SB-4706

We’ve been covering the ATF’s push to ram through some administrative language changes this year. But it looks like some people have jumped the gun. There has been some discussion in the gunblogosphere about whether the pending rule change from the ATF about “pistols” will be an attempt to re-classify AR-15 and AK-47 pistols as NFA items. Lord knows the ATF has had a burr under its saddle for months about these guns, especially when equipped with pistol arm braces. So it might make sense that they would want to find a way to quickly make that whole problem go away. But is this rule really about those AR-15 pistols at all? Not really . . .

I urge you guys read the actual source documentation instead of the clickbait news articles that’s out there. The proposed rule change, as stated in the ATF circular, is all about minor fixes to the language. It would allow the ATF to classify things like “pager guns” (whatever the hell they are) as an “any other weapon” under the National Firearms Act.

They’re doing this by amending the definition of the term “pistol” to include some things that were thrown out in 1988. Here is the current definition of a “pistol”:

Pistol.
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).

Here is the proposed language from the ATF circular:

Pistol.
(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.

What might be throwing some people off: the inclusion of the word “fixed” in section (a)(2). I get the feeling that this was intended to allow them to regulate folding guns like the dreaded “Nazi belt buckle” pistol specifically listed in the circular, but some people might read that and instantly make the jump from “stock” to “brace.”

Which is a completely different thing and A-OK under the ATF. The “stock” that the ATF is referring to is the grip on the frame (where the magazine is inserted on semi-auto handguns). But their language is so opaque that it’s easy for people to get confused.

Another interesting item: the bit about “any gun that fires more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

The way I read this, that’s a direct attack on the Arsenal double-barreled 1911 — nearly 10 years before it came to market. That same language is used in the definition of a machine gun, by the way, so it’s not a new and unique way of describing a semi-auto gun. They are talking about a situation where a single pull of the trigger discharges two or more projectiles.

So, in reality, the proposed ATF rule change is significant for those who want to build briefcase pistols. It doesn’t apply to the AR-15 and AK-47 pistols.

The stories hitting the gunblogosphere come from people who haven’t actually read the thing, or got confused and took the easy way out by following the crowd. It’s entirely possible that the ATF will amend the language further to restrict AR and AK pistols as has been suggested. At this time, there’s no evidence to support the conclusion that such an attack on Amercians’ firearms freedom is imminent.

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75 Responses to Is the ATF Really Trying to Classify AR Pistols as NFA Items?

    • But his photo-editing is getting worse. I see a headline saying “AR pistol,” but I see an AK pistol. Forgivable with the mainstream media, not a gun blog.

    • He’s not looking at the right section. The memo referenced that pertains to AR and AK pistols is this:

      “The NFA adequately reflects the Department’s consistent position that a rifle or shotgun, altered
      to function as a smaller, pistol-like weapon, maintains its classification as a rifle or shotgun and will not be classified as a pistol. Therefore, the addition of this language into the proposed regulation is unnecessary.
      Proposed omissions should not be read as an intention to regulate a narrower category of ‘‘any other weapons’’ than those previously classified by ATF under the NFA and implementing regulations””

      From here:
      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-04-07/html/05-6932.htm

      So by this an AR pistol is not a pistol, even if it fits the definition. Assuming this is the one they want to stretch into a full blown ban.

      • AR pistols are not created by altering rifles now. They have to be created as such, so it doesn’t look like a change to me.

      • It you buy a stripped receiver, it can be built as a pistol and you are o.k. You can NOT take a receiver that was transferred as a complete rifle and built a pistol.

    • The concern is this…Are the pistol grips of AR15/AK47 pistols considered to be a ” fixed stock ” designed to be gripped by one hand? Remember, they are removable. A Glock pistol has a ” fixed stock ” as it is not removable.

  1. You sir, seem to be completely factually correct.

    However, I don’t trust the ATF in the slightest. I don’t trust a “system” that wants to ban M855 in the interest of “Officer Safety” when exactly zero police officers have been killed by M855 from AR pistols.

    So while you are discussing current content and ATF language, I would expect the ATF / NFA / DOJ to take an entirely different tack if Hillary gets her tentacles even further into the mix.

