ATF considers tracing firearms to be one of the most important functions of the Bureau. Every national seminar, local training, and one-on-one meeting with ATF over the past few decades has proven that statement to be true. ATF consistently maintains that traces are critical to its  mission statement:

“ATF protects the public from crimes involving firearms, explosives, arson, and the diversion of alcohol and tobacco products; regulates lawful commerce in firearms and explosives; and provides worldwide support to law enforcement, public safety, and industry partners.”

Why are firearm traces so important?

Well, simply put, ATF has no access to firearm transactions regulated under the Gun Control Act. The only source of a firearm’s life cycle from the day it is made until law enforcement and/or ATF get involved is through FFLs. As an FFL, you already know you are required to maintain a Bound Book or Acquisition and Disposition Record. If you are an FFL that transacts with non-licensees, and consumers, you also know you need to complete and retain an ATF 4473.

Those two records allow ATF to know when the gun was made, where the manufacturer shipped it (whether to a distributor or retailer), which retailer ultimately received the firearm being traced and to whom and when that retailer sold the firearm. This allows for an investigation to begin and, regardless of the outcome of that investigation, you as the FFL are the key cog in the wheel in these traces being accomplished.

FFLs completing traces is critically important to ATF. As such, failing to complete a trace within 24 hours is a trigger for not only an ATF compliance inspection, but revocation of your FFL. It is one of the 5 deadly sins causing hundreds of FFLs to lose their businesses in the past 18 months. Do not let this happen to you.

There are two types of traces:

  • Standard, and
  • Urgent

A standard trace will need your immediate attention and must be completed within 24 hours. These are typically received via email and can be responded to via email as well. Just make sure you do your diligence and keep that sent email in the event you need to prove you completed it!

Urgent traces, as the name indicates, require you to stop everything you are doing, any time of day and complete the trace as soon as possible. This can happen, and thanks to Murphy and his law, will happen at the most inopportune times for you as the FFL. Late at night, while you are on vacation, while you are out of town on business, etc. You name the scenario; we have heard of a horror story about an urgent trace request.

These requests are almost always a phone call from the ATF National Tracing Center (NTC) to a responsible person listed on the FFL. The expectation is that you will complete this request, no matter how convenient or inconvenient and you will do so, immediately.

While attending the NSSF Retail and Range Expo in Milwaukee in early July of this year, we heard of two separate instances from two different FFLs who this happened to.  Both were late at night, around 10:30pm and 11:00 pm, respectively. And, in both cases when the FFL said, “do you expect me to go to my shop right now and look for this?” the ATF NTC employee said “Yes, absolutely”.

This wasn’t a request and both FFLs had to do exactly that.

Here’s the good news:

You can make completing an ATF trace request, yes even an urgent one, as simple as three clicks of a mouse. No getting dressed and driving to your store at midnight or cutting your vacation short. Simply store your 4473s digitally with 4473 Cloud and complete these traces in mere moments from anywhere with an internet connection. Operating in the firearm market is complicated enough without making it more difficult on yourself.

The simple solution to avoid the consequences of not timely completing an ATF trace is to use technology. It starts with an electronic bound book and electronic 4473. Software solutions that meet the criteria of ATF Ruling 2016-1 and 2016-2 can help eliminate nearly 97% of all violations commonly found by ATF during routine compliance inspections.

Step two is to add digital storage of 4473s to your technology plan. Having 4473s stored digitally with 4473 Cloud is infinitely more secure than paper 4473s and allows you, the responsible person on your FFL, access to your 4473s 24/7. You can sign up today and start storing 4473s digitally in just a matter of minutes.

Get started today - It's free for the first 30 days!

Travis Glover Jul. 20th, 2023

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