Up until now, we’ve focused on the fact that e-Forms are so much faster than the traditional paper forms. For example, we’re currently seeing e-Form 4 approvals in about 90 days, while paper Form 4′s are coming back from 10 months ago…
Having said that, there are more benefits than just the faster approval times; and, that’s what we’re going to go over in this article.
In the following sections we’re going to dive into several reasons why e-Forms are so much better than the previous paper system.
More Efficient for the NFA Branch
The first and biggest advantage of e-Forms comes from the fact that they’re more efficient for the NFA Branch. I have read a lot of articles claiming that e-Forms will be just as slow as paper forms as the volume increases; but, what those articles ignore is the fact that the NFA Branch is able to process e-Forms more efficiently than paper forms.
There are only a small handful auditors working at the NFA Branch – and they’re working their butts off trying to stay caught up with the influx of submissions. Now, add to that workload the fact that they’re also tracking the status of stacks of error letters, manually addressing envelopes, and moving boxes of physical paper forms around as they see the depressingly huge pile of forms they still need to process (about 80,000 at last count) – and you’ll start to get an idea of why the wait is so long.
It’s no wonder things get shuffled to the side and forgotten about! Honestly, there aren’t many people who would enjoy the balancing act that must be involved for our NFA examiners; and, if you ever find yourself talking to one of them, I highly recommend that you tell them ’Thanks for the good work!’ instead of railing on about how they’ve teamed up with Obama to ruin your life. (Remember the comment about things being shuffled to the side… )
Regardless, you’re probably getting an idea about why e-Forms are easier for the examiners:
- No more paper forms to shuffle around
- No more addressing & mailing envelopes
- No more having to deal with and track individual errors (this is the biggest gotcha for new form submissions)
I’m not saying the e-Form system won’t get bogged down eventually, I’m just saying that it has the potential to handle more volume using the same number of examiners – which will work out better for everybody.
No More ‘Lost’ Submissions
One of the biggest problems we had with the paper system were the famous ‘Lost’ submissions. Every FFL/SOT who handled any volume at all had to deal with this – and what it amounted to was forms that would get submitted, but they never got entered correctly in the system.
Since the NFA Branch won’t let anybody check status for 4-6 weeks from the time it was received, this turned into a huge time sink for problem applications – and resulted in unhappy customers who were impacted.
With e-Forms, this is no longer a problem since we can track applications directly from the time they’re submitted until the time they’re approved.
Even with e-Forms, there are occasional forms that get off track (although it is far less common), and we’re improving our software every day to catch any applications that have gone too long so we can get them back on track a lot easier than with the paper system.
Bypass Data Entry – Get Status Faster
Another reason e-Forms are inherently faster is the fact that it bypasses the data entry portion of the NFA Branch. Recently, data entry has been taking around 8 weeks – so you can subtract that time off whatever wait you would have seen with the paper system.
Basically, even if e-Forms and paper forms were processed at the exact same rate, the e-Forms would have a built-in 8 week advantage.
A side-affect of bypassing data entry is that your status is available faster. While we typically don’t recommend calling a lot, it is possible to call and check for status as soon as the forms are submitted.
No More Forms Damaged or Lost in the Mail
Since the examiners often end up addressing envelopes manually with the paper system, it isn’t uncommon at all for approvals to either go to the wrong FFL or to get lost altogether in the mail. We get approvals all the time for other FFLs, and we play nice and throw them back in the mail to the correct recipient; unfortunately, not everybody does the same thing.
The worst case we ever saw was an approval where the envelope had literally been torn in half. Believe it or not, both halves of the envelope did arrive – and they had been taped together with scotch tape…
With e-Forms, this is no longer an issue since an email goes out right away and the ‘Tax Stamp’ is now digital. It’s a far better system that avoids the pitfalls of relying on manual envelope addressing and the U.S. Postal Service. This is a case where the technology is finally moving into the current century.
Form 3 VOIDs & Withdrawals are Faster and Easier
There are occasionally cases where customers change their mind and we end up withdrawing applications from the NFA Branch. This was a big problem area for paper forms since withdrawals and VOIDs would often be mixed up with applications that had been submitted after the fact.
This resulted in the accidental cancellation of valid transfers – as well as orders being left in the system that shouldn’t have been. The first couple of months of using e-Forms were fraught with issues where the NFA registry had to be corrected to match reality. These were cases where there was a clear paper trail, but the registry just had the incorrect information.
It avoids a lot of problems in the long-run when the NFA database is more up-to-date, and e-Forms is definitely helping with that process.
Pretty much anybody will admit that the introduction of e-Forms has been a bumpy ride. Even the examiners have had issues as the system doesn’t seem to have been designed to handle the load it is under.
Those problems will be worked out over time; but, it’s clear that this is the future for NFA form submissions.
At Silencer Shop, we see e-Forms as a clear advantage over the legacy paper system, and we’ve moved 100% of our submissions to go through the new system. Although it isn’t perfect, it’s definitely better than the paper system it’s replacing!