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ATF claims there’s no database

From a poster at

send a FOIA request to ATF for the registration history of my pre-86 MGs, just in case. Included the address for NFA branch and my serial and model numbers in the request, just in case my request was assigned to an idiot.

Got a response today, signed by the head of the disclosure division, clearly, unambiguously, and twice stating that ATF has not maintained any data on any registration of any firearms since 1979, none, and since ATF has no firearms registration data, at all, my request is denied.

I’d like to see the FOIA. I’m not an expert on NFA firearms law but, as I understand it, ATF maintains the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. If there saying there is no such record, that would be kind of a big deal.

20 Responses to “ATF claims there’s no database”

  1. Geoff Says:

    It doesn’t make sense. Every year they report the number of Title III weapons registered with the BATFE.
    Page 16
    If they have no database, then what do they do with their copy of the form 4s? For that matter, ANY of the forms.
    Perhaps his request went to a moron instead of an idiot.

  2. 24and7 Says:

    So how do you explain gun tracing.. if a gun is found on the crime scene they know within hours who bought it and where it’s at.. one of the biggest lies ever told as that there is no firearm registration

  3. one-eyed Jack Says:

    A my last two audits, the examiner arrived with a printout obtained from NFA branch that showed the items registered to me. Both times there were errors. Off by three items one time and off by one item the next time. Easy to correct thou. Jack.

  4. Geoff Says:

    The trace goes like this.
    Make, Model and serial number(if it wasn’t obliterated), the ATF contact the gun manufacturer who must maintain records of every gun made and sold. They tell the ATF what distributor it was sold to, ATF contacts the distributor who tells the what gun store it was sold to, ATF contacts the gun store who pulls the 4473 to tell the the name and address of the buyer.
    Buyer tells ATF it was stolen or sold. End of trail.
    Unless it is an emergency trace it can take several days.

  5. Mike Voncannon Says:

    Hmmmmm… I thought there was a registry of Class 3 Weapons too…

  6. J Says:

    i send form 4s (at least 3) every week to NFA, WV(really Atlanta who forwards it to WV) Along with photos and fingerprints of the customers.
    I suspect, this person choose the wrong words in there request.
    A very typical Govt diversion!

  7. Anthony Says:

    I have called th NFA branch for transfer status updates many times. They ask for serial number and pull it up instantly. Seems like a
    Database to me.

  8. Jay Dee Says:

    There’s no NFA database. Just where has all the money been going. Sounds like the Justice Department needs to investigate this.

  9. Matt Whitticar Says:

    I work part time at a shop in PA. A customer purchased a BAR at auction and had it shipped to the show to await the stamp. The ATF came back with the gin being a post-sample and not transferable.

    I wonder how they were able to accomplish that with out any records?

    NFA is different from regular 4473 sales. The BATFE us barred, by statute, from keeping an electronic database of purchases. NFA their is a database or record if some kind. IIRC, the Hughes ammendment banned the ATF from registering new MGs which is a de faco ban on new MGs and didn’t ban their purchase outright.

    If their is/was no database in the first place then are new machineguns really banned?

    The auto correct is fighting me today.

  10. Rev R Vincent Warde Says:

    There is a difference between having a record and having a database. Clearly, BATFE has record of all NFA items – but if they only have paper records, there is no database.

    Geoff is 100% correct regarding how non-NFA gun traces are done. The only thing I would add is that the records of closed FFLs are transferred to BATFE so that they can search these record when they need to do a trace.

    As for the BATFE maintaining an illegal database (federal law does prohibit a database), given what happened in Fast and Furious I think that someone would have come forward by now to expose it.

  11. JTC Says:

    Don’t be fooled.

    Not only does the database exist up the chain and at retail (redundant ones from redundant filings for handguns and certain longguns retailed in multiples to single buyers…don’t ever do that), we have no proof that traces are only run for “crime guns”…in fact I firmly believe that they are randomly run on random dealers just to check up on their acquistion/disposal compliance records.

