In 2021, nearly 550,000 firearm trace requests were processed by the ATF’s National Tracing Center (NTC). As the only crime gun tracing facility in the U.S., the NTC is responsible for tracing firearms to provide investigative leads for nearly 9,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as 49 international agencies representing 48 countries.
When law enforcement discovers a firearm at a crime scene and wants to learn more about where it came from, a firearm trace request can be made using ATF Form 3312.1 or ATF’s web-based firearms tracing system, eTrace. NTC then receives the trace request and uses the gun’s serial number to identify its original manufacturer or importer, following their records to track the gun through the distribution chain to firearm retailers and, ultimately, the buyer/transferee.
This information can help law enforcement identify potential suspects and link them to specific firearms found in criminal investigations. Firearm tracing can also help detect domestic and international firearms traffickers, “rogue gun dealers,” and localized trends in sources and types of crime guns.
Responsibility to Respond
As an FFL, it is your responsibility to respond to firearm trace requests with the information requested by ATF immediately, and in no event later than 24 hours after receipt.
Licensees must respond to an NTC trace request promptly, and they must establish means for trace responses to be made in the event the FFL is closed for holidays, renovations, relocation, and other unforeseen events.
As federal regulation places the burden of responding to trace requests entirely on licensees, failing to respond to a request is considered a willful violation worthy of revocation under the Biden administration’s zero tolerance policy and strictly enforced by ATF.
Responding to Trace Requests
Depending on your FFL, you will typically be asked to provide firearm disposition information from your A&D bound book, including (1) the date in which the firearm was disposed of/transferred out, and (2) who the firearm was transferred to (i.e., licensee or consumer). Additional documentation, including ATF Forms 4473 and 3310.4 associated with the firearm transfer, may also be requested.
While there is no excuse for not responding to a firearm trace request, there are four common types of responses. We’ll review each below.
- Proper response
- Improper response
- Firearm never received
- No response
A proper response to a trace request is one that is provided accurately and in a timely manner, as required by regulation. All information requested corresponding to the traced firearm should be provided as soon as possible and within 24 hours.
An improper response to a trace request may be one that is either provided more than 24 hours after receipt of the request or provides incomplete or incorrect information. In such cases, delayed or wrong responses may be considered no responses.
Firearm Never Received
Though rare, it’s possible for an FFL to receive a trace request for a firearm that was never received, such as those mistakenly transferred to the wrong FFL or lost/stolen in transit. It’s also possible for trace requests to be sent to the wrong FFL by accident. However, regardless of the reason, you must still respond to the trace request within 24 hours and state the firearm being traced was never received.
Self-explanatory, a ‘no response’ is one in which the licensee fails to acknowledge or respond to the trace request – an inexcusable outcome.
Between 2016-2020, ATF cited 102 such violations (27 CFR 478.25a), and though low compared to the top-30 most cited violations cited during that period, not responding to a firearm trace request is one of the five explicitly cited willful violations by ATF and the Biden administration.
Orchid Zero Tolerance Protection
At Orchid, our team of operations, technology and legal professionals understand the risks of today’s firearm businesses. For over a decade, we’ve worked with FFLs big and small to implement leading compliance best practices and software solutions to eliminate violations and protect licenses from revocation.
Continuing our Zero Tolerance Protection series, we’ll share our expertise and experience in proactive compliance as we look closer at Biden’s policy and its impact on the firearms industry, review how to avoid and correct violations, and suggest ways to protect your FFL from the risk of revocation. Next, we’ll review how to properly file a firearm theft/loss report.
In the meantime, learn more about a Zero Tolerance Rapid Assessment of prior ATF Reports of Violations, your A&D Bound Book, and recent ATF Forms 4473. We also encourage you to watch our webinar on ATF zero tolerance enforcement, schedule an in-person or remote mock ATF inspection, and implement leading compliance software in your retail FFL. Contact Orchid today to protect your FFL from a zero tolerance revocation.