ATF Rul. 2016-1 and how it impacts your A&D Bound Book
By: Steve Harris, Three Circle Software CEO
As they say "Constant change is here to stay!"
ATF Rule 2016-1, the latest ATF ruling impacting electronic acquisition and disposition record keeping (A&D Bound Book), has been released. But what does it mean?
The good news for Gun StoreMaster customers is, it doesn't mean much. You're already compliant!
Back in 2013, with the release of rule 2013-5, there was a big impact. The Bureau was faced with situations which could hinder ATF's legally mandated responsibilities. ATF couldn't easily go to China to inspect your shop's firearm records...
ATF publishes rulings to promote uniform application of the laws and regulations it administers. This ruling, as with previous rulings, is designed to inform FFL retailers about the use of electronic A&D records, clarifies the requirements for us in the software industry supporting the FFL dealer community and insures that the ATF can accomplish their law enforcement mandates without undo cost or confusion. Unfortunately, reading the rulings is a bit like reading a legal contract. One challenge facing the ATF is to create a single ruling that tries to address a wide variety of technological solutions. Another source of potential confusion centers on the terms describing various technical elements ATF wants to provide guidance for.
For example the term 'server', or 'cloud software', or even 'backup'. Just Google the terms and see how much discussion exists just within the technical community. It's easy to misapply the rulings.
Fortunately, we not only rely on the language of the rulings for information but regularly communicate with ATF to better understand the reasons behind the ruling - the 'spirit' as they say. Our opinion for this ruling: Don't make it hard for the ATF inspectors to do their job and don't make it hard for FFLs to manage firearm information. After all, chain-of-custody record keeping is at the heart of the requirements.
It boils down to: Show me the data! (say it like they do in the movie Jerry Maguire...)
Mess with the data, let's see what changed...
Can't get to the data - not good...
For Gun StoreMaster customers, you're good to go! Gun StoreMaster complies with ATF rule 2016-1.
Always Accurate, Simply Superior sm
ATF Rul. 2013-5 and how it impacts your A&D Bound Book
By: Steve Harris, Three Circle Software CEO
For many, ATF Ruling 2013-5 came and went like the wind - hardly noticed like many messages in our over-messaged world. For electronic firearm A&D log users and the companies and people that support electronic firearm A&D log systems, the announcement of 2013-5 made quite an impact.
If you use electronic firearm A&D (Bound Book) systems, 2013-5 is important to you.
For our company, we were introduced to 2013-5 at the SHOT Show in January 2014. Our software, Gun StoreMaster, includes an electronic Bound Book system that ran, at the time, completely over the Internet (a ‘pure’ online application). Gun StoreMaster™ was not alone in this approach to electronic firearm recordkeeping. There are many benefits to having an online application, such as not needing to install and maintain software, access to your data from any computer connected to the Internet, pay-as-you-go subscriptions, etc.
On the first day of the 2014 SHOT Show, a prospective customer that attended a demo of Gun StoreMaster earlier in the day returned to our booth. “The ATF says you can’t do what you’re doing” he announced.
We take great care to follow the ATF and CFR requirements and had ample backup to support our approach, including correspondence with ATF. Surely the prospective customer must have been mistaken. We work diligently to minimize the policy/regulatory impact for gun store operators by staying in close touch with all sides. It was time to visit our ATF friends down the SHOT Show hall and talk about the ruling.
Well, at the very least, we usually receive a notice through the ATF website’s email alert system for changes like this. Since we didn’t receive any ATF alerts, this must be some kind of misunderstanding. Something as potentially impactful as ‘You can’t do what you’re doing” surely would have been broadcasted to us and others in our industry.
After arriving at the ATF booth, I was enthusiastically handed my very own government printed ATF Rul. 2013-5, complete with evidence of the old school date stamp (you know, the partially readable inked date stamp technology of World War II) and crisply advised that a ‘pure’ online electronic firearm recordkeeping system was now not allowed. Wait, what about a notice and public comment period? What about the ATF alert system that we subscribed to? “Oh that, yea, we later found out our web site alert system was broken so people didn’t get the notice.” Hmmm, this wasn’t sounding good to me.
