Modern Rifleman’s Response to ATF’s Proposed Changes to Pistol Definition (ATF 7P)

James P. Ficaretta, Program Manager
Room 5250
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
P.O. Box 50221
Washington, DC 20091-0221


RE: ATF 7P Machine Guns, Destructive Devices, and Certain Other Firearms; Amended Definition of ‘‘Pistol’’

I am writing to you today regarding the recent status change to 2005’s ATF 7P “Machine Guns, Destructive Devices, and Certain Other Firearms; Amended Definition of ‘Pistol’” and its potential effects on the legality of several popular firearms. Specifically, I have found substantial issues with the changes to 479.11(a)(2). Based on several readings, the addition of “fixed” in front of “stock” within the definition is ambiguous and could lead to regulatory challenges in the future.

According to the proposal, the amended section 479.11 would read:

(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

ATF clarifies that “fixed” as used in 479.11(a)(2) means permanent:

The Department believes that the NFA definition of the term ‘‘pistol’’ should be revised to more accurately reflect the Department’s position concerning the weapons subject to regulation under the ‘‘any other weapon’’ category of the NFA. 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.’’

Unfortunately, ATF does not then offer any guidance as to what constitutes permanence with respect to pistol “stocks” (commonly referred to as grips). As the department must be aware, many pistols currently offer interchangeable grips. These include (but are not limited to) SVI/STI Infinity, SIG P250/P320, AR-15 style, and AK based pistols. Long range shooters also use custom bolt-action pistols for match and competition shooting. These have removable stocks similar to the previously mentioned semi-automatic offerings. If ATF intends to capture pistols with folding stocks (grips) under the new definition, then the Department should state this intent within the proposal and the definition should be adjusted to affect only those firearms with folding stocks that are currently classified as pistols.

Without clarification for the “fixed” requirement in 479.11(a)(2), it is impossible for legal gun owners to predict the future status of their privately owned firearms. According to the proposal, any pistols that are determined to be Any Other Weapon (AOW) subsequent to the change will be subject to NFA restrictions:

If adopted as a final rule, the proposed amendment to the definition of ‘‘pistol’’ will be applied to previous and future classifications of firearms disguised to look like an item other than 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.

According to the Department, anyone currently in possession of a pistol with an interchangeable grip could soon be expected to comply with NFA regulations. How does ATF plan to address those who cannot legally own an AOW in their state of residence? Even if ATF exempts owners of these firearms from the fingerprint, photograph, and certification requirements of the NFA, there will be several gun owners who cannot own an AOW. How would ATF reconcile the reclassification of common pistols as NFA items?

While the official comment period has long passed for ATF 7P, renewed interest in the proposal has brought about many legitimate questions and concerns. Given the ambiguity of the proposed language, ATF should revisit the proposal and should clarify/remove terms that do not adequately reflect the Department’s intent, including the new requirement that pistol stocks be “fixed”. If ATF seeks to regulate pistols that do not resemble firearms, the definition would sufficiently describe such items without adding “fixed” to 479.11(a)(2).

Modern Rifleman


Readers looking to submit a similar comment may do so via mail at the address listed above. Be sure to include your mailing address in your signature. Comments submitted via email ( must include your mailing address as well as your email address. All comments must reference the docket number (ATF 7P). While the official comment period has closed, I urge all readers to submit comments for this proposal. Be sure to share your comments with your representatives.


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