Spending A Little Time With The 4473


FFLs – Spend Time with ATF Form 4473 

There are 75 fields on the ATF Form 4473.

Whether you are a storefront FFL dealer or a nationwide chain, 75 fields per Form 4473 need to be properly completed with each transaction.  Given the requirements to comply (or even exceed expectations!) one can develop sound training, processes and monitoring controls to achieve success. Remember, auditors will be auditors, and each error can potentially translate to an unwanted violation.
Let’s see if we can’t break down these 75 fields to help you reduce the possibility of error, or at least the most frequently cited fields for violations.  You can read more about common violations in the ATF “Most Frequently Cited Firearms Violations’ table. The following six tips should be used a guidance to increase your chances of accuracy, but please note, they do not form legal counsel or interpretation of law.

ATF Form 4473 Errors
First tip:  carefully read every customer response for completion, legibility, and accuracy while the customer is standing in front of you. And, if you don’t have it already, get a 4473 overlay template that makes validation much, much easier.
The most frequent ATF Form 4473 violation is a failure to properly complete Section A, which is filled in by the customer.  Section A is questions 1 – 15.  The ATF finds approximately 2,000 such violations per year in this section of the form.
The manner of reviewing the customer’s responses needs to be focused.  Not engaging in personal conversation with others at the same time.  Trying to limit distraction from other customers who want to butt in with “I have a simple question.”  Ideally, to minimize the chance of overlooking that a customer has skipped or incorrectly answered a question, the FFL must proofread with the seriousness of a teacher grading a student exam.
Some of the fields are simply more conducive to errors than others.  For example, most people reflexively use a middle initial instead of writing out their middle name.  The Form 4473 requires the middle name (not an initial), and that if there is no middle name that “NMN” be filled into the field. 
Customers sometimes glaze over questions 11(a) – 11(l). However, this section is one of the most important as it requires that the customer to attest to the fact that they are not prohibited from purchasing the firearm.

Not only are there twelve questions, several blocks include references from the question to the instructions, eight contain boldface, seven contain italics, three contain directions to skip ahead dependent upon the answer given, one contains a warning and that same one contains an exception.  We commiserate that the lay-out may be a bit confusing, but the fact remains that each question must be honestly and accurately answered.  Do not allow a customer to skip a question, unless the answer to the preceding question indicates that the skip is correct.
Likewise, do not overlook getting responses to questions 13 – 15.  After completing a series of “yes/no” questions, customers tend to think that they’re done.  The page layout is such that it is easy to mistake that the thick, boldface line under question 12 is the demarcation point to stop answering questions.  This mistake is reinforced by the customer signature line being at the top of the back side of this two-sided page.
Further, do pay attention to the location of that customer signature on the top of page two of Form 4473.  It follows a substantial block of boldface text and it appears to be associated with Section B, which it is not. 
Second tip:  FFLs must know their firearms, using federal vocabulary.
Let’s turn now to Section B, which gets completed by the FFL.
Believe it or not, the ATF found more than 500 errors on Form 4473 for question 18, “Type of firearm.”  There are only three choices to that question:  handgun, long gun, or other (including frames and receivers). 
But, take a moment to compare question 18 and question 29, which is a repeater question for “type.”  Question 18 has three boxes; question 29 is looking for one written-out answer in the language of the federal firearms type classifications.  You will find that list in the instructions section to question 29 on page 6. 
We dare to say that FFLs should really make it a point to score A on the answer to these questions…
Tip three:  review original customer identification and compare it to their responses.
Another common source of ATF violations is the response to question 20, the identification produced by the customer.  The customer must produce the actual government-issued photo identification for inspection by the FFL.  The FFL should directly compare the handwritten responses of the customer, on page one of the form, to the original identification, carefully checking the identification number and the expiration date.  In addition, the identification should show an actual street address for the customer, and it should match the current address written down by the customer on page 1 at fields 2.
Tip four:  document all NICS communication and know what to do in the event of a “delay” response.
The next group of ATF-assessed violations on Form 4473 were fields 21 – 23, which related to the FFL / NICS communication.  Question 21a simply asks the date that the FFL transmitted the information from Section A to NICS.  Remember to fill in the date, and be sure that the information is transmitted prior to completing the sale.  Nearly 1,400 violations were found because the FFL did not record the NICS contact date in field 21a.
Somehow, while most categories of Form 4473 violations have been going down the past two to three years, a growing number of violations are being found because the FFL failed to contact NICS and then wait the appropriate amount of time to transfer a firearm.  The issue might be coming up of what to do if the response is “delayed.”  In addition to checking the box at question 21c, the italicized sentence below must be filled in, both in compliance with the date provided by NICS and with such additional direction as may be part of the corresponding state law.  A “delay” results in a hold for up to three business days, and requires also the completion of field 21d. If the actual transfer of the firearm occurs on a different day from the date that the customer signed Section A, the customer must complete Section C immediately prior to the transfer of the firearm(s). This is often the case when a firearm transfer gets delayed due to NICS.
While we’re in this block of common FFL errors, don’t forget to sign and date the Form 4473 as soon as the interaction with NICS is complete and the sale is a go!
Just two more quick tips, so stick with us and coffee-up at the end.
Tip five:  don’t forget to additionally report multiple handgun sales.
More than 1,000 ATF violations for Form 4473 were for a failure to report multiple handgun sales.  If you are not already familiar with it, the sale of multiple handguns requires completion and submission of the additional ATF Form 3310.4.  This is required when two or more handguns (pistols, revolvers, or a combination thereof) are transferred to the same customer at one time or within five consecutive business days.
Tip six:  Do not transfer a firearm to a person you have reasonable cause to believe is prohibited from firearms ownership. Now that’s a good tip, isn’t it!
We write about, speak about, and provide employee training which emphasize the critical importance of the FFL refusal to transfer a firearm to a potential customer the FFL has reasonable cause to believe is prohibited from firearms ownership.  We cannot emphasize this enough because of the potential for a violation of this nature to result also in criminal charges against the FFL.
While this was the smallest of the top 10 categories in the ATF presentation of most frequently cited violations relative to Form 4473, it is the one that may be the most troublesome.  Unlike the other errors, which, hopefully, are limited to being a ministerial error as part of a sale or transfer that would still have been a lawful transfer, this is the error that may be irretrievable.
A long write-up for a Friday morning, but one to print, read more than once, and to call about with any questions.  The ATF materials that provide an insight into audit findings are one of our best tools to up our compliance programs and strategies.  Zero tolerance is a lofty goal, but it is the bar set for our industry by the federal government.
Now, let’s go get that refill.

Additional Information On ATF 4473 Forms and ATF e4473