Funny how letting time intervene in an emotional event can bring clarity and calmness. That’s what it did for us. The ruling was read and re-read that evening, along with the FAQs that ATF included. The ruling allowed for a 180 day "grace" period to comply. If you’re handed lemons, start making lemonade. That’s just what we started to do. We, like many in the technology marketplace, are inherently problem solvers. We decided to return to the ATF booth the next morning before the show opened to the public and have a calmer, problem solving approach to the stark ruling.
Tell me, what was the underlying reason for the ruling?
Why would "pure" electronic firearm recordkeeping systems suddenly not be allowed anymore?
This was the approach we took, to understand the underlying ATF problem so we could get a better view of the ATF solution, as they embodied in ATF Rul. 2013-5.
Here’s what we were told: Since ATF has a law enforcement component to their mission, there were occasions where the ATF was required to "seize" a FFL’s records under a search warrant. The ATF’s "problem" was that the FFL’s records might be held on a system that the FFL didn’t own and wouldn’t be accessible under the ATF’s search warrant. The ATF would not be able to seize the electronic records because the electronic records were held ‘in the cloud’, subject to different search warrant restrictions, and possibly not even residing on U.S. soil. This meant that the ATF couldn’t seize the ‘primary’ data from the FFL, something they need to be able to do under extreme circumstances to support the law enforcement obligation of the bureau. The data they sought simply wasn’t in the gun shop.
Wait, what about just a printed (or PDF file) of the bound book? What if the printed bound book was on the premises? Since hand written or even an Excel file or other simple approaches to the recordkeeping burden are allowed by ATF, wouldn’t this be the same? It is a simple effort to take a ‘pure’ online electronic firearm record keeping system and produce a daily bound book printout that could be stored locally at the gun store and ‘grabbed’ by ATF under a search warrant.
We received an emphatic ‘NO, that’s not good enough’ from the ATF. Why is that not good enough? The answer, delivered by ATF many times in slightly different ways, was that the ATF wants access to the ‘primary’ data. That this ‘primary’ data is important to the ATF in order to carry out their law enforcement forensic responsibilities and that a printed (or PDF) bound book output from electronic data ‘far away’ did not meet their law enforcement need. In other words, an FFL would be risking their license by not complying with ATF Rul. 2013-5 if they simply exported the Bound Book information from an online system to their store, even if this was done daily.
They want access to the ‘primary’ data.
Our Solution: InStore™
For Gun StoreMaster, the solution became InStore.
InStore allows the primary electronic firearm data to reside on a computer the FFL (gun store) owns (in the U.S.). Problem solved! Well, almost. We would have to develop this new, small InStore software application that keeps the ‘primary’ firearm records on the FFLs computer while still offering the benefits of an online system, all within the 180 day grace period, which started back in December 2013.
Before investing in this new approach to electronic record keeping, we decided it was best to clarify the situation with ATF.
As a note, ATF does NOT approve any particular software or system. They reserve the right to say ‘NO’, that a system does not meet the requirements; however, there is currently no ‘approval’ path that technology companies like ours can follow. This keeps all of us in this business on our toes. Back when we were creating multi-carrier shipping systems, UPS, FedEx and all the major carriers had ‘approval’ processes that had to be followed. These were cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive; however, in the end you were ‘approved’. Nothing like this in the ATF world.
Consulting with both ATF and our growing and enthusiastic customer base, we set out to make our lemonade. We would make InStore a benefit to our customers, not just a solution to a regulatory burden. InStore allows Gun StoreMaster customers the ability to access the acquisition and disposition process without an Internet connection. For us, the ruling prompted us to dust off our original ‘local software’ rendition.
We released InStore on-time and in compliance with the rule (and spirit) of ATF Rul. 2013-5. It is offered at no additional charge to our Gun StoreMaster customers (a subscription to Gun StoreMaster is required). We believe that the reasons behind the policy that prompted ATF Rul. 2013-5 required us to develop InStore. We also believe based on our direct conversations with ATF that a ‘pure’ online electronic record keeping systems that relies solely on a bound book printed report that is kept locally at the store does NOT meet the standard.
Time and technology will continue to put pressure on ATF and the FFL retailer community to change. Change is the result of not being satisfied with the status quo. As Winston Churchill famously said “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. Here’s to changing often!
Always Accurate, Simply Superior sm