Have you bought a gun at a licensed federal firearms dealer in the past week or two? If you have, you probably got as hitched up by the paperwork as I did today, as I bought a Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 in .243 for my 11-year-old son.
You may have noticed a change on Form 4473, the requirement of our federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms before you can legally buy a gun from a licensed dealer.
Now, I'm pretty used to filling out Form 4473, and I confess to a bit of a breezy attitude as I complete the paperwork. I fill out dozens of these forms every year, as I accept guns to test, and I enter a sort of muscle-memory haze as I check one box after another.
The first third of the form requires the most attention. It requests personal information that we're all used to handing over: name, physical address, Social Security Number.
And the final third of Form 4473 is a series of boxes that require check marks--they ask such things as whether I'm a fugitive from justice, whether I'm a felon, or whether I've been declared mentally incompetent. Things like that.
It's the middle of the form that tripped me up today. I'm used to disclosing in Box 10.a. that my race is "White - A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa."
But today Sam Morehouse, the clerk at the gun counter of my local gun shop, stopped me.
"Don't forget 10.a.," he said, a couple of times since I didn't understand him initially. "I filled out 10.a.," I told him. "No, you filled out 10.b.," Sam said. "There's a new 10.a."
Sam pointed to the form, and there, tucked in the race section was indeed an additional question. It regards ethnicity. There were two boxes to check. Either I am "Hispanic or Latino" or I am "Not Hispanic or Latino."
I filled out the new section, completed the form, and walked out of the store with a brand new Weatherby. I can't wait to work with my boy to sight it in, and use it for his first deer season this fall.
But the new question on Form 4473 made me wonder. What's the reason for the query? Is it a consequence of the ATF's botched gun tracing program, dubbed "Fast and Furious" that allowed firearms from the U.S. to reach Mexican drug cartels, where some were used to kill a Border Patrol agent in 2010? Is the ATF trying to get a better handle on which (legal) guns go to buyers of Hispanic origin?
I don't know, but even after trolling around the ATF's official web site, where the changes to Form 4473 were discussed, I don't fully understand the change.
Just beware if you are in the market for a new gun: Don't be too cavalier about filling out the new form, and be sure you know your ethnicity as well as you know your race.