ATF Form 4 Silencer Purchase- Who is your CLEO?
August 9, 2013
You may frequently hear us say that you need to obtain your sheriff’s signature on the back of your Form 4 (the form you fill out which contains all of your silencer’s information). However, that statement is a little misleading. You actually need your Chief Law Enforcement Officer’s (CLEO) signature. Generally speaking, that ends up being your sheriff. However, that doesn’t mean your sheriff is the only one who can sign the back of the form. We normally say sheriff because they normally are fine with signing.
The Chief Law Enforcement Officer Isn’t Necessarily the Sheriff
For customers who live within their city’s limits, the chief of police can sign the back of your Form 4. The term CLEO is referring to the officer who has authority over your jurisdiction, thus why your chief of police is applicable in this situation. A third option is to have your district attorney, county attorney, or a judge with the power of arrest sign the form. Finally, you could have the head of your state police agency sign as the CLEO.
In some cases, the sheriff or chief of police delegates a deputy or other officer to sign in his or her place. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the officer puts “on behalf of Sheriff (Sheriff’s first and last name)” or “for Sheriff (Sheriff’s first and last name).” Despite our frequent use of ‘sheriff’ to replace the term ‘CLEO,’ you certainly have more options than just the sheriff for an acceptable signature.
Why You Need a Chief Law Enforcement Officer’s Signature on Your ATF Form 4
The purpose behind obtaining this signature is that the ATF wants to know that the CLEO in your jurisdiction does not know of any reason that you would not be able to own an NFA item. The ATF does not know if local laws prohibit ownership, and the CLEO signature ensures that there are no local rulings against ownership.
The wording on Form 4 states, “I certify that I am the chief law enforcement officer of the organization named below having jurisdiction in the area of residence of (name of transferee). I have no information indicating that the transferee will use the firearm or device described on this application for other than lawful purposes. I have no information that the receipt or possession of the firearm or device described in item 4 would place the transferee in violation of State or local law.”
Despite those being the only reasons a CLEO needs to sign, many sheriffs are refusing to sign the forms. The reasons are varied but usually range from “don’t want to/don’t think people should own them” to “know of reasons the person shouldn’t have one.”
NFA Gun Trusts
The side effect of sheriffs’ refusals to sign is that people are opting to use NFA gun trusts instead. When purchasing an NFA weapon using a trust, the members of the trust are not subjected to an FBI background check. Many times, this is fine as the persons listed on the trust would have passed the check anyhow. However, there are two important facts to consider here.
The first is that no background check is necessarily required when the trustee picks up the silencer. We’ve discussed this with our ATF inspectors for both North and South Dakota and have been told many times that no NICS is required upon the trust’s approval, at least in North and South Dakota. The second is that if the sheriff is truly concerned about who is able to own an NFA item, it completely undermines the system for them not to sign. It’d be much better for the individual to go through the full FBI background check than either simply a NICS check or no background check at all.
As an elected official, it is the sheriff’s duty to serve their public. It is the opinion of many that refusing to sign the form is also refusing to complete their elected duty. The ATF is working on changing the requirement for a CLEO signature. They would require a background check for everyone who makes an NFA purchase, and only alert the CLEO of the purchase as opposed to requiring the signature. However, these changes have not yet been made. As requirements change, we’ll be sure to let you know.
If you’d like more information on CLEO signatures or to place an order, give us a call today!