ATF Proposal may Pose Real Danger for AR and AK Pistols

With last week’s release of President Barack Obama’s “Unified Agenda”, firearms discussions have been inundated with concern over some of the administration’s new proposals, as well as some older, planned regulations that may be moving towards implementation over the next few months. One such revival from the ATF’s regulatory hopper is 2005’s docket number ATF 7P, or “Machine Guns, Destructive Devices, and Certain Other Firearms; Amended Definition of ‘Pistol’”. As the title implies, this change seeks to amend the definition of “pistol” within the NFA to “more accurately” reflect the ATF’s position on the matter. Some pro-gun media outlets have already come out to argue that the proposal does not affect popular AR-15 and AK-based pistols. However, a closer reading of the text indicates these early interpretations may be wrong.

For background, let us take a look at the definition of “Any Other Weapon” (AOW) as established by the National Firearms Act (1934):

Any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive, a pistol or revolver having a barrel with a smooth bore designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell, weapons with combination shotgun and rifle barrels 12 inches or more, less than 18 inches in length, from which only a single discharge can be made from either barrel without manual reloading, and shall include any such weapon which may be readily restored to fire. Such term shall not include a pistol or a revolver having a rifled bore, or rifled bores, or weapons designed, made, or intended to be fired from the shoulder and not capable of firing fixed ammunition.

As readers can see, the definition expressly excludes pistols, revolvers, and long guns with rifled bores that are not capable of firing fixed shotgun shells. The same section of 26 U.S.C. defines a pistol as:

A weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having (a) a chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s); and (b) a short stock designed to be gripped by one hand and at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

Under the above definition, ARs and AKs with short barrels and without butt stocks would certainly be considered pistols. The introductory clause, as well as subsequent clauses (a) and (b), are all met by popular AR and AK handguns. With this in mind, why are gun owners up in arms over this proposal? The key lies in the ATF’s proposed, amended definition for pistols:

(a) A weapon originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one or more barrels when held in one hand, and having— (1) A chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s); and (2) A short fixed stock designed to be gripped by one hand and at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s).

(b) The term shall not include any weapon disguised to look like an item other than a firearm, such as a pengun, wallet gun, belt buckle gun, pager gun or gadget device, or any gun that fires more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.

Observant readers may have noted the inclusion of the term “fixed” to describe the stock, or grip, of the pistol. To address potential questions, the ATF explains the addition:

The term ‘‘fixed’’ has been added to paragraph (a)(2) of the regulatory definition to clarify that weapons with a short stock permanently affixed at an angle to the bore can be classified as ‘‘pistols.’’

This “clarification” poses serious issues for owners of AR and AK handguns as the pistol grips on these firearms are unlikely to be seen as “permanently affixed” in the eyes of the ATF. I am not aware of a single situation where the ATF has ruled that a part held on with a screw is permanently attached to a firearm. Moreover, it is possible that the ATF could rule that popular pistol-caliber offerings like HK clones and CZ’s popular Scorpion also fail to meet the new definition for pistols. Chassis handgun designs such as the SVI/STI 1911-style pistols and SIG’s P250/P320 could also fall outside this “clarified” definition as the pistol grips of these firearms are swappable and not permanently attached to the frame or chassis.

Essentially, the ATF has created a situation where the above mentioned firearms no longer qualify as “pistols” as defined in U.S. Code. Because of the way the NFA was drafted, this change would result in a default classification as AOWs, subject to NFA paperwork and taxes. The proposal also makes no provisions for those who already own such a firearm:

If a firearm previously classified as a pistol is found to be an ‘‘any other weapon’’ pursuant to the proposed definition, manufacturers, current owners, and those persons who wish to purchase such a weapon would be subject to the restrictions and regulations imposed by the NFA, including background checks, registration and making/transfer tax.

In light of these details, it is clear that this formerly-latent proposal is truly a danger to owners of AR and AK pistols. While the comment period is officially closed for ATF 7P, I believe it would still be worthwhile to reach out to the ATF for clarification on this troubling matter. Directions for doing so are below.

Send written comments to: James P. Ficaretta, Program Manager; Room 5250; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; P.O. Box 50221; Washington, DC 20091– 0221; ATTN: ATF 7P.

Written comments must include your mailing address and be signed, and may be of any length.

Comments may also be submitted electronically to ATF at nprm@atf.gov or to http://www.regulations.gov by using the electronic comment form provided on that site. You may also view an electronic version of this proposed rule at the http:// http://www.regulations.gov site. Comments submitted electronically must contain your name, mailing address and, if submitted by e-mail, your e-mail address. They must also reference this document docket number, as noted above, and be legible when printed on 81⁄2″ x 11″ paper. ATF will treat comments submitted electronically as originals and ATF will not acknowledge receipt of comments submitted electronically.

ATF 7P, Machine Guns, Destructive Devices, and Certain Other Firearms; Amended Definition of ‘Pistol’: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-04-07/pdf/05-6932.pdf#page=1

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