[UPDATE] This TTAG article seems to have stirred up some controversy. I asked the BATFE 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 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 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 the ATF’s eForms, it has never been easier to register your firearm as an NFA firearm 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 tax stamp 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 (such as an SBR or machine gun) is manufactured with the intent of sale in interstate commerce, the ATF requires that it be marked with the manufacturer’s name and location 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 original 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 item?
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 maker of a firearm and the person who filed the Form 1) become the licensed manufacturer of the NFA gun. In theory, this means that the firearm needs your information (name or trust name and city/state) 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 existing 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. The same holds true for a silencer if you made application to make it yourself. 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 approved form 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 new 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 use an engraver and put the proper identification on it with the proper minimum depth and print size and in the proper location, such as the mag well for a rifle.
AOW: Any Other Weapon
ATF, BATF, BATFE: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
DD: Destructive Device
FFL: Federal Firearms Licensee
NFA: National Firearms Act
SBR: Short-barreled rifle. A shoulder-fired, rifled firearm, made from a rifle, with a barrel length of less than 16 inches or overall length of less than 26 inches, or a handgun fitted with a buttstock and a barrel of less than 16 inches length.
SOT: Special Occupational Taxpayers. SOTs are a group of Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) in the United States who manufacture, import and/or transfer NFA weapons.
26 U.S.C. 5845: 26 U.S.C. 5845 is where one can find the definitions for the National Firearms Act
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