Connect with us


Hunter Biden’s gun case was spurred by an ATF form. The shop violated federal law.



Hunter Biden’s gun case was spurred by an ATF form. The shop violated federal law.


If a Delaware gun store had done its job, Hunter Biden never would have bought the gun that resulted in his felony conviction this month

By law, handguns can be sold by shops only to state residents, who must provide a government-issued proof of residency, and Biden was not a legal resident of Delaware in 2018. Instead, he offered only a passport, with his name and birthdate.

StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply not only sold him the .38 revolver anyway, but it later tried to cover its tracks by quietly adding a note to the form years later. The shop’s owner, Ron Palimere, admitted to federal agents that the store annotated the form around 2021 with a handwritten line “D.E. VEHICLE REGISTRATION.” 

The issue almost became a point of contention in the trial when Biden’s defense team tried to raise it, but Judge Maryellen Noreika ruled that the shop wasn’t on trial and that the gun sales form would confuse jurors

But gun control activists say that ruling showed a double standard in favor of convicting Biden while ignoring the violation by the gun shop.  

“We don’t give drug dealers a pass to get the possessor,” said David Chipman, a former senior policy adviser at Giffords, whose nomination by President Joe Biden to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended when it failed to gain enough Senate support in 2021. “It’s criminal investigation 101. How the government has bent over backward to explain away the more serious felony is shocking.” 

National security expert Marcy Wheeler scrutinized the two versions of the 4473 firearm sales forms on her website and came to the same conclusion. Despite the Justice Department prosecutor’s boasts of “no one is above the law,” the gun shop’s mistakes got a free pass. 

“The (shop’s employees) gave irreconcilable testimony on the stand,” Wheeler wrote on her site, citing transcripts of the case. “If you’re going to prosecute Hunter Biden for lying on a form, how do you avoid prosecuting a gun shop that doctors a form after the fact?” 

Among the problems with the annotated form: Biden did not hold Delaware residency in 2018 and did not provide a vehicle registration because he didn’t have one. In fact, he arrived at the shop that day in a Cadillac CTS not registered in his name. The ATF also has rules on how to properly amend a sales form – none of which were followed.

A spokesman for special counsel David Weiss declined to answer any questions about the issue, citing the pending sentencing. The day of the guilty verdict June 17, Weiss was the one who proclaimed: “No one in this country is above the law. Everyone must be accountable for their actions.” 

In pretrial motions in May, prosecutor Derek Hines told the judge: “I would just say that whether or not Mr. Biden showed up with a Delaware vehicle registration for the car that he showed up in has no bearing on the falsity of his statement whether or not he was an unlawful user or addict.” 

Biden’s defense team also declined to comment on the forms but confirmed Biden was not a resident of Delaware and did not have a vehicle registered in the state in 2018. Delaware’s Department of Motor Vehicles does not release private vehicle registrations under the state’s open records law.

Biden’s lead defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, argued in court that the altered form would have proven bias by the store clerks and claimed prosecutors granted the gun shop owner immunity.

What the public record shows about Hunter’s 4473 

The widely circulated gun sales form shows Hunter Biden checked the box attesting to not being addicted to drugs in 2018. That’s the same document that notes he provided a passport to StarQuest Shooters & Survival Supply. 

The form was signed by Gordon Cleveland, the shop’s clerk who testified he watched Biden fill out the form. In an interview with prosecutors in May and at the trial, Cleveland said that in 2018 he went and asked another shop worker, Jason Turner and shop owner Palimere if he could accept a passport − he couldn’t remember seeing an additional proof of residency. 

A second copy of the 4473 was turned over to the ATF in 2021 − the one bearing the “D.E. VEHICLE REGISTRATION” notation – but the jury never saw that form. 

Under questioning at the trial, Turner gave answers that danced around the addition to the form years after the sale. He testified, “I would have written it.” Then later, “I wrote it.” Shown the 2018 version without the vehicle registration, he acknowledged: “It’s not there.”

Palimere met with prosecutors in May and told them that in 2021 he reviewed the paperwork, realized the error and directed Turner to fix it. 

“Palimere decided to write Delaware registration in the box labeled 18.b. Palimere does not know why that was chosen but he knew it had to be an official document and it was all they could think of. Turner was the one who wrote Delaware vehicle registration in the box,” according to the interview.  

Palimere did not respond to questions from USA TODAY about the episode. 

Do gun shops get prosecuted for faulty paperwork? 

The ATF’s in-person inspection protocol is the primary tool for identifying and adjudicating paperwork errors. Inspectors closely scrutinize names and addresses because they say it’s a crucial aspect of the Gun Control Act to prevent prohibited people from purchasing guns and track down purchasers if guns are used in crimes.

After a 2015 inspection, the shop that sold Biden a revolver – owned then by Palimere, too – was issued a warning letter by the ATF for failing to properly account for sales and fill out 4473s. A copy of the report shows five violations − including failing to report multiple handgun sales as required and failing to take accurate birth dates and addresses. 

Palimere had to sign a form acknowledging the mistakes and pledging to fix them. “Mr. Palimere stated that mistakes were made due to carelessness, not paying attention to detail while processing the forms,” the ATF report states.

Cited gun shops can face a range of administrative actions from the ATF, ranging from the “report of violations,” warning letters, warning conferences and ultimately license revocation. 

ATF spokeswoman Kristina Mastropasqua declined to comment on the Biden StarQuest situation, saying only, “Whether a licensee is subject to revocation proceedings, criminal prosecution or other regulatory action depends on the facts and circumstances surrounding the violation and the relevant law.” 

In technical terms, Hunter Biden was convicted under 18 USC 922 (g)(3) for being an unlawful user or addicted to any controlled substance when he bought a gun. Another section of that statute applies to gun shops.

In the past decade, federal prosecutors charged gun sellers for violations of 18 USC 922 (b)(5) regarding maintaining accurate records of the purchasers at least 20 times, according to federal court records. The charge can carry a five-year prison term.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors charged a Kentucky gun shop, Mt. Washington Gun & Pawn, with failing to keep records under 922 (b)(5). The gun sold illegally: a .38 caliber revolver.

Eric Delbert, an Ohio gun shop owner and host of the weekly gun radio program OnTarget, put the Hunter Biden 4473 situation bluntly: “The shop screwed this up” by assuming he was a resident. 

“We need to do everything in our power to cross our Ts and dot our Is when you’re a gun store,” Delbert said. “I think if it’s a one-off mistake and not a consistent pattern, the shop should be counseled on how to make it right.” 

Delbert says he regularly is presented with driver’s licenses that don’t match a current address. ATF rules dictate a second form of ID is necessary in that case and, while Delbert acknowledged that is a hassle, he said it is important for tracing firearms if they’re later used in crimes. 

The rule is intended to prevent people from driving to another state to purchase a handgun. In practice, however, gun enthusiasts can simply have out-of-state shops ship handguns to a local licensed dealer, which performs the background check before transferring the firearm.

“We deal with it every day,” he said. “It can be a car registration, the person can be working for the city and provide a pay stub, tax returns, anything from government. People try to give you utility bills, but that’s not government-issued.” 

Contributing: Bart Jansen, USA TODAY; Xerxes Wilson, Delaware News Journal 

Nick Penzenstadler is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team. Contact him at or @npenzenstadler, or on Signal at (720) 507-5273. 

Continue Reading