De Facto Gun Registration Exists In The United States

What is contained in this article is entirely anecdotal and I have no substantive proof of anything written here. I am not a conspiracy theorist, I am a realist. I have unintentionally collected this information over the last six or seven years. To me, it adds up to the ATF creating a database of who is buying what firearm.

– In 2007, I had a chat with a very nice elderly couple, owners of a small gun store. They told me that during an ATF audit, the agents had scanned or otherwise made copies of 4473s (Firearms Transaction Record). I thought to myself, “Maybe they were just confused.” I mentioned it on a gun forum and was told that it couldn’t possibly be true.

– When I worked (briefly) at a gun store later that year, it was part of my job to scan 4473s into a computer. I asked where they were going, and a manager told me that they went to corporate, and then on to ATF.

– Last year, I was sitting at home when my doorbell rang. Two polite and professional ATF agents informed me that the number of firearms I had purchased from 2007 to 2010 did not match my income. I was disappointed to learn that this fact did not come with some sort of prize or award, but suddenly wondered how they knew what I had purchased. They knew of 5 AR receivers transferred to me on one 4473 (in 2010), for which no background check had been performed. I told them that those receivers, along with most of the firearms I had transferred to me during that time, were provided for free by manufacturers for T&E purposes, and told them about my blog.

When later I asked the FFL about that transaction record, they told me that the ATF had audited their records but didn’t appear to have copied any information – although that is literally the only way they could have known about those five receivers or even the transaction itself. The receivers came from two different manufacturers, and the only time they appeared together was on that 4473, which is supposed to be only retrieved by the ATF if there is a need to trace a specific transaction (and there was no need to trace that transaction). Federal law prohibits their doing so.

– A friend was recounting an ATF audit at his gun store, and mentioned that the agents were copying information from 4473s.

I am not the first person to notice this.

What does this mean?

I think that ATF Industry Operations agents are using the excuse of auditing the quality of FFL recordkeeping to create a database of firearm owners – or at the very least transferees of certain types of firearms. This is, in essence, a defenestration of the law.

60 thoughts on “De Facto Gun Registration Exists In The United States”

  1. As an FFL who has been through an ATF audit, I can confirm that they are thorough in their investigation, but do NOT scan 4473s (at least not with me). The IOIs, however, are trained to look for patterns of repetition, which IOIs take note of. And, yes, they do appear to be looking for patterns of frequent purchases. Ostensibly, this is to flush out people that are making a business by “flipping” firearms through private sales (which happens, but it’s not rampant).

  2. I was just having a conversation with my local FFL about a possible firearms transaction to California. I was floored to find out that the CA DOJ issues their own license. Does an on-site audit of the out-of-state FFL and during that audit, they copy EVERY SINGLE TRANSACTION that FF has ever done and takes it back to California. Ever done!

    Perhaps I am the last person outside of CA to get that memo, but I was floored. And swore I would never buy from or sell to someone in CA. Just can’t justify giving them every transaction. Ever.

    So the fact is, CA is doing de-facto registration with any record they come across.


    1. I’m not sure what you mean by that. As an FFL who does deal with California sales from time to time, it’s a pain in the ass to get the DOJ system set up (request number from CA FFL, verification number from out of state FFL yadda yadda) but there’s no “audit” or any such thing just to ship there. Thankfully now the DOJ system is entirely online and it’s not THAT bad, though of course still ludicrous at its core.

      To my knowledge state agencies have zero authority outside of their home state to acquire records in this manner. It would not surprise me to see CA gobbling up records everywhere they can, though.

    2. CA is killing me to, Boss. I’m stationed out here and it makes life very difficult when I find something I have to have RIGHT NOW on gunbroker….though my bank account likes it. Pinche.

