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ATF Forms Explained: A Guide to Common Form Types

We break down some of the most common ATF forms you'll encounter while buying guns and even some accessories/parts.

    For many gun owners, ATF forms present a source of confusion and misinformation.

    It’s not always super clear what’s what and which one you should be using.

    ATF paperwork can be confusing.

    So, today, I hope to help you out a bit by walking through the various forms. I’ll help simplify these forms and debunk some of the myths and rumors surrounding them.

    As of the time of this writing, these forms are part of the process of legally owning some firearms regulated by the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act.

    LifePod 2.0 with VP9 and Suppressor
    Suppressors require paperwork per the NFA.

    It is by no means a comprehensive list (because there are a lot of forms), but it should highlight ones that a gun owner might see in the wild.

    So the next time you go to buy a gun or regulated part, you know what you’re doing.

    Table of Contents


    Form 4473

    Anyone who’s purchased a firearm from a licensed dealer has filled out a 4473 at some point.

    Form 4473 is the one a purchaser fills out to buy a gun. The dealer completes it and then submits it for the NICS background check.

    Form 4473 NICS and Shield
    The good ‘ol Form 4473.

    It covers basic information about the purchaser like name, address, race, and ethnicity. But also covers key questions to determine if a person can legally possess a firearm.

    When filling this one out, read through the questions carefully to avoid a wrong answer. A wrong answer can result in a denial.

    Questions include things like:

    • Have you ever been dishonorably discharged from the military?
    • Have you ever been ruled mentally deficient?
    • Do you have any felony convictions or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions?

    Worth noting, per federal law, marijuana is still a controlled substance.

    Even if your state has legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use (as in medical marijuana cardholder status), it is illegal at the federal level.

    This means it can/will disqualify you from owning a firearm.

    Once you fill out and sign the 4473, the FFL calls or submits an electronic application to a centralized office for their state to initiate a background check.

    Gun Show Sales with FFL
    FFLs must submit the 4473 and wait to hear the results.

    This can result in one of three results: proceed, denied, or delayed.

    Proceed means that the person has been approved to purchase the firearm and may pick up their purchase whenever state laws allow it.

    Denied means the person has not passed the background check and will receive a letter explaining why they failed and how to appeal it.

    Delayed means that the person’s background needs to be looked at a bit more, and the FFL will be notified within 72 hours of the results.

    After 72 hours, if no proceed or denied status has been communicated to the FFL, legally, they are allowed to proceed with the sale of the firearm. (Though most tend to err on the side of caution and not release the gun.)

    Form 1

    ATF Form 1 is the first of the forms we will discuss that are part of getting a tax stamp for an NFA item.

    Form 1

    Form 1 applications apply to making a short-barreled rifle, a short-barreled shotgun, “any other weapon,” or destructive device.

    Update: This also now includes some AR-style pistols. You can get more info on that in our article dedicated to AR Pistol Braces and the ATF.

    For this article, we’ll only be dealing with the normal method of filing.

    Wilson Combat SBR 6.8 SPC
    Wilson Combat SBR

    First, you must decide if you are filing as an individual or a trust.

    An individual application means only the person submitting the paperwork is authorized to be in possession of the specified item. But they may let others use the item as long as they remain present.

    Trusts allow multiple people to file as a collective entity.

    Colonial Teamwork

    Anyone listed as part of the trust is free to possess the NFA items listed as owned by the trust at any time. However, trusts require paperwork to set up.

    For individuals, you need to know the serial number of the firearm you are making into an NFA item, caliber, barrel length, and overall length so you can fill in the appropriate boxes on the form.

    Pioneer Arms PPS43-C Serial
    Pioneer Arms PPS43-C Serial

    You also fill in your information, check the boxes to answer the questions, and sign and date the forms before getting ready to send it off.

    Two copies go to the ATF alongside two fingerprint cards and one passport-sized photo via mail.

    Include a check, money order, or fill out the section for your credit/debit card to the tune of $200.

    And then…wait.


    At the time of this writing, the average wait time for a Form 1 filed traditionally is approximately eight months for individuals and nine months for trusts.

    Form 2

    Most average citizens will never have to file a Form 2 to the ATF. But I included it mostly to help people understand what it is and the process.

    Federal Firearms Licensees can have several different types of licensing — everything from the general sale of guns to the manufacture of explosives and destructive devices.

    Form 2

    ATF Form 2 is something that manufacturers send in to notify the ATF of the manufacture or importation of an NFA item fitting their license.

    For example, a Type 7 FFL — a manufacturer of firearms and ammunition, a license that allows them to manufacture guns or ammo with the intent to sell them — that also holds Special Occupational Tax Type 2 (the manufacture of NFA items) can make a suppressor, a short-barreled rifle, a short barrel shotgun, or even a full-auto version of a firearm.