    I was only a small/medium volume FFL (average 300-400 sales per year and I would get maybe a half-dozen trace request each year, more toward the end in the Clinton/post 9/11 years). In many cases I personally knew my buyers -a lot of LEO’s with whom I did a lot of business and among whom were quite a few collectors/afficianadoes. And there’s no way in hell either they or those they would be choosy about selling to would let those fall into questionable hands unless by theft and they would have been very careful about that too. So these guys who were prone to wanting some of the newest and best hardware had their info passed along by me in response to the trace request and never another word was heard…and some of these guys would have had channels to find out more about them. So yeah, Clinton years there was definitely a move on to reduce the numbers of FFL’s and finding dealers with recordkeeping omissions would be a way to trigger license forfeiture…and then after 9/11 obviously they would want to find out if Tango operatives were buying up some hardware. Odd thing is, those gun-shaped products of the ring of fire etc. which would have a much higher chance of being sold or traded into criminal hands and were very rarely the subject of traces in my experience.

    So yeah, it became my belief that the “crime” in the “crime gun” scenario was speculative and just a cover for other more nefarious activities.

    And while I’m sure some of the hardware I sold might have ended up being misused the great majority went to people exercising their right to buy what they please when they please and nobody’s business but their own…and that is also a reason that I am a big proponent of the National Private Arsenal (NPA) which has always been but due to the yuge numbers of firearms entering private hands in the last decade or so is much more so a major source for those who prefer that no gov wonk ever will know what they own or how many…all they have to do is deal only with good people and be good people themselves, and those traces and numbers will always end up on a dark dead end…unless and until we allow “common sense gun co ntrol” (universal registration) to enter our lexicon and our Constitutional lives.

    And that, make no mistake, is the one and only way to be sure that there is no records or database or path to your door for your Constitutionally protected possessions…no records or database or registration exists in the hands of gov? Right.

  12. 24and7 Says:

    If guns can be traced at all, there is registration or a backdoor registration.. if any gun store closes its doors the paperwork is automatically submitted to the ATF for keeping.. and they are stored in warehouses.. if you take a privately owned firearm to sell they must keep logs of the serial numbers and owners, which agents can see any time and copy.. anyone that believes that they don’t have a record of you buying a firearm and selling one has lost their mind.. not to mention they keep ballistics of every single gun made on file.. there is always a paper or evidence trail for a firearm somewhere.. unless you buy it privately or from the black market.. if it was true there was no registration of firearms then all that information that they use to track and keep records of firearm sales should be fruits of a poisonous tree..

  13. 24and7 Says:


  14. Ken Lizotte Says:

    Some have already spoken to this, but I will add my voice: ATF is lying, as are any other agencies saying the same. As a retired federal employee, I can assure you there is a database. It is necessary because federal regulations requires records for everything done by any part of government, down to the individual level.

  15. Geoff Says:

    @ Rev R Vincent Warde

    YUP. Forgot to mention that.
    Closed FFL must send all 4473s to ATF and they get put in file boxes. Makes it even harder to trace a gun.
    Even I with a C&R FFL03 have to send the pages from my Bound Book if I decide not to renew as I don’t have to do a 4473 for a sale.

  16. Will Says:

    ” not to mention they keep ballistics of every single gun made on file.”

    I think a couple states tried that, and gave up, as it was not usable. (If you are talking fired cases) You may have been watching too many CSI shows. Not much reality associated with those shows.

  17. The Neon Madman Says:

    I no longer believe much of anything that the government tells me.

  18. JTC Says:

    I alluded to “databases up the chain and at retail” upthread but left my meaning unsaid specifically…about the dangers and implications that we all know and discuss about other contexts like social media -and this blog right here-…

    Everything on the internet is forever.

    It’s as true for firearm records, etc. as for everything else…those 4473’s and bound books exist mostly in the clouds these days, enabled by outfits like FastBound. While that’s easier for retailers and others in the chain and are “high security”, is anything really safe from unauthorized…or in the case of gov itself authorized access? Of course not…and as stated, it’s forever.

    So is there a database? Not just yes but hell yes, it takes many forms and like everything else floating around in cyberspace, is subject to the vicissitudes of laws, change, politics, government, and criminal intent.

  19. Beetee Says:

    Any major gun store uses a computer generated 4473. If it is on a computer they will be a record for life unless your name is Hillary and then all bets are off.

  20. pkoning Says:

    The obvious answer is “they are lying” which in this case (a FOIA request) probably is a crime.
    As for “if it’s only on paper it’s not a database” — no, a database is a collection of data records in a well defined form, from which data can be retrieved and to which data can be added. While it is common practice to use the term to refer to software, just because something is in paper doesn’t make it not a database. It merely means that queries are somewhat more difficult and may take longer.