  3. As an FFL I will explain this a little more. When you are transferred stripped AR lowers, the “other” firearm box should be checked. The NICS operators treat these as “handguns”. I have tried to transfer AR lowers to buddies station in other states, or are stationed local but are residents of another state (they are denied until I say they are Active Duty military). Never had an issue with long guns. There is a Nation wide requirement to report 2 or more handgun purchases in a five day period, and CA, AZ, NM, and TX have a 2 or more long required to report on long guns. The 4 Southwest state requirement did not come about until 2011 I believe. When you have multiple weapons on the same 4473 (regardless of the type of firearms), it raises an eyebrow, which when your local FFL was audited lead to the knock on the door.

    As far as your time at a gun store, corporate is maintaining records as they are required to do. Not sending them to the ATF unless the store was closing for good. your manager doesn’t know what he is talking about, he just didn’t want to look stupid. This information can be found in the ATF handbook.

    When I have been audited, they scan a handful of multiple purchases. When I asked why, the Investigator said “There is a list of people sovereign citizen, suspected terrorist, cartel supporters, and so one, that we run the names on the 4473 against.” You being in AZ, and the cartels being there may have raised suspicion again.

    1. No background check on that 4473, I have a concealed weapons permit. No requirement to report multiple AR purchases at the time.

      1. I mention the requirement for long guns in AZ not coming into effect until 2011. But the requirement for handgun was in effect. When I live in Chandler, had a CCW, bought 2 pistols the owner told me he still had to report the transaction, just as it is outlined in the ATF handbook. This is why I have never done multiple firearms in the same week. Now that I am an FFL I always advise people of this requirement. If they same me the time of filling that paperwork out, I work with them. You, as am I are seen by the DHS as potential terrorist for being veterans. I did a transfer for my OpsO for 8 long guns he inherited about 3 months ago. 2 M1A1s, 3 ARs, a lever, a AK-74 and 10/22 no contact from the ATF.

        Another point, how did they know what you make?

        1. NICS may or may not treat “others” as handguns, but dealers (at least here) don’t send multiple handgun sale forms for AR receivers.

          1. “NICS may or may not treat “others” as handguns, but dealers (at least here) don’t send multiple handgun sale forms for AR receivers.”

            Any dealer that uses a multi-handgun form for multiple receivers clearly doesn’t comprehend the ATF laws and regulations, and I would advise customers to stay away from such dealers. Receivers are NOT handguns. Even if it “could become a handgun.”

    2. “When you have multiple weapons on the same 4473 (regardless of the type of firearms), it raises an eyebrow, which when your local FFL was audited lead to the knock on the door.”

      Well, kind of. Transferring 10 AR-15 receivers on a single 4473 doesn’t really raise eyebrows in the same way that transferring 10 Glocks will. And they’re not treated like handguns, it’s just that anything BUT a long gun can’t be sold to somebody under 21, so it’s flagged with the same kind of logic.

      One thing that most folks (and a lot of FFLs) don’t realize is that how each state handles firearms purchases varies quite a bit. As Andrew points out, possession of a concealed permit removes the background check rule in many states (like AZ or TX). The ONLY documents that show you got a gun are in the FFL’s A&D log and the 4473 (neither of which the ATF/FBI/etc see unless they physically audit the dealer)

  4. I find this to be disconcerting at best. One for the existence of a possible registry, and two because they made a presumption about your income. Also, I find it hard to believe that they didn’t know about your blog. It is well known in many firearm circles, and would have been revealed in any database search that was done before soaking with you. After all they haveopenly admitted to using social media as a source of info.

  5. “Ostensibly, this is to flush out people that are making a business by “flipping” firearms through private sales”

    Really?? You think so? Hey folks, if you have learned nothing from the Snowden affair to armed national park rangers keeping bus tours from Yellowstone , you are hopelessly naive. We are moments away from local police going door to door confiscating your firearms a la Australia, however much more efficiently. All the data is stored by NSA in Utah immediately accessible by the government that is here to help you. This is no conspiracy. It is reality.

    1. Not sure how you went from a de facto national firearms registry to Park Rangers doing their jobs. Good one.

      As for being ‘moments away’ from doorkickers confiscating firearms: No.

