The first ATF ruling of 2015 is a vast expansion of its already considerable power. It maintains that an entity that rents or leases equipment or tools on its premises to individuals working on their own guns must be licensed as a gun manufacturer and keep gun manufacturing records. If the business allows other people to use its tools and equipment to perform work to finish a frame, receiver, or complete firearm, that machine shop or other business must, in effect, be licensed as a firearms manufacturer . . .
An FFL or unlicensed machine shop may also desire to make available its machinery (e.g., a computer numeric control or “CNC” machine), tools, or equipment to individuals who bring in raw materials, blanks, unfinished frames or receivers and/or other firearm parts for the purpose of creating operable firearms. Under the instruction or supervision of the FFL or unlicensed machine shop, the customers would initiate and/or manipulate the machinery, tools, or equipment to complete the frame or receiver, or entire weapon. The FFL or unlicensed machine shop would typically charge a fee for such activity, or receive some other form of compensation or benefit. This activity may occur either at a fixed premises, such as a machine shop, or a temporary location, such as a gun show or event.
A business (including an association or society) may not avoid the manufacturing license, marking, and recordkeeping requirements under the GCA simply by allowing individuals to initiate or manipulate a CNC machine, or to use machinery, tools, or equipment under its dominion or control to perform manufacturing processes on blanks, unfinished frames or receivers, or incomplete weapons. In these cases, the business controls access to, and use of, its machinery, tools, and equipment. Following manufacture, the business “distributes” a firearm when it returns or otherwise disposes a finished frame or receiver, or complete weapon to its customer. Such individuals or entities are, therefore, “engaged in the business” of manufacturing firearms even though unlicensed individuals may have assisted them in the manufacturing process.
Held, any person (including any corporation or other legal entity) engaged in the business of performing machining, molding, casting, forging, printing (additive manufacturing) or other manufacturing process to create a firearm frame or receiver, or to make a frame or receiver suitable for use as part of a “weapon … which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive,” i.e., a “firearm,” must be licensed as a manufacturer under the GCA; identify (mark) any such firearm; and maintain required manufacturer’s records.
The BATFE, as with most government bureaucracies, is not very nimble, and in these times of rapid technological change, are behind the curve. Technological advances have already rendered the BATFE model of manufacturing obsolete. Since the invention of firearms (around 1500 a.d.), guns have been made in small shops and homes. They are still being made there, and such manufacture by individuals has always been recognized as unregulatable and legal under federal law. From about 1850 until present, guns have mostly made in factories, but home and small shop production has always been present.
What the BATFE appears to be attempting to do here is to deprive people who do not have the resources to purchase their own machinery from renting the equipment and premises of others in order to work on their own privately owned projects. But the price of the necessary machinery is in freefall. Defense Distributed has already sold a complete CNC machine — appropriately names the “Ghost Gunner,” that can be used to create a firearm receiver for $999.
Alternately, 3-D printing machines, that can also make such receivers, are available for about the same price.
What the BATFE is running up against is a fundamental conflict between two visions of society. In the vision of the framers of the Constitution, society is composed of free individuals who can do most of their own manufacturing and who are mostly independent of large associations, needing them primarily for defense of the nation and to maintain a system of justice for settling disputes.
In the more recent vision of society, the State is the primary actor in people’s lives, deciding what they can and cannot do in most situations. That such a vision became ascendant with the movement of most manufacturing and agriculture to the control of large organizations is no coincidence.
Now, as small scale and custom manufacturing are again becoming profitable and common, the structures put in place by the Constitution are making it difficult for the bureaucracy, designed for the mass manufacture era, to maintain its hold on power and control.
The CNC machine pictured above is already cheap enough to be afforded by an average individual. It could be used to create one or two receivers, then sold to the next individual at a discount. Alternately, a rental company could rent such a machine for use off its premises and out of its control.
It may also happen that Congress will recognize the inherent unenforceability and silliness of the 1968 law that BATFE’s claims are based on. No such federal requirements for manufacture existed before 1938, nor is there any study or reason to believe that such licenses improve society or add to the public good. They are, and always were, simply another “first step” toward government control over the private ownership of firearms. They are a clear infringement on freedom, without discernible benefit.
After the implementation of the 1968 law, crime skyrocketed. Then, once the shall-issue concealed carry movement gained power and prison populations rose to unprecedented levels, crime rates have now finally returned to those pre-1968 levels.
[h/t David Codrea]
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.