Congressional Research Service lights fire under NFA registry
The Congressional Research Service has issued a lengthy study (pdf) of the NFA registration system, and it's a scorcher. Understand that search warrants, raids, and convictions are based upon negative reports from this system, which are used to establish that an NFA weapon (full auto, or short barrelled shotgun or rifle) is not registered, so the sytem should be perfect or very near perfect. According to the report, it's far from that.
Questions about its accuracy have been raised since the 1970s. (pp. 1-2). Treasury's Inspector General found significant problems in 1998, including improper destruction of records, inaccuracies, and failure to follow procedure. But the IG did not examine legal issue of whether problems were sufficient to call into question certifications that guns were not registered. (p. 2).
The GCA 68 provided an amnesty period for registrations, and they flooded in, overwhelming the staff. As a result records were fouled up, wrong serial numbers recorded, records misfiled (no computers then, so a paper in the wrong file might go missing forever). (p. 4)
A 1975 internal ATF document refers to "continuously" finding errors in the system, and raises the worry that an innocent person might be convicted as a result, if he had lost his own copy of the registration. (p.6).
In 1996, John LeaSure was convicted of six counts of possessing unlicensed machineguns. His attorney, Jim Jeffiries, obtained a copy of an ATF training tape in which the fellow in charge of NFA registrations told agents that the database was flawed, but that his people would always testify that it was perfect. Informed of a partial transcript of the tape, the judge set aside five of the six counts. (p. 7) [Here's a previous posting that includes video of the training tape.
Actual accuracy is unknown. It was claimed to be 1.5%, but a 1998 Treasury Inspector General study found it was higher, based on samplings -- strangely, the report does not give the actual number, and the IG declined to study larger samples. (p.9)
The accuracy may be esp. problematic for DEWATS, deactivated war trophies. (p. 10)
A MAJOR set of criticisms of Treasury Inspector General responses to inquiries about accuracy. (pp. 11-15).
An examination of how an amnesty could be used to try to make the system accurate, and how it could be structured. (pp. 16-18)