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BATF’s Form 4473 Bungle

Friday, February 22, 2002

When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) decided that it needed to change the forms individuals must fill out when they purchase a firearm from a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL), nobody anticipated that nearly five months would not be enough time to ensure the new forms would be ready and made available to FFLs. But that seems to be exactly what happened this week. And because of BATF’s failure to ensure licensed dealers were supplied with the mandated new forms, countless law-abiding citizens have been unable to exercise their constitutionally-protected right to arms this week, and countless law-abiding FFLs have lost immeasurable numbers of sales due to an inability to conduct their business. By virtue of a bureaucratic bungle that might be laughable if its ramifications did not carry such serious consequences, prospective gun purchasers experienced a virtual national ban on firearm transfers this week.

The problem with the forms—referred to as Form 4473—began in October 2001, when BATF decided some relatively minor changes were required. The changes dealt predominantly with being able to better determine whether or not a non-citizen who wished to purchase a firearm is prohibited from doing so. This, along with Attorney General Ashcroft’s decision last week to utilize Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) records for firearm transfers subject to a National Instant Check System (NICS) check (see last week’s FAX Alert), would help to correct a glaring flaw in the design and implementation of NICS that was ignored by the Clinton-Gore-Reno Department of Justice (DOJ). These changes were intended to ensure anyone in the U.S. illegally would be rejected if he attempted to purchase a firearm from an FFL. But when BATF failed to deliver the forms by February 19, 2002—a deadline the agency set for itself—what resulted was confusion, frustration, and a near total cessation in the legal, retail transfer of firearms across the country. The forms FFLs had prior to February 19 became useless that day, and firearm dealers suddenly discovered they could not transfer firearms to law-abiding purchasers. And while it is still unclear exactly why BATF was unable to supply FFLs with the proper new forms in time, even more unsettling is why BATF was unable to identify the fact that it would not meet its own deadline, and then implement measures to ensure the problems gun purchasers and gun dealers experienced this week did not occur. BATF officials even went so far as to assure NRA staff during the SHOT Show earlier this month that it would meet the deadline to deliver the new forms.

But the failure to deliver the forms, and the failure to identify this problem as the deadline approached, aren’t the only problems. Once dealers discovered they could not use the old forms, and new forms were not available, BATF’s "solutions" created even greater confusion. FFLs have been told for years that they may not use photocopies of a Form 4473. But these same dealers were told this week that they would either be faxed a "temporary" copy of the new form, or they could print one off the BATF’s website, and then photocopy as many as they needed until BATF could deliver the actual forms. And to make matters worse, the "temporary" forms are identified by a number that has confused many dealers into thinking they can use their old forms.

Rest assured that NRA has weighed in at the appropriate levels of the Bush Administration and with members of the U.S. House Treasury, Postal, and General Government Subcommittee, which has scheduled a hearing for BATF. Be sure to contact your federal lawmakers to express your outrage over the problems created by BATF’s inability to meet its own deadlines. You can reach your U.S. Senators by calling (202) 224-3121, and your U.S. Representative by calling (202) 225-3121. For additional contact information, use our "Write Your Reps" tool.

In the meantime, BATF states that retailers can now download the new Form 4473 from the BATF’s website, and they have temporary approval to use photocopies of the form—identified as the "10/2001 version of the original ATF Form 4473 Part I, including instructions,"—until such time as a supply of original forms is received, or until April 20, 2002, whichever occurs first. When using a photocopy of the new 4473, dealers must provide their nonlicensed firearms customers with both the form and its instructions while they complete the form. The completed forms and instruction sheets must be retained in dealers’ records for the time period specified in 27 CFR 178.129.

To download the new form, go to http://www.atf.treas.gov/forms/4473instruction.htm

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