[UPDATE] This article seems to have stirred up some controversy. I asked the ATF a straightforward question, and reported truthfully on the answer I received. It seems that a number of people are annoyed that the answer I got doesn’t match their preconceived notions and goes against their own readings of the law, and as a result are starting to attack me personally over this article. Here’s the thing: I can only report the truth. This is exactly what the ATF told me. As always, I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice, so if you are concerned feel free to contact one before taking any actions.
It seems like short barreled rifles are all the rage these days. Ever since the advent of the gun trust and ATF’s eForms it has never been easier to register your firearm as an NFA device and chop down the barrel as low as it can go. There’s just one problem: the marking requirement. Ask three people whether you need to engrave your information on your newly registered NFA device and you’ll get three different answers. In an effort to sort out the confusion I asked the ATF directly, and their response actually made perfect sense . . .
Let’s start at the beginning.
Any time a firearm is manufactured with the intent of sale in interstate commerce, the ATF requires that it be marked with the name and location of the manufacturer as well as a serial number. Those individuals who manufacture 80% lower receivers into finished firearms may be familiar with this specific wrinkle, since their guns don’t require any markings until the moment they decide to try to sell them.
When it comes to making a short barreled rifle from an existing firearm (like an AR-15 lower you bought complete), things get a little murkier. The manufacturer’s information is already stamped on the side of the gun. That original stamping satisfies the ATF’s requirements for the Title I firearm, but what about when the firearm transitions to a Title II weapon and becomes an NFA device?
According to the ATF, the process of creating an NFA device (even if it only means adding a stock to the gun) constitutes “remanufacturing” the firearm. As such you (the person who filed the Form 1) become the manufacturer of the NFA device. In theory this means that the firearm needs your information (name and location) marked on it as well, but according to the ATF that might not be the case.
If you manufacture a NFA device from an existing firearm, according to the ATF you DO NOT need to immediately engrave your information into the firearm. Much like how firearms manufactured from a 80% lower receiver don’t require engraving upon completion, the ATF believes that the mere act of manufacture of an exiting NFA device doesn’t require additional engraving. The existing serial number is sufficient for identification.
So, when do you need to engrave your Form 1’ed SBR? The answer: when you intend to sell it. Engraving requirements apply to firearms that are intended for sale in interstate commerce, so when you go to sell your gun you’re going to need to have it engraved.
An interesting wrinkle is that this applies even if you have removed the NFA device from the registry. According to the ATF the moment the firearm is returned to a Title I state (a rifle with a 16-inch barrel, for example) the gun is no longer a registered NFA device, but the registration record remains in their database. To have it removed you need to send them a letter notifying them of the disposition of the firearm and they will send a response in about…4 to 6 months. Even if your SBR has been removed from the registry AND you already have the letter in hand, the fact that it was remanufactured as an SBR at some point means your information needs to be on it.
In short, if you don’t intend to sell your firearm after turning it into an NFA device you don’t need to engrave it. But if you ever sell it later (even after removing it from the registry) you will need to have it engraved.