    I’m not even sure if I can still register an AR pistol in CA. So that might be my next build / project / purchase. I’m really not that into AR pistols, but if I can give migraines and ulcers to statist control freaks, then I’m completely open to new platforms. YMMV.

    • “I’m really not that into AR pistols, but if I can give migraines and ulcers to statist control freaks, then I’m completely open to new platforms.”

      As for me….I’m really not that into AR pistols, but if I can give migraines and ulcers to statist control freaks, then I’ll build just to poke the bear…..

    • I don’t trust the ATF in the slightest.

      You are wise, Grasshopper. You would be even wiser to say “I don’t trust government in the slightest,” but still, you are on the path to enlightenment.

    • -The rule changes state a pistol must have a fixed protruding grip: NAA folding 22 revolvers on sale now are toast, and presumably my folding bicycle rifle design (if built as a pistol, since the grip handle is a removable tube magazine)
      -Pen guns, cane guns, wallet guns, and other ‘disguised’ weapons have always been AOWs
      -The rule change now states a pistol must fire a “small projectile” whatever that means (‘no rifle rounds’ would appear to be a literal reading)

      Basically, the ATF appears to be quite duplicitous when they claim this change is solely due to disguised weapons, when there are two one-word additions (“small” and “fixed”) located separate from the disguised weapons classification that have nothing to do with hidden gun features.

      • The US Code has different sections dealing with revolvers and pistols. Otherwise Section a 1 would outlaw all revolvers.

        “(1) A chamber(s) as an integral part(s) of, or permanently aligned with, the bore(s);”

        So, for now the NAA folding revolvers appear safe.

        • Wouldn’t be the first time a law had unintended consequences. What section applies to revolvers then? I bet it does inadvertently make all revolvers AOW’s as well.

      • This just shows the people (or person) who wrote these proposed amendments is either a) being deliberately vague or b) doesn’t know shit about guns.

        If the goal is to restrict AR/AK pistols then bear in mind that a 5.56mm bullet is already “smaller” than a 9mm bullet in both diameter and weight.

        Now if they would define a “small” bullet as being .50 (or less) or weighing 300gr (or less), then that’s another matter.

    • There is a shop here in Fresno that is making bolt action AR single shot pistols – which are still legal under the 2015 regulations.

      There is also coincidentally a shop here in Fresno that performs gunsmithing on bolt action AR single shot pistols which allows them to accept standard semi-automatic AR pattern upper receivers.

      YMMV, IANAL, usw.

  2. Well no matter what let’s not forget we’re dealing with a government that will literally do anything and say anything they can get away with to take ANY swipe that they can at your rights.

    • I would say all firearms are fired with one hand, with the exception of things like M2 Brownings. One hand controls the firing mechanism, is that not what defines “firing/fired”?

    • I have sent a letter of inquiry to the ATF on this very question a few months ago. Never heard back.

  3. I read “pengun” as “penguin” so I was sort of excited that such a thing existed.

    To the item at hand, why can’t we just let people do what they will? If they aren’t damaging property or people, who cares if their gun looks like a pen, a briefcase, or even a penguin? Who cares if their gun is 25.999 inches in OAL? This stuff doesn’t harm anyone, ever.

  4. “It would allow the ATF to classify things like “pager guns” (whatever the hell they are)…”

    Something along the lines of this:

    http://hajip.com/2009/07/pnn-breaking-news-guns-n-phoness/

    I have seen IWB holsters that disguise the belt clip as a pager, I doubt they’re referring to that…

    EDIT-

    Look what the FBI has to say about a NAA Mini fold-up:

    This firearm is made of metal and concealed in a plastic grip. It can fire five .22 caliber shots and is designed with a clip to be carried on a belt or in a pocket. This item poses a serious threat to law enforcement.

    http://leb.fbi.gov/2013/april/unusual-weapons

    • They also added language that says a firearm must have a “fixed” protruding grip in order to be considered a pistol; the folding NAA minis are surely the target there. Haven’t those belt buckles been out of production for years now, and are fairly expensive items these days? Hard to believe something so obscure poses a substantial anything to anybody.

      TTAG, your suck-ass website is crashing every three seconds on average without a bunch of web-condoms on. Find out which of your sponsors has herpes, and fire them, please.

