of a violation.  And the violation they are facing revocation for, could stem from a previously closed inspection.  Yes, you read that right.  Even one error on a 4473, whether from a current ATF inspection or from an inspection that took place previously, can now be deemed willful, as ATF and the DOJ are seemingly redefining what the definition of “willful” means. 

Would ATF consider a violation “willful” if the error was a simple clerical mistake on, for the sake of argument, the customer’s address? Could ATF point to a copy of a driver’s license retained by the FFL and say that the driver’s license clearly has the right address on it and yet you, the FFL, allowed a 4473 to proceed with a different house number listed by the customer?  I don’t know the answers to these questions and it is very likely that the scenario would be treated differently in every inspection conducted across the country, depending upon which ATF IOI was conducting the inspection.  But is it fair to ask yourself if that risk is worth it? 

As you reconsider what you should or should not be keeping with your 4473s, and as we move closer to the August 24th “launch” date for the new ATF ruling, also consider a separate change that ATF plans to take effect on August 24th as well.   That change will allow FFLs to store their 4473s digitally and will allow for legacy paper records to be scanned or otherwise digitally sent to electronic storage.  Keep in mind that the software you use to store 4473s digitally must STILL meet ATF’s minimum standards, and it is 100% your responsibility to ensure the software you choose to use is compliant with the new ruling.  Previously, or until August 24th, you needed an approved variance from ATF to store your forms in electronic format.  That all changes in a little over a month. It will then be that much easier to switch to digital storage without the variance request process needing to be completed. 4473 Cloud makes storing your 4473s in a digital format, indefinitely, a simple, attorney-backed compliant and money-saving process for you.  We integrate with the industry’s largest eBound Book and e4473 software providers and we can have you up and running in minutes.  No more boxes, no more dust, no more paper.  At your fingertips, just click here to get started.

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Travis Glover Jul. 25th, 2022

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