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Few Prosecutions For Lying On ATF Gun-Purchase Form

Form 4473 — the Firearm Transaction Record — is a six-page document that must be filled out whenever someone buys a firearm from a licensed firearm dealer. It asks questions including whether the buyer is addicted to drugs, and is the actual buyer of the firearm. A tweet by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) Houston office said that lying on the form is a "federal violation and can lead to severe penalties and jail time." A swarm of Twitter users asked why the bureau didn't charge Hunter Biden, the president's son, for allegedly lying on Form 4473 when he purchased a handgun in October 2018, the Washington Post reports. The controversy prompted the newspaper to request statistics from the Justice Department to determine whether someone falsely filling out the form face much a risk of prosecution. The answer? They don't. The statistics are relevant as Congress discusses how to strengthen gun laws after high-profile mass shootings. They are a prime illustration of how existing laws are not always rigorously or consistently enforced.

Lying on the form is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. For being a user of unlawful drugs in possession of a firearm, the punishment is up to five years. The odds of being charged for lying on the form are virtually nonexistent. In the 2019 fiscal year, when Hunter Biden purchased his gun, federal prosecutors received 478 referrals for lying on Form 4473 — and filed just 298 cases. The numbers were roughly similar for fiscal 2020. At issue is when Biden answered “no” on the question that asks about unlawful drug use and addiction when purchasing a gun. Biden had been discharged five years earlier from the Navy Reserve for drug use and based on his 2021 memoir, he was actively using crack cocaine in the year he bought the gun. The data do not show how many people might have been prosecuted for falsely answering the question about active drug use. A 1990 Justice Department study noted how difficult it was to bring cases against people who falsely answer questions on the form, especially because there is no paper trail for drug abusers like there is for felons.


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