The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or more commonly the ATF has announced an update to Form 4473, the background check form. All Federal firearms licensees or FFLs will have to switch to the form on Jan. 16, 2017. The previous form, drafted in 2012, will no longer be accepted from that point on.
Anyone buying from or transferring a firearm through an FFL will have to fill out this updated form. The bulk of the changes to the form are small clarifications to how the background check questions are phrased but one change stands out noticeably.
Question 11.e asks if the person filling out the background check is “An unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana” among other controlled substances. It has a new warning that points out that marijuana use remains “Unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medicinal or recreational purposes” under state law.
This change reflects the ATF’s longstanding position that local laws don’t supersede the federal laws the ATF is tasked to interpret and enforce. As long as there are federal laws that criminalize the consumption or possession of marijuana it will be illegal for cannabis users to purchase firearms.
It’s not a legally gray area even if the enforcement of these and similar laws can sometimes be difficult or even impossible in these municipalities. This supports recent case law as well.
Recently the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal laws that prohibit drug users from purchasing firearms still apply to marijuana users, even in states where marijuana use has been decriminalized for medical or recreational use.
Other changes to the form include a new format for filling out names for the background check process. Anyone with no middle name will have to mark the form NMN and anyone with only a middle initial must mark their initial with IO for initial only. Additionally, anyone with a name suffix like junior or senior will be required to include that information as well.
The new form uses the stricter term “sex” instead of “gender” for the purposes of identification and includes language detailing federal laws and definitions to help people correctly fill out the form. The updated form also includes instructions on how to proceed if a transfer is initially denied then overturned.
Legal experts at Orchid Advisors have a detailed list of the changes which number in the dozens. “If you have additional questions regarding the revised Form 4473, please contact your local ATF office. A listing may be found online (https://www.atf.gov/contact/atf-field-divisions).”
The new forms can be found online on the ATF website.