Guns of the St. Valentine

Guns of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre
The two Tommy Guns (courtesy Logan Metesh)

The surprise hit of the National Firearms Law Seminar (for me, anyway,) was the last presentation of the day by William J. Ryan, from the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). Mr. Ryan’s speech came at the end of almost nine hours of lectures (including the luncheon speaker,) and I was internally debating whether or not I should bail out early to check out the outdoor concert and see if I could find a good pair of Lucchese roper boots from some of the nearby shops….but I am really glad I didn’t . . .

Mr. Ryan talked about the National Firearms Act and Firearms Trusts. He had a lot to say, including some interesting (to the lawyers in the audience, anyway) hypotheticals. A few of the highlights that stood out to me were:

(1) Firearms Trusts have increased at an incredible rate in recent years. In 2003, there were forty-five (45) NFA trusts submitted to his office. In 2014, there were thirty-six thousand (36,000) submitted.

(2) What’s the one thing that causes delays? Poorly-created NFA trust forms. People who “grab a form off the internet” to create their own trust with a DIY “fill-in-the-blank” form. The ATF reads these very carefully and inevitably one of the blanks was missed, or filled in incorrectly, leading to an inconsistency.

As an example, at some point in recent years, a person who successfully created an NFA trust uploaded his document to a social media site saying something along the lines of, “Hey, this one worked with no problems! Go ahead an use it as a template!” People then started downloading the form and using it for their own trusts.

The problem was that some people didn’t actually edit the document correctly. For some people, this created inconsistencies that resulted in the form being sent back. For others, well the form was technically filled out correctly, but probably with a result that was unintended.

Unfortunately, some of the people who used the form for their own trusts neglected to change the “beneficiary” from the original. So that means there’s now some woman in Kansas who is technically the beneficiary of many of these trusts and is set to inherit….I think he said “thousands of” machine guns, silencers, etc.

Be careful using fill-in-the-blank NFA Trust forms!

No doubt, there are many people who submit a fill-in-the-blank form and have no issues, but as my grandfather used to tell me: if you don’t know what you’re doing, then don’t.

(For the record: Ryan states that they almost never have problems with trusts created by attorneys.)

(3) Ryan also talked about Proposed Rulemaking 41P, which was the proposal made in September 2013, that would require the responsible person of a trust to submit photographs, fingerprints, and a chief law enforcement officer sign-off. (He spoke a little wistfully about how this would close a ‘loophole’, his attitude perhaps influenced by that 36,000 number I mentioned earlier.) Yeah, whatever happened to that proposed rule?

As it turns out, they’re still responding to comments people left during the comment period. The Administrative Procedures Act requires Federal Agencies like the BATFE to respond to every one of the comments left by people during the comment period for a proposed rule. They received approximately 9,500 comments–which, according to Mr. Ryan, is not the highest number they’ve ever received. But there are only two attorneys staffing the office in Martinsburg, West Virginia that handles such matters, and they can only go so fast.

Keep that in mind the next time a rule is proposed.

And — seriously — did any of you do a DIY trust using a template some guy posted on the internet? If you did, go check the beneficiary section right now!


DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece, and is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice on this subject, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel.

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