Three Most Common ATF Form 4473 Mistakes

Three Most Common ATF Form 4473 Mistakes

Three Most Common ATF Form 4473 Mistakes

Updated: December 12, 2017


This post on the three most common ATF Form 4473 mistakes from over 3 years ago continues to be one of our most popular among firearms industry participants. After all, the Federal Firearms License is the lifeblood of every manufacturer, distributor and retailer in the firearms industry.

In 2013, the number one FFL compliance violation was the failure of a transferee of a firearm to complete section A of Form 4473. And, in 2016, the number one FFL compliance violation remains the same.

ATF Reports 9,760 FFL Inspections Completed in 2016
2016 ATF Most frequently cited FFL violations (1-5 shown):
  • Transferee did not properly complete Section A, F 4473 – 27 CFR 124(c)(1)
  • Failure to timely record entries in bound record (Acquisition and Disposition Book) – 27 CFR 478.125e
  • Failure to complete forms as indicated in instructions (this violation is often cited when the licensee failed to properly complete a form, but there is not a separate regulatory citation addressing the omitted or misdocumented item) – 27 CFR 478.21 (a)-(b)
  • Licensee did not record on F 4473 the date on which NICS was contacted – 27 CFR478.124 (c)(3)(iv)

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During the 2014 SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) released its annual Industry Operations Inspection Report, which documents the compliance rate for federal firearms licensees (FFLs) that are inspected each year. Among the figures cited in the report was that the number one violation in 2013. This violation was the transferee of a firearm failed to complete section A of Form 4473.

Three content areas of Section A stand out as being problematic:

  1. Questions 10(a) and 10(b) pertaining to Ethnicity and Race.
  2. Question 11(a), which reads, “Are You The Actual Transferee/Buyer?”
  3. Question 12, which pertains to non-U.S. citizens

While the ATF does not reveal which parts of the form were not completed in the report, an informal survey conducted among 5 firearms retailers and sporting goods stores pointed out three notoriously error-prone areas on the 4473. This means that transferees either skip the question or misread the question and answer incorrectly. Sometimes this is due to the question being a recent addition to the form, in other instances; it is due to an anxious buyer checking boxes without properly reading the questions.

1. Questions 10(a) and 10(b) pertaining to Ethnicity and Race.

Questions 10(a) and 10(b) pertaining to Ethnicity and Race are a recent addition to the form, added in 2012—are prone to errors. Thoroughness on the part of FFL holders tend to catch omissions and errors immediately and bring it to the customer’s attention.

2. Question 11(a), which reads, “Are You The Actual Transferee/Buyer?”

Question 11(a), which reads, “Are You The Actual Transferee/Buyer?” is another source of confusion among transferees when completing the form. Although this addition is not recent and has appeared on the 4473 for at least a decade; it precedes a group of questions where the transferee must check the “No” box. At times this box is checked in haste, but occasionally when someone is purchasing a firearm as a gift for another person—answering “No” to this question means that the FFL cannot proceed with the sale.

What if someone purchases a firearm as a gift?  This is straightforward if the recipient is a resident of the same state. There has been some confusion as to whether this constitutes a “straw purchase”, which is illegal, but ATF Form 4473 clearly states the following in the “Notes” section of the form:

Question 11.a. Actual Transferee/Buyer: For purposes of this form, you are the actual transferee/buyer if you are purchasing the firearm for yourself or otherwise acquiring the firearm for yourself (e.g., redeeming the firearm from pawn/retrieving it from consignment, firearm raffle winner). You are also the actual transferee/buyer if you are legitimately purchasing the firearm as a gift for a third party.

ACTUAL TRANSFEREE/BUYER EXAMPLES: Mr. Smith asks Mr. Jones to purchase a firearm for Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith gives Mr. Jones the money for the firearm. Mr. Jones is NOT THE ACTUAL TRANSFEREE/BUYER of the firearm and must answer “NO” to question 11.a. The licensee may not transfer the firearm to Mr. Jones. However, if Mr. Brown goes to buy a firearm with his own money to give to Mr. Black as a present, Mr. Brown is the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm and should answer “YES” to question 11.a. However, you may not transfer a firearm to any person you know or have reasonable cause to believe is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), (n), or (x).


Fact Sheet – Federal Firearms Compliance Inspections and Revocation Process

Fast Facts – According to the ATF’s 2017 Website
ATF is responsible for licensing persons engaged in manufacturing, importing, and dealing in firearms and ensuring that those who are licensed to engage in those businesses do so in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.There were more than 139,000 FFLs in fiscal year 2015. This includes firearm licenses for dealers, manufacturers, importers, and collectors. During that time, ATF conducted 8,696 firearms compliance inspections.It is critical that federal firearms licensees comply with the Gun Control Act of 1968, and its implementing regulations, in order to assist law enforcement efforts, prevent the diversion of firearms from lawful commerce to the illegal market, ensure successful tracing of firearms, and to protect the public.

3. Question 12, which pertains to non-U.S. citizens

The third most often cited error is question 12. If the transferee answers “No” to question 11(L), the form advises them to skip question 12, which pertains to non-US citizens. Again the thoroughness of the FFL should catch the error and ask the customer to fill out a new form. If this slips, it is considered a violation.

When the group surveyed were asked about these errors, three of them had eliminated errors of this nature by having a second and in one case a third employee check the 4473 before the NICS check was conducted. One major sporting goods retailer uses an electronic version of the form, which will not print if the customer has errors of any kind or omits any required field. The inability for the electronic form to print, aids in the correct processing of form 4473.

Having a second and sometimes even third employee or a manager proofread each and every 4473 can be a costly method of eliminating errors. At best it ties up employees who could otherwise spend their time assisting other customers; at worst, an untrained proofreader could miss these potential errors leading to a violation.

Orchid Advisors offers various solutions in the form of improving business practices and exploiting technology to prevent these mistakes from leading to costly violations.

Orchid Advisors provides electronic newsletter (“Advisory and Alert”) and blogs for general informational purposes only. It should not be considered a formal or informal interpretation of law. It is not intended as professional counsel, should not be considered legal advice and should not be used as such.


Additional Information On ATF 4473 Forms and ATF e4473