      1. As I said, “. . . you are hopelessly naive” As regards to armed park rangers at the door of Old Faithful Inn keeping tourists from viewing the geyser, you might want to check the link. Now why would park rangers need to be armed at the front door of the Inn? To protect the folks from roving bands of grizzles? It’s intimidation pure and simple. Try to look at the broader picture of gun control. This is but a small piece. It fits next door to the militarization of local police puzzle piece.

  6. David, so based on your response as well as what the author mentions it sounds like this is more about un-taxed income than anything else. Not excusing it or even denying a more sinister motive of the BATFE, but them checking in because your purchases and income do not match sounds pretty plausible.

    1. “it sounds like this is more about un-taxed income than anything else. ”

      Not really. Andrew’s observation is correct — random collection of 4473 data is definitely a technical “registration” effort, and it would not surprise me in the least that a database of serial numbers/owners was kept somewhere. However, the truth is that people don’t always keep their guns, and private sales aren’t tracked (in most states). You could think of these 4473 collectoin incidents as being a “registry” of some sort, but if you truly tried to use it as credible intelligence, you’d find yourself with a “dead end” rate of about 90%. If you’re in the intelligence community, that’s considered worse than “guessing.” Don’t get too paranoid about these things, but don’t get complacent either 🙂

      1. Using the 4473s would have a high failure for finding guns, but an extremely high success rate for finding gun *owners*.

        If they find me, how long will it take them to search everything & find all that I have?

      2. ATF also collects serial numbers that appear online, for example, in an auction listing.

        For data the ATF cannot collect and maintain, another government agency does that under Title 10 and Title 34 authority ostensibly for foreign intelligence purposes. The cover story is that they are maintaining a database to support investigations of international arms transfers. It just *looks* like it’s targed on US persons, and it’s mere happenstance that the only users are Federal law enforcement agencies.

  7. My brother was in the business back in the 80s. At that time the shop he worked at in Los Angeles had regular visits from the ATF to copy the 4473s or what ever the equivalent was back then. The database has been building for a long time.

  8. Since all dealers will eventually go out of business, the ATF will get all of the information required in the “Bound Book”, many times an electronic database. Certainly, ATF procedures vary from state to state and from dealer to dealer, some based on suspicions and some just luck of the draw. I have talked to several people that have had visits from ATF asking about “why they needed as many guns as they purchased” or “are they supplying others”, etc. In the cases that I have heard about the people generally told the ATF that they would be glad to answer their questions if they came back with a court order and their lawyer was present. Were these people just “talking about being that firm” or not, no way to know.
    Now, the ATF could fill in the holes with credit card receipts and “cell phone” meta data from NSF and get a list probably 99% or better nation wide. Certainly, people like us that comment on gun related articles are already on the “list”. The private seller transfer is the only protection that may provide some cover should we have a government that would try to confiscate guns in mass. The “I sold that gun at a yard sale” or “that gun fell of the boat last summer” is lame, but legally possible.

  9. Well, lessee….
    The NSA can read your email whenever they choose to. They can and Do track your internet traffic all of the time. They can listen to your phone conversations at will and if they want to they can get your credit card/debit card/bank records.

    So yeah, they pretty much know who in this country owns guns and if they manage to put all that together they can get a pretty good idea of What guns you own.

    If the NSA, FBI and State and Local LE put their heads together with the Credit card companies and Online Retailers, they have a fairly extensive gun registry ready to be assembled with information they already have access to. Granted in some cases they need a court order to retrieve that information…but the FISA court is a big fat rubber stamp so…There we are.

    I dunno if this makes the classic arguments against gun registration stronger or moot.

    So, who is paying cash for their next gun purchase? Don’t bother because that ammo you ordered thru Midway is already on record.

    Funny thing is, I bet the real bad guys (in other words, Actual criminals) already know damn well to pay cash for everything, guns, ammo etc, so the de-facto registration scheme is of little-or-no use except to send some stuffed-suits to hassle Andrew Touhy when he gets too many black guns on one form.

