Are Florida sheriffs, police chiefs regulating NFA firearms?


Can a chief law enforcement officer regulate firearms by inaction – by an unofficial policy to say “no.”

I was talking to a local gun dealer recently when he raised this very interesting legal argument, which could have far-reaching consequences.

The dealer is licensed to sell Title II firearms and accessories: short-barrel Nfastamprifles and shotguns, machine guns, suppressors and AOWs.

He pointed out that one of the ways his customers can legally purchase a Title II weapon is by filling out an ATF Form 4, and then seeking the signature of a CLEO – a chief law enforcement officer – such as a sheriff or  police chief before sending the form to ATF.

However, many CLEOs have a policy – official or unofficial – of not signing the forms.

“They’re regulating firearms, which is prohibited,” the dealer said. “I’m surprised no one has sued over this.”

The state’s powerful preemption statute – the bedrock upon which all of  our firearms laws reside, is clear.

Only the state legislature can regulate guns of any kind.

Here’s two applicable paragraphs:

State Preemption 790.33

Field of Regulation of Firearms and Ammunition Preempted

(e) A knowing and willful violation of any provision of this section by a person acting in an official capacity for any entity enacting or causing to be enforced a local ordinance or administrative rule or regulation prohibited under paragraph (a) or otherwise under color of law shall be cause for termination of employment or contract or removal from office by the Governor.

(f) A person or an organization whose membership is adversely affected by any ordinance, regulation, measure, directive, rule, enactment, order, or policy promulgated or caused to be enforced in violation of this section may file suit against any county, agency, municipality, district, or other entity in any court of this state having jurisdiction over any defendant to the suit for declaratory and injunctive relief and for actual damages, as limited herein, caused by the violation. A court shall award the prevailing plaintiff in any such suit.

It surely gives a lot of credence to the “Shall Certify” movement, which is gaining ground nationally.

The “Shall Certify” idea requires CLEOs to sign the Form 4 unless there’s a valid legal reason to not sign, and it gives them a tight deadline.

Sure, you can also go to an attorney and create an NFA trust, but the ATF may soon make this process more difficult as well.

My question: Does this policy – official or unofficial – constitute regulation of firearms by chief law enforcement officers, which is clearly prohibited by statute?

What do you think?


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Chris Brooks on

    There is a fledgling “shall sign” movement.
    If there is nothing legally baring you have owning the item, they would be compelled to sign by law, as with CWP applications.
    It would be in keeping with our legal traditions, people in law enforcement should already understand the concept of “innocent until proven guilty”
    Prohibiting restrictions in the absence of a conviction should be a no-brainer.

  2. Pingback: Are Florida sheriffs, police chiefs regulating NFA firearms? - Liberty Crier

  3. They shouldn’t, but if they are, just set up a NFA gun trust. That eliminates the need for their signature.

  4. Robert Naesz on

    ATF is moving to require FBI background check and CLEO signature, that’s the chief law enforcement signature, for all parties to trusts and corporations. Thus, neither trusts or coroporate instruments will allow an NFA purchase without the CLEO signature.This will encourage the shall-sign movement simply to move the signature protocol into line with a standard 4473 for purchase of a Title I firearm, meaning handguns and long guns. If there is no disqualifying record an NFA buyer cannot be denied the CLEO signature. The new NFA forms will include wording that suggests if there is no disqualifying record the CLEO will sign.
    Then again, ATF might decide not require the CLEO signature for trust and corp ownership of NFA, but require and FVI background check with fingerprints. Remains to be seen.

    Bob Naess

  5. “Shall certify” will give them the reason to do exactly what they’re doing. “Shall” does not mean “Must”, it simply means (legally) at some point in the future, we “shall” certify something. So, they are again just getting people into an uproar about something they want to pass to make it legal for CLEOs to ignore your “petitions” (a prayer to a higher god). Mark my words, “Shall certify” will make it legal for them to ignore you since you’re now finding out that they are ignoring you. Now, this brings up the question: Which is it, “legal” or “lawful” to own a gun? Are “guns” regulated or are just “firearms”? Why is the legal definition of “firearms” not in Title 18, but rather Title 26 – the tax code?

  6. Bill Kaline on

    I’ve yet to see any evidence in the federal Constitution that specifically gives to the feds or the states the power to regulate the People’s Right to keep and bear arms.
    Where is it written that certain makes, styles or number of guns only may be obtained by the People, and all by permission from government?? The RIGHT to keep and bear ARMS is UNALIENABLE…meaning it can’t be regulated by ANYONE.
    After more than 230 years the American People have allowed themselves to be dumbed down into believing their Rights only exist by government permission. We don’t ask government to observe our Rights, we DEMAND they follow the Rule of Law, as our Founders ordered, without exception. Everyone needs to let the light come on and make government responsible for their unconstitutional actions.

  7. Great article. on Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an ATF form 4, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials how to fill it out and a few related forms that you might find useful.

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