TOP TEN TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR FFL
1: Take Your Time
Slow Down!!!! Take your time with each sale of a firearm. The required forms must be perfect. All it takes is one bad habit or one really careless mistake to lose your license. Go over each form 4473, DROS, and all the other required documentation carefully to ensure that you and your employees process the transfer properly. Sure, you may have customers waiting, but it is far better to lose a customer than to lose your federal firearms license. Don’t try to rely on the BATF’s free software either. The BATF’s E4473 software does not prevent licensees from proceeding with otherwise invalid transfers and putting their licenses at risk. EXTRA TIP: Some third party software makers have put safety measures in place to prevent the most common types of inadvertent unlawful transfers – but you still need to double check the paperwork.
2: Prepare & Follow Checklists
Even seasoned professionals make mistakes. To ensure that your business is run properly, prepare checklist for each detail that is required by law and policy. “Receiving checklists” can contain fields requiring your employee to verify that serial numbers on the box, firearm, and invoice match and that each firearm has been properly input in the business inventory system as well as the Acquisition and Disposition books. Sales checklists can require step-by-step processing of the form, double checking that all required forms are included in the transfer file, such as a copy of the proof of residency, etc. If each checklist is signed off by a manager daily, the likelihood that a license threatening omission has occurred is diminished.
3: Two Eyes Are Better Than One
If there is one recommendation that I can make to every federal firearms licensee, it is to always have multiple employees review the 4473 form prior to delivery of the firearm to ensure accuracy and completeness. Each 4473 form contains dozens of opportunities for errors that can lead to the revocation of your license. Simple and habitual errors over time can lead to hundreds of violations of state and federal laws. In the eyes of the BATF, there is no such thing as a minor violation. Don’t give the BATF the chance to revoke, put procedures in place to have multiple persons review all mandatory forms.
4: If You Don’t Know Ask . . . And Get An Answer in Writing
Let me clarify what I mean by “know.” If you cannot point to a law, a regulation, or an agency document clearly permitting the conduct you wish to engage in, then ask! Determining whether a particular firearm or transfer is legal in California can be complicated. Ask three agents one question, you may just get three different answers. And, the inspector at your dealership may not like the answer you chose to follow. Always get a response in writing before proceeding, even if it’s just a quick email response. And, have it ready at the time of inspection. If you have a question regarding an existing issue that you believe to believe a violation, contact an attorney who practices firearm laws for advice on how to deal with the matter. Using an attorney who practices in the field of firearm laws permits them to contact a regulating agency for clarification while maintaining their client’s anonymity.
5: Regularly Review Both State & Federal Guidelines.
California firearm retailers are regulated by federal, state, and local agencies and must comply with hundreds (if not thousands) of laws and regulations. During the slower seasons, take time to review those materials provided to you by the DOJ and BATF. If you don’t learn something new each time you review the laws and regulations, you’re doing it wrong. Read some more.
6: Institute Training Programs
Employees who are processing firearms transfers for your business must also know the laws and regulations that your business must comply with. Create training programs and meetings to discuss new and existing laws, as well as compliance issues. Quiz your employees on the various requirements for firearms transfers daily or weekly during down times. Knowing where your employees are struggling helps you better know where to further educate (as well as where to look more specifically for paperwork errors).
7: Check Firearm Inventory Counts Daily
This is a simple measure that can prevent inventory losses and thefts – as well as identify open items in the Acquisition and Disposition logs. At the end of the day, simply count the number of open items in the A&D books, and then count the number of firearms In the store. If the numbers don’t match up, something’s wrong – count again. If they do not match up after a second count, then it’s time for inventory check. Compare the firearms in inventory to the A&D books to determine what is missing or has not been properly entered.
8: Check Inventory Serial Numbers Quarterly, or at Least Annually.
Serial numbers are often transposed incorrectly when entering them in the books. For instance, a serial number of P2S34 can improperly be recorded in to the A&D books as B2534 due to human error. And, an inventory count would not find the error. Such transposition can lead to two serious, but false, violations in eyes of the BATF and the DOJ: 1) you would be perceived as having a firearm, P2S34, that was not entered in the books in a timely manner, and 2) you would be perceived as not having firearm or transfer paperwork for the firearm entered as B2534 (i.e. it was either lost, stolen, or illegally sold). Thus, in addition to the daily count, a frequent and complete inventory should be conducted to ensure that all open firearm serial numbers identified in the A&D books match those in inventory. Not only does this ensure a proper accounting of firearms, it catches simple transpositions of letters and numbers such as “s” and “5” before you are cited by a regulating agency.
9: Don’t Be Afraid To Fire/Transfer Employees
Employees can be both a blessing and a curse. A licensee must remember that it is their license on the line, not their employees. It is not sufficient to say “my employee made the mistake” if you are not treating your employees mistakes as serious. Employees that repeatedly make errors, show a disregard for paperwork, or repeatedly fail impromptu quizzes on the requirements of firearm transfers should be taken out of the equation. Firing the employee may not be necessary if the retail establishment is large enough to place the employee into a different department such that they have no responsibilities relating to firearm transfers.
10. Install Video and Audio Monitoring Systems and Proper Disclosure Signage
Perhaps the most controversial recommendation I can make is to install video and audio surveillance on the premises along with proper signage at each entrance notifying the customers that entering the premises constitutes consent to be recorded with video and audio surveillance systems. Such a surveillance system can serve a number of purposes: 1) it can deter some crime to the extent that criminals fear being identified and caught – such as straw purchasers; 2) it can identify culprits when crimes do occur within the establishment – such as employee theft and armed robberies; 3) it document the activities that can assist in civil defense, criminal investigations, and regulatory compliance matters; and 4) it can provide a method by which the licensee view the activities within the store remotely. Each of these comes with the warning that the audio and video obtained via these systems can be used against you too!