    1. If the NSA, FBI and State and Local LE put their heads together with the Credit card companies…

      The credit card company knows that you spent $1024.73 at Joe Blow’s Survival Bunker. They don’t know if that was for an AR15 or five hundred bags of beef jerky.

  10. yep, They sat in my conference room with a lap-top plugging info from my bound book into a spreadsheet. They also took all the 4473’s off site for a day…

    They can and will do whatever they want , no matter what is actually “Legal”, the only recourse is through the courts (if you have the balls and the money)…

  11. You’re forgetting one other reason the ATF would have a reason to know about those receivers.

    Two hints: You bought them in 2010, and you live in a border state.

    1. No, the only way they would know is by having copied down information from that form. This was prior to that reporting requirement.

  12. I do know that the last audit I sat through, out of the literally thousands of 4473s they had to look over, they made copies of a handful to use as the test sample to “grade”. (At any reasonably high volume shop, there’s no way one or two inspectors can actually go through a year’s worth of 4473s with anything like a fine-toothed comb, so a certain number are selected for serious auditing.)

    I would imagine in Andrew’s instance, given the time frame, that any sale of multiple semiautomatic rifles on one 4473 in a state that abuts Mexico would have drawn ATF attention if noticed. I’m sure auditors in those states were told to be on the alert for 4473s of that sort and to make note of them. Fast & Furious was just the scandal attached to a long-running string of various anti-gun-running programs that stretch well back into the previous administration.

    I can tell you categorically that they did not copy more than a handful of 4473s at the last audit in which I participated, and I did enquire about why they copied the few they did.

    1. Indeed. We’re going to be seeing that in CT pretty soon. As some of you may know, we have a system of registration in place now for all mags in excess of 10 rds as well as so called “assault weapons”. Our gov made clear that this was just the beginning. The next legislative session could bring only god knows what. At some point, I think people are going to get letters stating that they “have until date X to turn in” their previously lawfully owned, registered property or be “in violation” of some piece of legislative garbage. Personal visits will follow if you don’t comply.

        1. There’s been confiscation of legally-owned firearms or firearm-related accessories in CA?

          There’s been a lot of BS out there, but other than the recent Los Angeles ban on >10 round magazines, I don’t believe there’s been outlawing & confiscation of legally-owned (which is a morass of legal craziness due to tall the dates when certain things became illegal or required to be registered) items other than the LA one above (and I have no idea if it has grandfathering provisions as the rest of CA’s laws seem to). This might not’ve been what you meant so please take this as a request for more information, not ‘calling you out’ or anything.

          CA does have confiscation when a crime is committed and they have a registry of all guns and you can even voluntarily register old long guns if you want!

  13. Now, take this as you like. It does come from California, so it is a bit different. I was speaking earlier this year to a CHP officer. He described to me how he is able to radio in the model and serial number of a firearm, and he will receive the ownership information back in minutes. I asked if this was just for handguns, as we do have handgun registration here in CA. He insisted that it applied to long guns as well, that he had used it for such several times. We don’t have long gun registration yet here, and I intend to get out before we get it. I want to know how they get access to all that data. As far as I know they aren’t supposed to have it. It could be that the officer was just blowing smoke… Then again, I have heard so many stories of law enforcement having things they aren’t supposed to…

  14. We have similar in PA. State police have a registration database, and it was deemed legal because it is incomplete. Its been de-funded in the past, and somehow the money always shows up to keep it running.

  15. I always wonder why they need the make model and SN of what you are buying, the background check is for you, not the gun……..

    can you ask to leave that blank?

  16. Would this be the place to point out that elections are now won by the party which creates the most accurate database of voters?

    In other words, both parties are extremely skilled at creating, vetting, and using lists of people and their demographics.

  17. Why does it surprise anyone that in the day of Snowden, the ATF knows what you have? The volume of data that is collected on each and everyone of us far exceeds what we think is being collected. So, to have Federal, State, or Local law enforcement come calling regarding certain items should be no surprise.

  18. I’m missing something: how would the agents know what your income is? If you didn’t authorize access to IRS records, and they didn’t have a court order, how did they have that information?