    FFL Types Infographic (ATF)
    FFL Types Infographic (ATF)

    They can then submit a Form 2 to the ATF to notify them that it was made.

    A type 7 FFL with SOT 2 cannot manufacture something like a destructive device, as it is outside the scope of their licensing.

    A Form 2 is one of the few instances where paperwork heads to the ATF after the item is created….for a Form 1, you legally must wait for approval to make the item.

    Form 3

    ATF Form 3 is another one that the average citizen will likely never file.

    A Form 3 is a request to transfer an NFA item from one qualified FFL holder to another qualified FFL holder, with the appropriate SOT type.

    Best .22 Suppressors
    .22 Suppressors

    This most often comes into play when you buy a suppressor, SBR, or other NFA item online from a dealer. It then ships to the buyer’s local shop or FFL.

    The shop it was purchased from must submit the ATF Form 3 showing that they will be sending the NFA from their shop (removing it from their inventory and books) and transferring possession to another NFA dealer’s possession for customer pick-up.

    Gun Shop
    This is usually reserved for FFLs and gun stores.

    Once the item arrives at the local shop, the customer then fills out their appropriate paperwork…most likely a Form 4.

    The process continues as normal from there.

    Average wait time for approval on a Form 3 is less than one month, with some happening as quickly as one week.

    Waiting Black and White

    Though not as frequent, a Form 3 can also be used by a qualified NFA dealer to import an NFA item.

    I haven’t seen this, but the ATF has provisions for it. You can learn more at the ATF’s website.

    Form 4

    Form 4s are almost identical to Form 1s; however, they have a different purpose.

    Form 1s are when you make the NFA items yourself.

    On the other hand, Form 4s come into play when you purchase an NFA item. The item must be transferred into your name or the name of your gun trust.

    Suppressor ATF Stamp

    If you are purchasing a suppressor from a manufacturer, you must fill out and submit a Form 4.

    (Want to buy a suppressor but don’t know where to start? Check out our guides on How To Buy a Suppressor Online and Best Places to Buy a Suppressor.)

    Buying a short-barreled rifle, a destructive device, or pre-1986 full auto? Form 4s cover those as well.

    Most of the time, you use these to purchase NFA items from manufacturers. However, buying an NFA item from a private party also requires a Form 4.

    ATF Form 4
    ATF Form 4

    Some people are hesitant to conduct private party NFA sales.

    It requires a significant amount of trust since the current owner must retain possession until the new Form 4 gains ATF approval. After that, the item can be transferred to the new owner.

    One of the biggest differences between Form 1s and Form 4s is the inclusion of pre-86 full-auto firearms.

    MP5 Die Hard

    The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act (which we cover in an article here) featured an amendment by New Jersey representative William Hughes.

    Commonly called the Hughes Amendment, it forbids the sale of machine guns made after the 1986 bill to civilians.

    (Photo: Machine Gun Las Vegas)

    This has significantly limited the number of full-auto firearms that private citizens can own. It’s also why there is no spot on a Form 1 to apply to make a machine gun.

    However, Form 4s allow the transfer of a pre-86 manufactured full auto. Keep in mind, some of these cost more than some cars.

    The process for filling out and submitting a Form 4 is identical to a Form 1.

    Form 1 and Form 4 process…yep, it’s the same.

    Once the information gets entered, copies are sent to the chief law enforcement officer and the ATF with a passport photo and fingerprint card, and payment.

    Average wait times for individuals and trusts are identical to those of hard copy Form 1s.

    Silencer Central Banish 30 with Suppressor Cover
    Silencer Central Banish 30

    In 2021, the ATF brought back eForm filing for Form 4s, meaning that instead of filling out a paper application, you can do all that online. You can read more about it in our article dedicated to everything eForms.

    Form 20

    ATF Form 20 applies to the transport or export of certain NFA items.

    Are you needing to transport your goods from point A to point B? Then you need to let the ATF know about it.

    If you move within your state, (for example, you buy a new house and your address changes), you must submit a Form 20 for each short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, machine gun, and destructive device before you move.

    We’ll get to suppressors in a second…

    For this type of Form 20, list the dates the NFA items will be in transit from one location to the next as they are permanently moved to a new location.

    AR9 SBR
    Wilson Combat AR9 SBR

    Instead, if you need to take NFA items out of your state (on vacation or an out-of-state shooting competition), a Form 20 allows you to temporarily export those items.

    Once again, prior approval is necessary for each short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, machine gun, and destructive device before they are moved.

    Thompson Sub Machine Gun, Hickok45
    Thompson Sub Machine Gun (Photo: Hickok45)

    In this instance, your dates are when the items leave their original location and will be returned to it upon your arrival home.

