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What happens if I fill out the paperwork incorrectly when buying a gun?


You could end up in prison or with a federal felony conviction, is what could happen. As a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, I have represented those charged with gun crimes. Consider the case of United States v. Pierotti, decided by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on February 3, 2015. A few weeks before the start of the deer-hunting season, David Pierotti decided to buy a .243-caliber Remington rifle at his local Walmart. There, the clerk asked him to sit down at a computer to fill out an electronic version of ATF form 4473, a required step in the firearm-purchase process, and part of the background check. The form poses a series of questions for any potential gun buyer, including one that asks whether the purchaser has ever been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

Pierotti's initial response to this question was "yes', which was correct. He had, in fact, been convicted of misdemeanor battery against his then-fiancee. When Pierotti clicked on a button to submit his completed form, however, a window popped up advising him to review his answers. He then changed his response to the question about ever having been convicted of misdemeanor battery from "yes" to "no". He submitted the form again and was able to purchase the rifle. Pierotti's incorrect answer prompted the government to prosecute him for violating 18 USC Section 922, which makes it a federal crime to knowingly make false statements in connection with the purchase of a firearm.

But was Pierotti's statement "knowingly" false? At his trial, it was revealed that Pierotti had questioned a friend, who was a local sheriff, as to whether it was legal for him to buy a rifle. Pierotti informed his friend that his probation from the battery charged had expired; his sheriff/friend told him (mistakenly) that since the prior conviction was not for a felony he was "good to go". Pierotti also asked his probation officer the same question and got the same answer. So Pierotti believed he was allowed, by law, to buy a rifle. When the pop-up window appeared after filling out the form on-line, it read "We recommend reviewing Section A at this time to make any changes/corrections that may be necessary". It did not say he was ineligible to buy a gun.

The jury found Pierotti guilty; he was sentenced to six months' house arrest and a year of probation. The court instructed the jury that it could find Pierotti guilty if "he had a strong suspicion that the statement he made was false and that he deliberately avoided the truth". The court also instructed the jury that he did not act knowingly if he was merely mistaken or careless.

Lesson Learned:

One would think, in this case, that Mr. Pierotti was justified in filling out the ATF form the way he did. Afterall, both his sheriff friend and probation officer told him he was legally able to buy a rifle. And the pop up window didn't advise him that he was ineligible to buy a gun (as it should have); instead, it prompted him to simply review the section and make the necessary changes. It's almost to the point where you need to bring a lawyer to the gun store to figure out how to answer the ATF form. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call a competent criminal defense lawyer for advice.

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