    Don’t give me the “they’s the gubmint” answer; I am asking if the agents would have had a legitimate way to obtain that info.

  19. About 8-9 years ago I was in a local gun store here in Florida where I did a lot of business. At the time I was really getting into buying milsurp rifles and handguns via telephone from catalogs and was just beginning to discover the Internet and to buy guns there. This gun store did all my FFL transfers for guns I bought out of state. At that visit to the store the owner said a BATF agent doing an audit at his store asked him why I was buying so many guns. He told the agent that I collected guns, had the money to buy them and was a harmless retired Naval Officer. The owner said the agent had Xeroxed about a dozen or so Form-4473’s of mine and that I should probably stand by for a visit.

    A few days later I was back at the gun store and as luck would have it the Agent was there too. In the spirit of mischief the owner introduced me to the agent saying, “Here’s that old retired military guy who buys too many guns…you can ask him why if you want.” I went over and shook hands with the agent and introduced myself but the agent went back to her audit.

    About a month later I got a call from an agent wanting to talk to me about a gun trace. They were already in front of my house in a car so I agreed to talk to them, on opposite sides of the gate in the driveway. There were 2 agents and they asked to see an old Colt revolver with a specific serial number. They said it was a routine trace. I produced the Colt revolver but the last digit of mine was one number off. They looked the revolver over and gave it back to me saying it wasn’t the gun they were looking for. I suspect they were just fishing and trying to size me up. They had to have used the Form 4473 to know I had “this” gun. I had bought nearly 75 guns and done transfers through the same FFL. Everything I purchased was old or milsurp and it included many topbreak and pull-pin revolvers…nothing very alarming. I think they decided I was just a harmless old guy with a hobby and not some guy buying and reselling.

    Interestingly, I got a call about 6 months later from an agent who identified himself as the local BATF station supervisor. He sounded like he just wanted to shoot the breeze. He gave me some advice on keeping good records, an inventory for insurance purposes and a handy lists of prices, from’s & to’s, etc. He also asked if I was at all interested in machine guns or if I sold any guns. Just a friendly talk, remember? I told him I had no interest in such things as machine guns and that I occasionally trade or sold off a piece that I could warm up to. I don’t trade or sell often but when I do I trade or sell them cheap just to be rid of them. I doubt I ever made a penny on a gun. The agent gave me his number and said to call if I ever had questions.

    Of the 4 BATF agents I met the first was standoffish but the other 3 were personable, friendly and polite. I know they were probably real eager to inspect my “cache” but I thought it prudent to keep them on the other side of the fence. I am, however, troubled about that first agent Xeroxing my Form-4473’s. The gun store owner (now out of business) said the lady agent also singled out many other people who “looked like they were buying too many guns” and Xeroxed their paperwork too.

    1. Just anecdotal. Nothing to see here folks. Move along now. Really? When does anecdotal become routine common practice?

  20. Just one more reason to leave behind the blue states and head to Texas. I buy most of my firearms from the same dealers in Texas that exposed the ATF(E)’s Mexican gun walking ring here in the lone star state. My FFLs are my friends, my neighbors and fellow Christians. They follow the Federal regs to a T, but not one bit more and they fight to keep the ATF(E) from pulling more of these shenanigans in the future. Our Governor, Attorney General and most of the Legislature carry concealed as does a good portion of the population. We understand that freedom comes with the responsibility to protect that freedom, from enemies both foreign and domestic. And yes, we still use words like “freedom”, “responsibility” and “God” down here in Texas. In the immortal words of Davy Crockett – “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.”

  21. If you can find it, Steve Helsley’s deposition against California AB962 (the ammo ban) has a number of anecdotes and data about the (in)accuracy of California’s pistol registry, including the fact that the registry doesn’t even have the pistol he bought from the CA Dep’t of Justice on it.

    In other words, any de facto registry is going to be inaccurate, incomplete, and nearly unusable. The real question is, is this good or bad news?

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