    In this use of the Form 20, I highly recommend you list your reason for transportation of the NFA items as “Multiple trips to participate in formal and informal shooting in <state> during the year.”

    The ATF will approve Form 20s with durations of travel for up to one year.

    Carjacking Combat Park
    Headed on a road trip? ATF wants to know about it if the fun toys are coming too.

    If you know you will be visiting family in another state multiple times or traveling to a destination to shoot several times, submit your Form 20s ahead of time. This covers you for the entire year.

    Keep in mind that local laws still apply. Any NFA item you are transporting must still be legal in the state you are transporting it to.

    You can’t simply fill out a Form 20 and bring a machine gun to California.

    California Gun Owners
    Sounds about right.

    You can, however, pass through states so long as you are not stopping in them or intending to stay for longer than 24 hours.

    So, if you drive from Las Vegas to Washington state to shoot in a match, you can transport your short-barreled rifle through California.

    (You still have to keep it locked in a case in the trunk per California law).

    Gotta keep it locked.

    Why were suppressors not on the list?

    Before 2019, the ATF did not require an approved Form 20 to transport a suppressor to a new location inside your state.

    .30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors
    .30 Cal and 5.56 Suppressors

    But in 2019, the Form 4 paperwork changed. It now states you must notify the ATF of an address change.

    What about out-of-state?

    Hunting Suppressor Tavor
    Hunting with this? Sign us up.

    Oddly enough, no prior approval is needed from the ATF to take a suppressor from one state to another temporarily…though it isn’t a bad idea to still submit a Form 20 to be sure. 

    Approval of a Form 20 can take anywhere from two to six weeks, though some have taken months. So, plan accordingly.

    Final Thoughts

    Hopefully, this helps clear some confusion regarding ATF forms, their uses, and how to submit them.

    Please understand that things change all the time, so if you have any specific questions, your best bet is to contact an attorney in your area that specializes in firearms or NFA items.

    Sig Sauer MPX K Banish Suppressor
    These are fun, but make sure you do the paperwork.

    Make sure you cover yourself so that you don’t unintentionally violate the law and get yourself into trouble.

    What forms have you submitted to the ATF? Let us know in the comments below. To learn more about laws impacting firearms ownership, check out our articles on FOPA and GCA.

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    10 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      Bemused Berserker

      You really don't want my thoughts and comments about where I think the ATF can stick their forms.

      February 28, 2023 8:00 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      How does a from 1 work with a homemade SBR like an 80% kit if there's no serial number?

      February 28, 2023 2:45 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Chuck Cochran

        It doesn't unless you serialize your 80% lower (and there's a bunch of rules for that process too, size and depth of engraving and the font used. Most of us would have to pay for someone with a laser engraver to do the job). I'm in the same boat, and our only options are to serialize, remove the Brace and only run with only the bare buffer tube, or swap the barrel to one 16" long.
        Some have mentioned that since no 4473 exists for any builds, we could just ignore the Rule. The problem with that is we know ATF has obtained at least some records of who purchased 80% lowers when they raided at least two of the 80% manufacturers when they tried to shut that business down. It's pretty safe to say they know a few lower buyers, even though the information was illegally obtained. Legality is something the Fedbois contemptuously ignore on a regular basis.

        February 28, 2023 7:01 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I am trying to sell a Class 3 item to a person in another state. To process the sale my FFL told me that I had to transfer it to them using a Form 4 and paying the $200 tax. They would then transfer it to my buyer's dealer using another Form 4 and another $200 tax. That dealer would then transfer it to the buyer using yet another Form 4 and another $200 tax. When I asked about the tax-free FFL-to-FFL Form 3, they told me once an item has been transferred using a Form 4, a Form 3 cannot be used. Sounds like bullshit to me.

      November 21, 2022 3:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Article is wrong. Silencer Shop doesn't offer a Form 1 service anymore. They used to. Don't currently. Also completely left out eForm 1 which is the best way to file a form 1 by far and will save you 8 months. Not a very in depth article.

      October 4, 2021 8:58 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Jacki Billings, Editor

        We have an article on e-forms on the way, so stay tuned!

        October 5, 2021 7:11 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      You forgot to include 'Form X'.

      That's the form you don't accomplish in states where you don't need to report guns being transferred (e.g. sold, trade, gift) between private individuals. We locally call that a "Form X transfer".

      September 30, 2021 6:52 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      My form 1 in August 2021 took 16 days.

      September 30, 2021 4:41 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        eForm 1

        October 4, 2021 8:55 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Just think of how much money the government can save in administrative and processing costs if they got rid of the NFA.

      September 29, 2021 11:54 pm
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