  5. I think what this article highlights very well is the lack of trust between gun owners and the ATF. Any change to the regulations that the ATF enforce is seen as a pretext to further erode Constitutional rights. Given some of their prior actions, such as the attempt to ban M855 ammunition, is any reasonable person surprised by the reaction to proposed rules changes?

    • The inclusion of the “F” in the acronym for this government regulatory (and enforcement) agency is in itself a violation of the Second Amendment (“…shall not be infringed.”), therefore,

      “Any change to the regulations that the ATF enforce is seen as a pretext to further erode Constitutional rights.”

      This statement is absolutely correct since any action regarding firearms by the BATFE is already unconstitutional.

  6. I think some people actually enjoy living in a perpetual state of panic. This president is neutered. Calm down for a minuet. If the GOP wins this next election I wonder what all these types are gonna feed off of during that time…

    • “Neutered, you keep using that word. I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

      • Attempted M855 ban, Iran nuclear deal, and Illegal alien amnesty, all blocked by the GOP congress or the federal court. Next question.

      • See my above post, and get over the fact that the GOP is no longer riddled with the NeoCons it used to be. There’s quite a few still there, but the Tea Party revolution restored a fair amount of real conservatism to the party. As seen with this latest bout about the NSA, the NeoCon hawks like McCain, no longer control the party.

  7. Since this whole “redesigning” crap has been opined, I’ve mostly lost interest in building an AR pistol. I’m still hoping SIG is able to fight the ATF in court over this bs.

  8. The proposed rule says “more than one shot” not “projectile”. If the latter term were used, then any shot-shell or duplex round would be illegal, as would any firearm capable of chambering it.

    • Good point. While smoothbore pistols have always been AOWs, this could perhaps cause a Taurus Judge to become an AOW while concealed and loaded with buckshot, no?

  9. Wonder if that new language will apply to the Zip .22 or that single shot hand pistol doohickey.

  10. It’s ironic that Nick refers to other “clickbait” news articles in a condescending tone when TTAG’s articles are surrounded by the same.

      • I read the rule change proposal; you didn’t mention the other change apart from the ‘disguised guns’ stuff they claim was already enforced (so why weren’t those wallet holsters legal if this language was removed in ’88?). They are adding “small” as a descriptor to the projectile allowed to be fired from a firearm classified as a “pistol.” It would appear that if the threshold of size is set low enough, large caliber or heavy for caliber (read: long spritzer) bullets and by extension ammunition may qualify a handgun as an AOW.

      • The substance of the article is different, but clickbait is clickbait no matter what site you are on.

  11. Finally, I’m not alone to telling our less-literate comrades to “calm the f$ck down” and to *read* the proposed rule.

    • Far too many believe the words of Alex Jones as hard as the followers in Jonestown drank for Jim Jones.

  12. Fella, you missed the OTHER single word change, which actually could affect rifle-caliber 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…”

    Will now read; “…intended to fire a SMALL projectile…”

    Interpret it literally, and Desert Eagle 50’s are now AOWs, or interpret it by the presumed meaning and suddenly ammunition that is too big (read: rifle ammunition) will now classify a handgun as an AOW. Moreover, it appears this word was removed in ’88 after a comment period; anyone have details on the objections that may have been raised at the time (was it that rifle-caliber pistols might be made AOWs?)

    Or am I missing something?

    As far as the change on “pager guns” or whatever (what’s a “pager” anyway, lol?), it was pretty clear prior to this that all disguised guns were fully illegal as AOWs to the point of confiscations/prosecutions by the ATF, yet now they claim they are ADDING the language as though it wasn’t already active. Bullshit.

    • I’m going to need a source on that.

      The only verified information I can find that the ATF has produced is in a circular they issued, available here:

      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2005-04-07/pdf/05-6932.pdf#page=1

      The “proposed change” section lists only the changes I have discussed above. They do mention the removal of the word “small,” but they do so only as background information and did not propose re-adding it.

      Even if it were added, that’s not a direct attack on AR or AK pistols. That’s a stepping stone to further actions, which will no doubt spend years in court before being thrown out for being an arbitrary and capricious rule. Which is why it was removed from the definition in the first place. But that’s not part of the proposal that I have been able to find.

