There has been an overwhelming amount of internet posts and conjecture recently about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) doing away with the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) signature, which is required for any individual Form 1 or Form 4 application. However, the posts and conjecture fail to properly report the status of any change to the regulations and also fail to explain that the same proposition was posted last year and the ATF failed to act on it.
Currently, posted on the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs website, ATF has posted a notice of intent to enter into rulemaking in relation to “Background Checks for Principal Officers of Corporations, Trusts, and Other Legal Entities With Respect to the Making or Transferring of a National Firearms Act Firearm,” RIN 1140-AA43. As you can see the Publication ID is 2012 (remember that we are in 2013 but the abstract does show an action date of 7/2013). The abstract states:
The Department of Justice is proposing to amend the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) regarding the making or transferring of a firearm under the National Firearms Act. The proposed regulations would (1) add a definition for the term “responsible person”; (2) require each responsible person of a corporation, trust or legal entity to complete a specified form, and to submit photographs and fingerprints; (3) require that a copy of all applications to make or transfer a firearm be forwarded to the chief law enforcement officer (CLEO) of the locality in which the maker or transferee is located; and (4) eliminate the requirement for a certification signed by the CLEO.
First, what is important to note is that the ATF has not posted any specific language or “Rule.” Other than the abstract, which was posted in 2012, we do not know what the Rule would provide and the ATF could propose a Rule that differs greatly than the abstract. Further, there is nothing that would limit the ATF from completely changing the abstract or submitting a Rule that does not address portions of the abstract.
In turning to the abstract, it would be a welcome change to eliminate the CLEO signature requirement; however, it is not likely to be enacted, if it requires the submission of a copy of all applications to the CLEO, as any such requirement would violate many states’ laws. As an example, 18 PA.C.S. 6111.4 specifically precludes any law enforcement agency in Pennsylvania from maintaining a registry or database.
Why is it that the CLEO signature requirement cannot simply be eliminated without additional restrictions? All the background checks are already performed on purchasers, so why does the Form have to be submitted to local law enforcement?
Also, I am concerned that ATF believes it is within its purview to define a “responsible person,” when the Congress, in enacting the Safe Explosives Act, defined a “responsible person.” This seems to suggest that Congress has already deemed that it is within the Congress’ purview to define; therefore, preempting the ATF from defining it.
Also, this notice of intent is identical to the one the ATF posted in 2011, which can be viewed here. You can see that the Publication ID is Fall 2011.
Accordingly, while the elimination of the CLEO signature requirement would be a welcomed change, based on the abstract, it would likely violate state law. Furthermore, rulemaking takes months and even if the ATF decides to act on it, unlike what it did in 2011, it will require that formal rule be proposed, an opportunity for public comment be provided and that it then must review all of the public comment. That will likely take at least 3-4 months, even if they ignore the public comments. If the public comments cause the ATF to redefine the rule, it could take substantially longer. Hence, it is unlikely that the CLEO signature will be eliminated any time in the near future, especially given the current political climate. As soon as any Rule is posted, I will review the Rule and issues that you need to be aware of.