Learn what firearms licensees can expect from an ATF compliance inspection. There is a separate process for federal explosives licensees and permittees (FEL/FEPs).
ATF is responsible for licensing persons engaged in manufacturing, importing, and dealing in firearms. Individuals and entities licensed to engage in these businesses are known as federal firearms licensees or FFLs.
FFLs must comply with the federal firearms laws and implementing regulations, including the Gun Control Act (GCA) and the National Firearms Act (NFA). These statutes and regulations are designed to protect the public from the criminal use of firearms. GCA regulations include provisions specifically aimed at preventing illegal firearms trafficking and ensuring the successful tracing of guns recovered during criminal investigations (crime guns).
ATF’s industry operations investigators (IOIs) conduct inspections of FFLs to ensure compliance with applicable federal, state and local laws and regulations, and educate licensees on the specific requirements of those laws and regulations. IOIs also review the required records kept by FFLs to identify individuals potentially associated with illegal firearm trafficking or involved in other criminal activity.
Below is the general process for compliance inspections.
When and Where
Compliance inspections happen during the licensee’s business hours at their business premises. This may also include the inspection of off-site storage locations, if any.
Generally, ATF will not give advance notice prior to conducting a compliance inspection.
If a licensee refuses to comply by not letting the IOI enter the business premises or inspect their inventory and records, this is considered a willful violation of the GCA and ATF will pursue revocation of the license.
What to Expect
The IOI will introduce themselves to the licensee, show their ATF credentials, and explain why they’re there. They will also provide their contact information for any follow-up questions.
During an inspection, the IOI will conduct the following activities (not necessarily in this order):
- Review business operations, including ownership and responsible person information
- Evaluate the licensee’s internal controls and security measures
- Verify that licensee is in compliance with state and local laws
- Conduct a complete physical inventory of firearms
- Review the acquisition & disposition (A&D) record, also known as the bound book
- Review ATF forms, including Forms 4473
- Suggest voluntary actions or steps the licensee can take to improve compliance
If the IOI finds any violation or discrepancy, the FFL will be advised of those findings. At the end of the inspection, the IOI will sit down with the licensee to go over the final report of violations, if any. The IOI will document the licensee’s response to the violations, including any corrective actions the licensee has taken. Later, the licensee will receive a physical or digital copy of the signed report of violations. Additionally the IOI will review the federal firearms regulations with the licensee, who will have an opportunity to ask questions.
Inspection Results and Recommendations
If an IOI finds violations during an FFL inspection, the nature and extent of the violations will determine next steps. When willfully committed, some regulatory violations pose public safety risks, and will result in ATF issuing a notice that it will revoke the license.
In addition to a refusal to allow an IOI to conduct an inspection, each of the following violations, absent extraordinary circumstances, will also result in ATF issuing a notice of revocation:
- Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person
- Failing to conduct a required background check
- Falsifying records
- Failing to respond to a trace request
Where circumstances, such as repeat violations, demonstrate a willful disregard of the law, ATF’s obligation to protect public safety may also warrant issuance of a notice of revocation.
If the violations do not warrant a notice of revocation, ATF has several ways to guide the FFL toward corrective actions toward future compliance. These methods include issuing a report of violations, sending a warning letter, and holding a warning conference (or meeting) with the industry member.
If you have questions about a particular ATF inspection or about ATF inspections in general, please contact your local ATF office.