      If you can find additional documentation indicating that they plan to re-add this language I will gladly update my article.

  13. None of these stupid rules are making society safer. Get rid of them. No, I am really not that interested in these type of guns, it is just that these laws are pointless.

  14. I read it as implying further restrictions on the Brace. None of the language makes sense if it were the grip. But insert the idea that a stock attached to the weapon that has a flat vertical surface ( language used in other letters) must be “fixed” then could be construed as a “stock.” Not Brace. Which makes a pistol a SBR or AOW.

    We went from it’s ok, to, well, yeah, you could misuse it and we can’t stop you, to you can’t hold it against your shoulder. That interpretation would make the Brace go away altogether – which solves all the ATF’s issues with it.

    I don’t need to win the debate – be glad to be wrong. But I didn’t put money into the Brace either. The history of the ATF is NOT consistent or fair, it’s legal interpretation and they only do it in their favor. Don’t forget the early AR pistols WERE allowed stocks – they just had to be pinned in the short position. Weren’t those the good ol days?

    • What you’re forgetting here is the part you call the “grip” on a pistol is more properly called a “stock.” It doesn’t mean just a “rifle stock”, which is why you hear the stock on a rifle called a “rifle stock” by people who make the distinction.

  15. Nick…you are assuming your interpretation of ATF’s obtuse language is the only and correct interpretation. You are assuming that ATF does not dance at the end of political strings. HELL of a couple of assumptions!
    Michael B

  16. “Arsenal double-barreled 1911”

    Arsenal has two versions listed. One with “dual independent triggers” the other with a “single trigger”. The first should be safe. Unless they are going to say that pulling both triggers on a double barreled shotgun is an illegal act.

  17. The changing of ‘short stock’ to ‘short fixed stock’ worries me, since I want to build a pistol with a folding extension for an arm brace.

  18. At this time, there’s no evidence to support the conclusion that such an attack on Americans firearms freedom is imminent.
    Where have you been the last 80 or so years. Lets see from the NFA in the 30s then again in the 60s then again with the assault weapons ban, (a MASSIVE failure). Pelosi’s attempt to reinstate said failure. New York, DC, Chicago, New Jersey, Colorado and most recently the attempted 5.56 green tip ban and now again a liberal loon wants gun owners be forced to get insurance or be fined. This is only a SMALL representation of the outright attack on our gun rights. And you think there is no evidence. Please take your blindfold off and put down the koolaid.

  19. Nick,

    From the folks who brought you Fast and Furious, the disabled people in Milwaukee (where ATF LOST A SMG), the 223 ammo blunder, etc.

    You REALLY THINK they’re changing a few words to clarify something? Someone at ATF wants a promotion.

    While we’re at it, give me a call. I have some really nice ocean front (say beautiful beach) property in North Dakota I will sell cheap!

  20. LOL Nick! The inverse of your statement is also true, and with much greater consequences. If we make a mountain out of a molehill that actually turns out to be a molehill, we have egg on our face and people don’t believe/read/view us anymore. If, OTOH, we make a molehill out of a mountain that turns out to be a mountain, we are crashed under untold tons of rock.

    What I said in my podcast regarding the current Obama antigun initiative was that there were things in the ATF wording that seriously concerned me. They still do. ATF is all over the charts on AR/AK platform pistols. It’s clear they keep clicking their heels together trying to make the original approval letter on the SIG brace disappear. My fear is that Justice, with a virulently antigun attorney general replacing a virulent antigun attorney general and backed by a President who has consistently and persistently thumbed his nose at the Constitutional separation of powers, will move on what they view as the most vulnerable RKBA areas…and AR pistols certainly qualify (as do so-called “ghost guns,” but that’s a different post).

    Michael B

  21. Hang on, does this mean that an AR pistol with a proper shoulder stock would be an AOW instead of a SBR, even though it’s identical to an SBR except it started life as a pistol?

    ATF you so funny

  22. That’s the thing about being an evil, fascist organization. They’ve shown enough of their true intentions that I’ll never trust them with anything, ever, for any reason. Just like leftist voters.

    Anything innocent they do is merely a facade or setup for future evil.

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