WASHINGTON — A record surge in recent firearms production and transactions have swamped the federal government’s automated registration system for select weapons, including machine guns.
In a notice earlier this month to the firearms industry, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it was temporarily suspending parts of its computerized system to shore up capacity in part to process the required registration and transfer of National Firearms Act covered weapons, which also include silencers, short-barreled shotguns, short-barreled rifles and some explosive devices.
Between 2005 and 2013, firearms act-related applications “skyrocketed by more than 380%” to nearly 200,000, according to the April 16 memo issued by ATF Deputy Assistant Director Marvin Richardson. The surge has contributed to a backlog of more than 70,000 applications.
Richardson’s memo states that the ATF is “immediately” hiring 15 people to assist with the application processing and deploying 15 current employees to the task.
The application deluge tracks a record annual increase in overall firearm production to more than 8.5 million guns in 2012, the most recent year for which the ATF collects such data. In 2011, there were 6.5 million firearms produced.
The increase was aided by a spike in the manufacture of rifles and pistols, continuing a trend that has been highlighted by industry representatives for the past several years.
“We have seen dramatic, unprecedented … growth in the firearms and ammunition industry as the direct result of consumer demand for our products in the last five years,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade association, said on its website. “Not surprisingly, growth has placed added demand on the (ATF’s) Office of Enforcement Programs and Services.
“Today, the office simply does not have the funding or personnel it needs to serve the industry and, by extension, our customers.”
The foundation estimated that the ATF’s office needed $10 million in additional funding to “provide the level of service our industry needs to remain in compliance with federal law.”
According to ATF records, a total of 512,790 machine guns were registered across the country in 2014, more than 571,000 silencers, 2.2 million so-called destructive devices (which include grenades and other explosives), 137,201 short-barreled rifles and 131,951 short-barreled shotguns.
The automated ATF processing system was launched in 2013, but grew exponentially from 673 users last year to 10,000 today.
“Since January 2014, approximately 50% of firearms act applications have been submitted via” the automated system, Richardson said in the memo. “This surge in demand has created the need to temporarily scale back … submissions while the system is enhanced to handle greater capacity in the future.”