Digital storage of Form 4473

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

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

Instead of printing out completed Forms 4473, 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 Forms 4473 must meet certain minimum requirements to ensure that they comply with all ATF rules and regulations and won’t interfere with compliance inspections:

  1. Licensees must provide written notification to their local ATF Industry Operations Area Office 60 days prior to implementing a digital Form 4473 storage system.
  2. 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 (or subsequent Rulings).
  3. Forms 4473 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 should be attached at the end of the original Form 4473 and all changes must have initials, and dates must be visible on the corrected copy.
  4. All supplemental ATF 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. ATF must be provided uninterrupted access to the system to facilitate a compliance inspection. ATF access during inspections must be in a “read only” capacity.
  6. ATF must be provided access to the system with a minimum of one digital access point or computer terminal for every 500 Forms 4473 executed over the previous 12-month period.
  7. A filter (or wall) must be created to store Forms 4473 for completed transactions separately from Forms 4473 for transactions that were not completed and a background check was initiated (i.e. NICS denied the transaction).
    • If Forms 4473 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).
  8. The system must allow Forms 4473 to be printed upon request from ATF.
  9. The system must store Forms 4473 in alphabetical, chronological or numerical order.
  10. The system must back up the storage of Forms 4473 upon the completion of a transaction or when a transaction is stopped and the Form 4473 must be retained.
  11. The system must allow access to Forms 4473 and the acquisition and disposition (A&D) record simultaneously (toggle back and forth).
  12. The system must provide the ability to flag or set aside Forms 4473 for ATF to save for further review during inspections.
  13. The system must allow or provide sorting of Forms 4473 during ATF compliance inspections.
  14. Electronically completed Forms 4473 must be downloaded and saved to a computer hard drive, server, Compact Disc (CD), Digital Versatile Disc (DVD), Universal Serial Bus (USB) Flash Drive or other similar electronic storage device located at the licensed premises.
    • If the licensee utilizes a contract host facility such as a remote server or cloud storage provider, all Forms 4473 must also be electronically saved to an onsite electronic storage device that is updated on a daily basis to protect the data from accidental deletion or system failure.
    • In all cases, electronically stored ATF Forms must be downloaded in a format that is unencrypted with the required information readily apparent and retained on a device that is located at the licensed premises in accordance with 27 CFR 478.121(a) for the length of time prescribed by §478.129.
  15. All previously completed hard-copy ATF Forms 4473 must be retained on the licensed premises in the manner and for the length of time prescribed by the regulations.
  16. Upon discontinuance of business, Forms 4473 shall be submitted electronically to the National Tracing Center – Out of Business Records Center in a format suitable for imaging such as TIFF, JPEG, or PDF.
    • If the Forms will be submitted in a PDF format, the licensee shall ensure that Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) are turned off/disabled.
    • The Forms shall be submitted on a media device such as a USB drive, CD, DVD, etc. and shall be stored per regulation (alphabetically, chronologically by disposition date, or by transaction serial number).
    • The submission of electronic ATF Forms 4473 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 Forms 4473 will be electronically filed
  • How local ATF industry operation investigators can gain access for purposes of a compliance inspection (i.e. stand-alone computer, tablet, web access, etc.)
  • The electronic format of the Forms 4473 such as image, PDF document, etc.

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) 648-7120 to check on the status of your request.

Onsite evaluation and mock inspection

Since most digital storage systems are unique, your local ATF office may 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 May 4, 2021