How Does the A and D Add Up at Your FFL

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In this issue:
– Article: How Does the A&D Add Up at Your FFL?

– Report: ATF Theft/Loss Report

How Does the A&D Add Up at Your FFL?

All we have to do is say “A&D” and it’s as good as saying “income taxes” or “dentist.”  We know that there are compliance requirements, best business practices, and even profit motivation to maintain tight inventory controls, especially when the inventory product is a firearm.  So why does engaging in A&D entries cause even industry leaders to express an aversion to the topic?

The answer to this question may be tucked away in a little section of a May 2012 ATF Newsletter, under the heading “Recording Firearms in the Acquisition and Disposition Record.”  Here’s the quote:  “FFLs are required to enter both the manufacturer and importer (if any) in the A&D record.  While the specific format required in 27 CFR 478.125(e) does not match the exact wording of the regulation, a licensed dealer is still required to record both, because that information is spelled out specifically in the wording of the regulation.”

Why is that such a gold nugget?  It reflects that even the ATF continues to work to develop A&D data presentations that intersect the law and regulations with the myriad of parts and transactions that go into an average day for an FFL.

Now let’s pour that steaming hot cup o’ Joe, and walk through this from the top.

The Gun Control Act, found at 18 USC Chapter 44, contains a provision at §923(g)(1)(A) that each FFL importer, manufacturer, and dealer “shall maintain such records of importation, production, shipment, receipt, sale, or other disposition of firearms at his place of business for such period, and in such form, as the Attorney General may by regulations prescribe.”

With regulations appearing as early as 1988, the concept of the “bound” book of “acquisitions and dispositions” was created within federal regulations at 27 CFR §478.125.  Different records are required of different FFLs, with importers and manufacturers being directed to comply with provisions itemized for dealers.

Now, having said this, 27 CFR Part 478, Subpart H – “Records” contains a number of provisions that also apply and are interconnected with the A&D book.  For example, ATF Form 4473, the firearm transaction record, will contain data that gets transferred into the A&D book, such as the date of sale or disposition, the name and address of the purchaser or the name and license number of the recipient FFL or the form serial number if the forms are filed numerically.  

Reading these provisions of the regulations in conjunction with each other should feel like moving from snapshots to video.  Instead of simply having two disconnected pieces of paper that are static checklists, the FFL should be envisioning each of the other documents when working with its companion.  Purchaser at the counter?  Think ATF Form 4473 and the copying of data from the firearm transaction record into the bound A&D book.

The key to developing a feeling for the A&D data collection is to think of it as a process, as opposed to a static entry.  Instead of thinking of yourself in the role of FFL, pivot through the ATF to imagine yourself in the role of law enforcement investigator, attempting to trace a firearm using its serial number.  This negative endpoint use is what served as the basis for the initiation of the record keeping system.  So while the FFL may consider the A&D record as useful for inventory control and profitability, its true function is for a total stranger to be able to quickly access and review the ownership of a particular firearm for tracing purposes.

The fact that the A&D book can be inspected without notice or warrant no more than once per year is merely the function of one government agency acting as overseer for the potential use of the information by law enforcement.  While we may attribute to the A&D the kind of anxiety reserved for taking tests, perhaps through this viewpoint of legislative and regulatory history and purpose we can reframe our thoughts around it.

There are, in essence, 10 fields of data required to be reflected in the A&D book for every firearm that comes into and goes out of inventory.  Where this becomes a bit tricky both for the FFL and for the ATF are that each of the ten fields can reflect numerous possible data points.  For example, let’s just consider a pop quiz on the field for “manufacturer.”  Even if the only place we look is Facebook, how many manufacturers have more than one variation on the core term in the name of their company, perhaps signifying operations in more than one country, perhaps indicating a former partner, at times reflecting a merger or acquisition, and even being shortened for the sake of spacing on the firearm or in the space allotted for the data record?  And yet, each variation on a manufacturer’s name is part of what will assist verification of the other data components such as model, as well as comparison to the firearm at issue with the law enforcement investigator.

Likewise, let’s take another example, that of the serial number.  Are you taking that number from the frame or receiver?  It is not uncommon that other parts of a firearm, particularly when manufactured by different companies, to also contain what equates to a part number – not a serial number.  Accidentally recording the wrong engraved number off a firearm could mean a dead-end in reverse chronology tracing of a firearm’s history, ownership, and location.

One more example and then we’ll call it the bottom of the pot of coffee and time to hit the shop floor.  Type.  Here is another field that can invite challenges in record keeping.  The November 2009 ATF Newsletter advised that a firearm with a pistol grip in lieu of the shoulder stock should be booked as a “pistol grip firearm” in A&D records.  By March 2013, the ATF Newsletter contained a note on how to abbreviate this term as some computerized systems would not accept a type of that character length (“PGF,” “PG,” or “Other”). Could this be the making of uniform data standards across FFLs?  

Considering that the A&D book is a  record of transactions that will outlive even the FFL, itself, when it is transferred to the ATF Out of Business Records  Center, great care should be taken to make the best possible data entries.  A clear and consistent system in good faith compliance with statutes, regulations, rulings, and other guidance materials serves a critical function for law enforcement.  Considering the seriousness with which law enforcement officers must carry out their duties, we can do this much and do it well.

Orchid Advisors provides electronic newsletter (“Advisory and Alert”) and blogs for general informational purposes only. It should not be considered a formal or informal interpretation of law. It is not intended as professional counsel, should not be considered legal advice and should not be used as such.