NFA Wait Times: Complete Guide 2020
Despite living in a time when private companies can generate complete profiles of a person in just moments, the ATF seems unable to perform the basic task of processing a background check and issuing a tax stamp in any sort of timely fashion.
This has lead to unbelievably long wait times to buy or transfer NFA items – sometimes a year or more! NFA wait times are infamous for the snail’s pace at which applications are processed. But why is that the case? Is there a way to speed up the process? And is there hope that the ATF might actually process applications in a timely fashion someday?
Why Are NFA Wait Times So Long?
This is a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. There are several different forms used to make or transfer NFA items. The processing time can depend on the filing method (paper vs. e-filing) and if whether or not the form is filed in the name of an individual, corporation, trust, or dealer-to-dealer transfer.
The most common ATF forms for NFA firearms are the ATF Form 1, ATF Form 3, and ATF Form 4. Here’s what these forms are used for:
- ATF Form 1: Required for the manufacture of a firearm
- ATF Form 3: Required for transfers between licensed dealers and/or manufacturers
- ATF Form 4: Required when transferring the item from a dealer to an end-user
These forms can be electronically filed or submitted with a paper application in the name of a gun trust, corporation or individual. Each type of form and each type of ownership type is processed differently by the ATF and at different speeds.
For example, a Form 1 in the name of a trust only has to verify the trust and the criminal record(s) of the person or persons named on the application. When submitted digitally, it is a simple matter to verify all that with computer databases. Because the gun is being manufactured, there is no need to verify the existence and accurate inputting of information on a firearm to be transferred, so these move very fast.
But a paper filed Form 4 has to be manually inputted to check the information, and the information for the transferred item also has to be verified. This can take a long time, particularly on older NFA items where record-keeping is particularly shoddy. In fact, some NFA items require extensive research to identify in old records. This certainly can increase the wait time!
Current NFA Wait Times
We experience wait times on our electronically submitted ATF Form 4’s of about a year regardless of if they are in the name of trusts or individuals. This is consistent with the rest of the industry. E-filed Form 1’s in the name of trusts are processing in just a little over a month.
Right now, Form 4’s have the longest processing time, while e-filed Form 1’s for trusts process quickest. The wait time is based on how quickly the ATF systems and staff can verify the information on the forms and process background checks.
Currently Receiving Approvals From:
|Form 3||3-7 days from submission|
|Form 4 Trust/Corp||12/1/18 – 5/31/19|
|Form 4 Individual||12/1/18 – 5/31/19|
ATF Form 4 Wait Times
At the time of this writing, individual Form 4’s are transferring a couple of months faster than for trusts. This is likely due to the internal division of labor in the ATF and the fact that most NFA items transfer on trusts. In other words, the examiners handling applications for individuals probably have a shorter workload.
Right now, expect any form 4 application to take between about 250-370 days to process and an e-filed Form 1 to take about a month. Some Form 1 users have reported even faster turnaround times of just a couple weeks, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
E-file vs Paper File Wait Times
When you look at the stats, you can see that efile is generally faster. This is only logical because there is no need to manually input information on paper forms, and it is immediately readable. Paper forms require manual oversight to ensure accuracy, and if any part of it is illegible or difficult to make out, the processing time will increase. This is especially true if the examiner has to contact the applicant to verify or clarify the forms. This isn’t so much an issue on an e-filed form as long as it is correctly filled out.
In this day and age, there is simply no reason not to be using ATF eForms. If you have trouble using a computer or don’t have one, we strongly recommend getting help with the process from somebody familiar with digital documents. It will speed up your application process a lot. Like most NFA dealers, Silencer Central relies heavily on digital documents to speed up the application process for our customers and to ensure error-free record keeping.
Trust vs Individual Registration Wait Times
When transferring or making an NFA item you have the option to file as an individual, trust or corporation. We examine the pros and cons of each option in our post on how to buy a suppressor and note that the vast majority of our customers end up opting for our free gun trust. The advantages of putting an NFA item in the name of a trust outweigh all other factors for nearly all people. Using a trust allows for easy estate planning and for multiple users to have full legal access to an NFA item. It also simplifies most transfer and sales procedures.
How to Check Your NFA Status
To get the status of your transfer from the ATF, call the NFA Branch directly at: (304) 616-4500.
You will need to provide your name (or the name of your trust or corporation), the serial number of the suppressor, and the name of the transferor. For the transferor information, please use the name we sent you in the confirmation email when your electronic transfer was submitted. ATF will confirm you are in the system and will give you an estimate for when to expect the approval. Remember, they don’t know exactly when your transfer will be approved – it is just an estimate.
The charts below display the average wait for approval by month and the percentage of approvals we receive each month.
Pay While You Wait for Your Silencer
Silencer Central’s eZ-Pay Plan allows you to begin the ATF paperwork immediately while you make four affordable payments (a down payment plus three equal monthly payments) while your NFA items are pending ATF approval. Submitting your down payment of 25% allows us to file your transfer paperwork with the ATF while you pay off your balance over the next three months.
Once your eZ-Pay Plan balance is paid in full and your transfer is approved by the ATF, you can pick up your items from Silencer Central (SD residents), at a Gun Show, or have them shipped to your front door. If you are not a resident of AL, AZ, CO, FL, GA, IA, KS, MI, MN, MT, NE, NC, ND, SD, TN, TX, WI, or WY, we will ship to a local dealer in your state.