Inventory control is important for any retail business. However, it is crucial for firearms retailers to keep a detailed and accurate inventory, both for the safety of their community, and also to conform to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) standards, ensuring the business is able to maintain their Federal Firearms License (FFL). Traditionally, firearms inventory is kept manually & perpetually via a well-organized ledger. However, there are newer technologies that can make the inventory process more efficient, more accurate, and easier to manage. Two methods of inventory management to consider are a barcode system, and radio frequency identification (RFID).
The ATF requires that the FFL document the serial number, model, caliber or gauge, type of firearm, manufacturer, importer (if applicable), acquisition date, where you acquired the firearm, disposition date, name of person or FFL disposed to, and either the address of the FFL, or the serial number from Form 4473: Firearms Transaction Record (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives [ATF], 2010). Additionally, the ATF recommends you take note of either the city and state of the manufacturer, or the country of the manufacturer and city and state of the importer, whichever is applicable (ATF, 2010). It is also good to keep track of each firearm’s barrel length, and other descriptors, such as color, material, type of action, etc. The ATF provides a document thoroughly describing recommended and required safety and inventory procedures, as well as providing access to forms necessary for complying with their guidelines.
One method to consider is a barcode system of inventory management. This system is widely used in retail, in general. When an item arrives, its barcode is scanned into a software system that tracks inventory. Further, upon selling an item, the barcode information is used to update the inventory (Hamlett, 2013). This system is quick and efficient; however, it does cost more than the manual ledger. Typical expenses for beginning this mode of inventory management include barcode printers, scanners, and the software itself. Nevertheless, the accuracy and amount of time saved with this method often outweigh the costs. There are several software systems available that are tailored specifically for the firearms industry.
Another option for inventory management is RFID. This system is much less common, because it is a newer development. With RFID, there are both active and passive modes. In the active mode, products have tags attached to them, so that anytime a product moves, the reader tracks the movement, generally up to 300 feet. In passive mode, a handheld reader is used to similarly track the movement of products. This handheld reader, however, generally only has a 40 foot radius (Hamlett, 2013). For firearms business, the active mode would be an ideal way to track the movement of products. However, because this technology is new, it can be extremely expensive. For this reason, it is only really feasible to implement this method if a business’s amount of sales traffic justifies the expense. Regardless, this method could be a more viable system to implement as prices decrease, because of the increased ease and accuracy of the method.
Despite which method you choose-manual, barcode, or RFID-accuracy is essential. Loss and theft of firearms not only cause hardship for the firearms business owner, but also present a potential risk to the community surrounding the store. As a responsible FFL holder, it is your duty to ensure that all precautions against theft and loss are taken. A ledger can achieve the same outcome as the barcode and RFID systems; however, it is much less time efficient, and it can be easy to make mistakes. The barcode and RFID systems may not be viable for an up-and-coming gun shop, but when the business becomes more stable, it may be wise to invest in either of these systems to help increase efficiency, and reduce risk of loss or theft.
Hamlett, K. (2013). Types of Inventory Management Systems. Retrieved on July 1, 2013 from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/types-inventory-management-systems-2195.html.
U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Office of Enforcement Programs and Services. (2010). ATF Safety and Security Information for Federal Firearms Licensees (ATF Publication 3317.2). Retrieved on June 23, 2013 from atf.gov/files/publications/download/p/atf-p-3317-2.pdf.