Guns & Drugs – ATF Form 4473 Question 11e


When I asked on Twitter what articles people would like to see on the website, I imagined it would be regarding product reviews, ballistics tests, dispelling gun-related myths, etc. Instead, the first request I received was to cover the new ATF Form 4473 required for every retail gun purchase. Specifically, they asked about Question 11e, which asks about controlled substance use (see image below).

The issue itself is fairly simple, but the sources themselves are a bit scattered when trying to arrive at a definitive “line in the sand”.

It is this website’s stance that interpretation of this matter is ultimately determined by the ATF and Department of Justice. Any opinions in this article should not be construed as legal advice. If you find yourself in a situation involving ATF Form 4473 Question 11e, seek legal counsel immediately.

ATF Form 4473 Question 11e

The ATF is not concerned with tobacco (cigars, cigarettes, vaping, etc.), caffeine, alcohol, etc. Subtitle E covers regulation of tobacco and alcohol, so they’re clearly not concerned about those.

Controlled Substances

Instead, the ATF is more concerned about highly addictive drugs, or “controlled substances” as defined by the DEA. For a breakdown on how these drugs are classified, you can consult the DEA’s Drug Schedule. In a nutshell, Schedule 1 drugs are considered to be the most addictive, have no accepted medical use, and have the highest risk of creating mental and physical dependence.

As you proceed down the list, you find Schedule 2-5 drugs, which have a medical use and are only legally available by prescription from a licensed physician. These drugs are perfectly fine to use as prescribed, without being disqualified from purchasing guns. For a detailed explanation, click here (Scroll down to Page 34637).

Past vs Present Drug Use

At just a surface glance, one might assume that anyone who has ever done drugs is now in violation of this.

According to the ATF:
Such use is not limited to the use of drugs on a particular day, or within a matter of days or weeks before, but rather that the unlawful use has occurred recently enough to indicate that the individual is actively engaged in such conduct.
(95R-051P, Page 34637)

The question, then, is how “recent” is “recently enough”?

The ATF provides an example:
An inference of current use may be drawn from evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers the present time, e.g., a conviction for use or possession of a controlled substance within the past year, or multiple arrests for such offenses within the past five years if the most recent arrest occurred within the past year.
(95R-051P, Page 34637)

Obviously, the simple solution is to not get involved with Schedule 1 drugs in the first place, and not to abuse your prescription of Schedule 2-5 drugs. Based on the language in the example given, the ATF isn’t interested in those who used to do drugs 10 years ago and haven’t touched them since. Rather, they are concerned with those continuing to use it and how it will affect their behavior and judgment with regards to the use of firearms. As mentioned earlier, this is simply an opinion and shouldn’t be construed as legal advice.

If you’re struggling with a drug addiction, the government has resources to help you through the rehabilitation process.


The ATF appears to be primarily concerned with those who are abusing Schedule 1-5 drugs, as defined by the DEA. Correct use of Schedule 2-5 drugs, as prescribed by a licensed physician, does not disqualify you from owning guns and purchasing them in the future.

With regards to the definition of who is a “current” user of illicit drugs, it’s more of a gray area. While the example given does make a case for those who used them many years ago (and quit) possibly being fine, resuming usage will certainly disqualify you. It’s less clear for those who have taken these drugs within the past year or two. The ATF is looking for whether or not a person is continually using drugs or has given it up. For everyone’s sake, it would be more reassuring if their definition was more specific and spelled everything out in black and white. While it seems they’re attempting to clarify this, there’s still improvement left to be made. In the end, if you want to buy guns, it’s time to quit for good. The ATF has made it clear you can’t have it both ways.


The author

Tyler Capobres has years of experience torture testing guns, knives and gear to their limit. If he’s not writing about gun projects, reviewing products or mocking anti-gun zealots on Twitter, you’ll find him at the range. Owner of, a website dedicated to all gun and knife enthusiasts.

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