There are a couple of outlets reporting that a deal is afoot to make some serious changes to federal gun laws. However, since these outlets quote no sources whatsoever besides things they’ve overheard in the NRA press room, we’ve held off on running with it. Since this seems to be getting some traction in social media, I’d like to bring y’all up to speed on what those outlets are saying and the current purported status of the deal. However, be aware that TTAG cannot independently verify this information . . .
We’ve known for a while that there’s a hole in the NFA, dear Liza. If a firearm that would otherwise be classified as a short barreled shotgun or rifle and regulated by the National Firearms Act is over 26 inches in overall length, it doesn’t come under the act’s restrictions. It’s a Title I firearm, not subject to registration and taxation. The classification of that item would not be as a shotgun, not a rifle, not even a handgun — just a “firearm.” It seems like an odd set of criteria to meet for very little gain, but we’ve reviewed one such firearm from Franklin Armory whose sole purpose was to cleverly circumvent California’s pistol laws. Also lumped into this category are a series of pistol grip shotguns.
In 2009, the ATF declared in its newsletter that shotguns with a pistol grip attached are Title I firearms in the same way as Franklin Armory’s rifle is a Title I firearm. Which seems to contradict the language in 26 U.S. Code § 5845 (f)(2), which states that a “Destructive Device” (which requires registration and a tax stamp under the National Firearms Act) is:
any type of weapon by whatever name known which will, or which may be readily converted to, expel a projectile by the action of an explosive or other propellant, the barrel or barrels of which have a bore of more than one-half inch in diameter, except a shotgun or shotgun shell which the Secretary finds is generally recognized as particularly suitable for sporting purposes;
So since the diameter of a 12 gauge shotgun is greater than 1/2 inch, unless the Secretary of the Department of the Treasury (overseers of the ATF) finds that an applicable firearm is “particularly suitable for sporting purposes” the firearm is classified as a “destructive device” and regulated under the NFA. Note that this same caveat doesn’t apply to a short barreled rifle or short barreled shotgun, only a “destructive device.” That “sporting purpose” determination appears to never have been officially made. That would mean anyone who bought a Mossberg 500 Cruiser (a pistol grip-only shotgun available directly from the manufacturer with the ATF’s blessing) is an accidental felon.
What’s even worse is that the exemption might not even be possible. Remember that shotguns with pistol grips aren’t “shotguns” — they are simply “firearms.” So legally speaking, even if the ATF or the Secretary of the Treasury wanted to make that exemption, it is legally impossible due to the classification of these “firearms.” Yeah, I know, the NFA is a giant steaming pile of crap from start to end.
That’s all out in the open, public knowledge, that we can verify. From here, we slide down the rumor hole.
The story is that the ATF is looking to extricate itself from this position. They have accidentally declared that its A-OK to sell what should be an NFA firearm to the general public without all the extra rigamarole, and rather than reversing its decision as they did with how people may use the pistol arm brace and demanding that people turn in their shotguns, they want the legislators to step in and clean up their mess for them.
At the moment, word is that a deal has been struck that will greatly expand the “sporting purposes” definition to include a large number of guns and would possibly make them NFA exempt, and the NRA gets to take the credit for the win. But there’s a catch: the Democrats are demanding that more restrictions be placed on ammunition being imported into the United States. Specifically, they are demanding that “specialty” ammunition like tracers and perhaps steel core ammo be officially banned from importation.
Without seeing any of the rumored bill’s language (much less any public acknowledgement that a deal exists at all) its hard to judge whether this is a good thing. We might see AR-15 rifles get included in that “sporting purposes” definition which would derail much current and future attempts at an “assault weapons” ban. But the opening could also be just big tailored narrowly enough to include shotguns and nothing else while we lose a ton of ammunition availability in the deal.
One more time…it’s all rumor at this point. Stay tuned.
[UPDATE] We have reached out to our contacts within the NRA who responded by scoffing and declaring the whole thing “bullshit.” That’s also the response that our man Dean got when he talked to Chris Cox.