Digital storage of Form 4473

Learn how to apply for a firearms variance to store your Form 4473s electronically. 

As a federal firearm licensee, you have several options when it comes to filling out Firearms Transaction Records, or ATF Form 4473s. ATF provides a free downloadable program called eForm 4473 to help you quickly and easily complete Form 4473s on your computer.

Instead of printing out completed Form 4473s, you may want to store them electronically. To do so, you need to request a variance from ATF that addresses the minimum standards for digital storage.

Minimum standards

Digital storage systems for Form 4473s must meet certain minimum requirements to ensure that they comply with all ATF rules and regulations and won’t interfere with compliance inspections:

  1. Transactions must first be completed using an eForm 4473 and must be completed entirely in a digital environment, in accordance with ATF Ruling 2016-2.
  2. Form 4473s must be saved in an unalterable format. The original Form 4473 must be retained and may not be deleted, amended, replaced or otherwise altered.
    • If errors are found on a Form 4473, corrections may be made to a copy of the original Form 4473. This copy must be attached at the original Form 4473, preferably at the end of the original Form 4473. All changes must be initialed, dated, and must be visible on the corrected copy.
  3. The system must back up its stored Form 4473s upon the completion of a transaction. When a transaction is stopped before completion, the system must save the partially complete Form 4473.
  4. All supplemental forms for a transaction (Multiple Sales, etc.) must be electronically attached at the end of the Form 4473 for continuity and ease of review. 
  5. Form 4473s must be stored alphabetically, chronologically (by disposition date) or numerically (by transaction serial number).
  6. A filter or wall must be created to make sure that Form 4473s for completed transactions are stored separately from Form 4473s for transactions where a background check was initiated but the transaction was not completed (for example, if NICS denied the transaction).
    • If Form 4473s without retention requirements under 27 CFR 478.129(b) are stored, a filter or wall must be created to ensure they are segregated from Forms 4473 that are required to be retained (i.e. the customer answered “yes” to a prohibiting question and the store stops the transaction before a NICS check).
  7. You must be able to access the Form 4473 and its related Acquisition and Disposition (A&D) Record simultaneously, or easily toggle back and forth between them.
  8. You must provide ATF with uninterrupted access to the system to facilitate a compliance inspection. During inspections, ATF must be able to access the system in a “read only” capacity.
  9. Form 4473s must be sortable during ATF inspections.
  10. During inspections, you must be able to flag or set aside specific Form 4473s so that ATF can save them for further review.
  11. You must be able to print out the Form 4473s upon request from ATF.
  12. If you discontinue your business, you must send your Form 4473s electronically to the National Tracing Center – Out of Business Records Center in a format suitable for imaging, such as a TIFF, JPEG, or PDF.
    • For forms in a PDF format, you must make sure that Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) are turned off or disabled.
    • The forms must be submitted on a portable media device like a USB drive, CD or DVD, and must be stored per regulation (alphabetically, chronologically by disposition date, or numerically by transaction serial number).
    • The submission of electronic Form 4473s does affect the current requirement per ATF Ruling 2016-1 to submit electronic A&D records in a text format.

Prepare your request

In addition to the basic information in a variance request, describe the following in detail:

  • The kind of digital storage system you will be using
  • How the Form 4473s will be electronically filed
  • How local ATF industry operation investigators can gain access and review the Form 4473s when conducting a compliance inspection (i.e. stand-alone computer, tablet, web access, etc.)
  • The file format of stored Form 4473s, whether as an image or a PDF document

Remember that the alternate method or procedure outlined in your variance request must comply with the conditions set forth in 27 CFR 478.22

Submit your request

Send your variance request to the Firearms Industry Programs Branch (FIPB) by email at You can email or call FIPB at (202) 648-7190 to check on the status of your request.

Onsite evaluation and mock inspection

Since most digital storage systems are unique, your local ATF office will need to do an onsite evaluation of your system before they can approve your variance request. They may also conduct a mock compliance inspection to ensure that your system can pass complete inspections in the future.

Last Reviewed November 8, 2019