ATF Ruling 2013-5. Blanket Approval For Compliant Computerized Records
Recent advances in technology have increased requests from industry for approval of computerized firearms records. ATF responded in 2008 by implementing blanket approval for the use of computerized FFL acquisition and disposition books and revised the ruling in December 2013. ATF Ruling 2013-5 details the reasoning and requirements for FFLs to maintain electronic records of firearms. Compliance with the provisions of the ruling is required for the continued use of a computerized FFL “bound book”. As with anything concerning business, as FFLs we should be aware of the benefits/costs and possible complications of implementing new methods of operation; especially if they have a potential increase the chances of compliance problems.
Is computer based record keeping a good idea for all FFLs?
Although inventory management data bases for small business have been around for a long time, acceptance by the average FFL for firearms records is a relatively new development. When this type of technology became wide-spread, most FFLs seemed to be averse to the idea of keeping a firearms record electronically. The expressed reasoning is usually related to “control”. In other words, some FFLs have the impression that there is a loss of control, or more of a tendency to make errors with an electronic database than with the traditional firearms bound book. There may be some validity to that impression. Overall, the benefits outweigh the cost, but only if FFLs are committed to ensuring the information entered is absolutely accurate. Otherwise, there is significant potential for an increased chance of compliance failures.
What regulations apply to electronic records?
Federal regulations require only essential information to be included in any computerized A&D record. Depending on the Type of FFL you have, record keeping requirements will vary slightly. The requirements of 27 CFR Part 478 Subpart H remain in effect regardless or the manner in which records are kept. There are additional requirements set forth in ATF Rul. 2013-5. Prior to August 2008, ATF would generally grant a variance from the record keeping requirements upon request and only after examination of record keeping software by ATF Industry Operations Investigators (IOI). ATF Rul. 2008-2 granted blanket approval to utilize computerized records required under 27 CFR Part 478 Subpart H. In December 2013 ATF approved Rul. 2013-5, which supersedes the 2008 ruling. FFLs no longer need prior approval to use computerized records if such records are in compliance with applicable regulations and additional requirements as set forth in ATF Rul. 2013-5. FFLs who don’t comply with the requirements of the ruling will not be authorized to keep electronic records until the conditions of the ruling are met.
What are some of the requirements of ATF Rul. 2013-5?
There are eleven enumerated requirements in ATF Rul. 2013-5 in addition to requirements already established in 27 CFR Part 478 Subpart H. One significant ATF requirement for computerized records is the ability of the software to maintain an “audit trail”. Therefore, any modifications made to the database entries subsequent to the initial entry must be recorded. So if a mistake was made in the initial entry and changed later, the software would show two separate records. The system must allow queries by serial number, acquisition date and name of manufacturer or importer. The FFL must have the ability to print “all” records. FFLs using or contemplating the use of computerized databases must ensure compliance with the ruling. FFLs will be allowed to use computerized records without a variance only if the requirements of the Ruling are being met.
Are all available databases relatively equal?
There are several types of databases that can be purchased commercially or developed in-house. Commercially available software will usually be ATF compliant, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the FFL to ensure compliance. As with all other computer software technology, it gets better and less expensive rapidly. The more sophisticated software virtually eliminates the possibility of incorrect information by using automation, bar codes, cross referencing, and RFID chips. If you are using commonly available software, then human error becomes as relevant as it is when keeping a traditional bound book. FFLs using computer based record keeping have a number of issues to deal with that can cause problems during compliance inspections. Generally speaking, the more sophisticated the software, the greater the accuracy of your records will be, and the easier it will be to automate record keeping requirements.
What are the benefits of computer based record keeping?
From a compliance perspective, there are important benefits to maintaining your A&D record in electronic form. The principal benefit to you is the ability to significantly increase the accuracy of your firearms records, and at the same time decrease the likelihood of being cited for a record keeping violation. On the other hand, FFLs who maintain electronic records and are careless and unprofessional, significantly increase the likelihood of being cited when compared to the traditional record keeping method. In other words, computerized records benefit you only if you are dedicated to maintaining them properly, otherwise it’s easy to get into trouble when using them.
From a business perspective the benefits of automated inventory management include an organized inventory, quick access to data, more time to focus on growing your business, and increased productivity.
What are the potential compliance issues when using electronic records?
From a compliance perspective, the use of computerized record keeping systems generally enhances your company’s ability to comply with regulations. Especially when systems using barcode and scanning technology are used; because human error is virtually eliminated. However, one must be careful, because computerized records might actually increase the likelihood of being cited if you are not dedicated to keeping the firearms logbook absolutely accurate. One could make the same statement for any other bound book scenario. However, just as your ability to search your records is enhanced by keeping electronic records, ATF will have the ability to enhance their examination of your records in the same manner during compliance inspections. The more information that is available to be examined quickly, the more chances there are for the discovery of errors.
There are several requirements in addition to 27 CFR Pat 478 Subpart H implemented in ATF Rul. 2013-5 that must be followed, or the privilege of keeping electronic records can be rescinded.
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