ATF Paperwork: Smile and be nice

The National Firearms Act of 1934 restricted ownership and use of short barreled rifles, anything fully automatic, short barreled shotguns, silencers, and destructive devices.  Anything else that may fall under the purview of the NFA ban (and this is where definitions get fuzzy) falls into the Any Other Weapon (AOW) category.

One of the first hurdles to owning one of these weapons is registering the piece with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and ExplosivesPaperwork.  Paperwork that is a bit complicated.  ATF Form 5320.4, Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm.

It is important to know the difference in the nomenclature (if only because it determines if you pay $200 in taxes, or $5 (for an AOW).

If you have a shotgun that came straight from the manufacturer with a 10 inch barrel, that would be a short barreled shotgun.  If Serbu makes a Super Shorty out of an existing Remington 870, is it a short barreled shotgun, or an Any Other Weapon?  What sort of tax stamp or occupational license would you need to make a short barreled shotgun from a long barreled shotgun, and then what would it be called?

When dealing with the ATF, it is easy to out kick your coverage.  So don’t do this alone.  Find an attorney that deals in this area and pay for some legal advice.

Gary’s Guns and Transfers

You will have to work with an FFL that is certified to handle NFA purchases and transfers.  They’re out there, especially in the bigger cities.  I have to drive more than an hour and a half to get to Gary Lewis, at Gary’s Guns and Transfers, outside of Richmond, Virginia, but it is worth it.  He has answered every question and been exceptionally patient.

I do most of my transfers and purchases at Rebel Sporting Goods, in Keysville, Virginia.  They’re a great group of folks, and as friendly as can be.  But when I asked about an AOW stamp for a Serbu, I got a strange look.  It was a do-what-now? kind of look.  And as much as I love these people, I knew it was time to head somewhere else.
Silencerco Sparrow
So I called Gary Lewis at Gary’s Guns and Transfers.  The Serbu is still in the works, but I have been working with Silencerco, and they’re sent me a Sparrow to test out.  So I had to fill out the appropriate form and pay my $200 tax.  I’m still waiting for approval, but I’ve done the hard part.

Filling out the Paperwork

There isn’t anything really complex about form 5320.4, the form needed for registration of a NFA firearm.  The form isn’t much more complicated than what you would fill out for a typical firearm purchase.  And Gary Lewis walked me through every step of the form.  But there are four additional steps, extra steps, that make it cumbersome.

  1. You have to file two copies of the forms, and attach passport sized photos (of you) to each.
  2. You have to file a separate form that attests to your citizenship status.
  3. You have to include two old-school fingerprint cards (with your prints on them).
  4. You have to have these forms, the whole application, approved (and signed) by your Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO).

The first two are easy, more like busy work.  The last two can get really interesting.

ATF LogoThe Fingerprint Card

For now, the fingerprint cards have to be of the official sort (with blue lines) and completed by a professional.  I figured I would have it done by the Sheriff’s Office when I went to get my CLEO’s signature.  But the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Department no longer uses the old-school ink.  And they have cards with black lines, heaven forfend.  But I’d come equipped with cards provided for me by Gary Lewis, and when I explained that I couldn’t do the digital fingerprinting, they dug out an old ink pad and helped me out.

The CLEO Signature

After all, I was happy, cooperative, and complementary, even after three days of rigamarole trying to get someone to agree to sign off on the form.
This part was a bona fide hassle.  And not because anyone refused to sign, but because I couldn’t find anyone who knew exactly what I was asking for.

I don’t live in a city or a town, so I went to my Sheriff instead of a Chief of Police. The receptionist took my forms, listened to my explanation, and disappeared into the back.  About ten minutes later, she came back and told me I needed to see the Clerk of the Court.  After twenty minutes there, I was sent back to the Sheriff’s office.  They sent me to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, who sent me back to the Sheriff’s office.

I had an instruction sheet (included with form 5320.4) that clearly identified the Sheriff as an appropriate person who might approve my application.  And I showed it to the Sheriff’s Office, but I was sent away again.  This time, I was told to see a deputy that served as courtroom security.  He advised me to see the State Police.  But their office is in a different county.
CLEO Instructions
So I went back to the Sheriff’s Office.  I’m still not sure who finally gave me the green light, but there was a man in the office with the receptionist.  He was not in uniform, but he looked like he worked there.  When I asked the receptionist if she would consider again passing my application to the Sheriff, she graciously took it and handed it to the new dude.  “Have you ever seen one of these?” She asked.  He read it.  Every word of it.  He read the instructions, where I had highlighted that the Sheriff was an option for the CLEO approval, and he took it.  He took it into the back.

Three days later I went back and inquired about the application, and the receptionist had it ready, signed, good to go, wrapped up in a nice little folder.  On my way to the car, I checked it over.  There was only one copy.  I’d given them two, and had to file two.  So back I went.


In the end, I think they were actually wanted to help me.  They wanted to help me because I was nice.  I smiled.  A lot. Most of the folks I saw in the Sheriff’s Office were not smiling.  They were not being nice to anyone.  The deputies were cordial enough.  And the woman who did my fingerprints was very nice.  But it just isn’t a place that sees a lot of happy people.
Walter Sobchack The Big Lebowski
I’ve seen too many people behave a bit too much like Walter Sobchack form The Big Lebowski.  I see it at the counter Rebel Sporting Goods.  Some folks get confrontational with the clerk at the counter, like she’s the one who penned the legislation.

This is important.  You don’t have to like the hassle your legal system puts you through.  You don’t have to agree with any of the rules or laws.  But until we no longer have to abide by them, we have to abide by them.  And the people who you will rely on to sign your forms didn’t make the laws.  Protesting to them, or at them, will get you nowhere.  Save your vitriol for appropriate political action.

In the end, I will leave you with the same advice my mother would have given me.  Don’t do it alone.  Be more than civil.  And it can’t hurt to dress up a bit.  The CLEO has to sign off on your application for it to be approved.  That said, the CLEO doesn’t have to have to sign anything.  Until the ATF does away with this step, you have to have it.  So don’t give the CLEO any arbitrary reason to doubt your good intentions.

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