ATF Introduces Online Firearms Form To Ease Transactions, Prevent Errors

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 20, 2008

Every year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives finds thousands of licensed gun dealers in violation of federal law, often for very minor problems.

The agency, which conducts about 11,000 inspections a year, says it has come up with a way to eliminate many of those violations before they happen.

Instead of filling out the required ATF paperwork by hand, gun buyers and dealers will now be able to complete what officials say is a fail-safe electronic version of the document, known as Form 4473.

Speaking at a gun shop in Upper Marlboro where he announced the change, acting ATF Director Michael J. Sullivan said the new option would cut down on illegible answers and incomplete answers -- the most common causes of violations.

Such simple human errors account for about 60 percent of the violations cited annually by the ATF, and finding a way to reduce them has been a priority for the agency and the industry, Sullivan said.

Maryland has 554 licensed gun dealers and Virginia has 1,507, according to the ATF. There is one licensed gun dealer in the District, and at least one other business is applying for a license.

Officials emphasized that the use of the new software is voluntary and that the data entered on the form are not being used to create any sort of government database of gun ownership.

But Sullivan said he hopes that dealers and their customers will embrace the new electronic form, which dealers can download from the ATF's Web site at

"I think many people will see it as a very useful tool," Sullivan said.

Lawrence G. Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association, applauded the ATF, saying the new form would reduce the number of innocent mistakes made in completing the transaction forms.

Carl William Roy II, owner of Maryland Small Arms Range, where the new form was unveiled yesterday by ATF, said he has been pushing officials for years to change the way the document can be completed.

When the ATF is conducting an inspection or the police are looking for information about a gun, handwritten records can he hard to decipher, especially years later, Roy said.

"It can be a mess," he said.

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