What Exactly Constitutes an AR-15 Rifle Under the Law?

Courtesy Palmetto State Armory

By MarkPA

In the debate over “assault weapons,” the model designation AR-15 holds a prominent place. This model is nearly —but not quite—plug-compatible with the US military’s M-16. (The AR-15 does not permit automatic fire whereas the M-16 can be selectively fired as an automatic.)

Most of the debate revolves around the definition of an “assault weapon.” “Assault weapons” ban legislation is fatally flawed in that they attempt to ban their target based on either:

1) Model number designations or,

2) Enumerated “evil features” which are for the most part merely cosmetic

An interesting case has come about in which the defendant, Joseph Roh, is charged with illegally manufacturing AR-15s, both complete rifles and lower receivers, without having registered as a federal firearms manufacturer.

A fascinating aspect of this case is how it revolves around the definition of a firearm as it applies to the AR-15.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the gun industry and gun-owners have developed a de facto consensus on the definition of an AR-15 as a firearm.  If you possess an artifact with certain specific precise dimensions, with a few holes in precise places, then you possess a firearm of type “AR-15.”  If that artifact is not complete, but is any more than “80%” complete, it is still a firearm.  And, thereupon, your possession of that artifact must conform to various federal laws.

Joseph Roh ATF AR-15 rifle

AR-15 stripped lower receiver (courtesy Palmetto State Armory)

How else could any law work? If the law purports to regulate some artifact, then the law should describe that artifact with sufficient specificity and clarity that any person with reasonable care can apply the text of the law to an object in hand and recognize whether it is or is NOT legal.

That consensus notwithstanding, it has been known for some time that the federal legal definition of a “firearm” doesn’t readily apply to the type labeled “AR-15.” The definition in the law was drafted pretty reasonably; it’s just that that definition doesn’t fit any particular part of a firearm of this modern sporting variety.

Adam Winkler, the UCLA constitutional law professor and Second Amendment author states that the Joseph Roh case: “. . . could open up a huge loophole in federal law.  It could lead to an explosion in the number of AR-15s out on the streets.”

Winkler’s hyperbole notwithstanding, the problem remains that laws drafted by legislatures are, unavoidably, always incomplete and behind the creativity of inventive gunsmiths and manufacturers. The actual implication of this case is that two parallel industries could spring-up, each perfectly legal. Manufacturers in one industry would make one AR-15 component known as the “upper receiver” while those in the second industry could make another AR-15 component known as the “lower receiver.”

Under current law, neither of these upper nor lower receivers would need to be marked with a manufacturer’s identity or a serial number. Neither would be considered a “firearm” so long as the two parts were kept apart; i.e., neither one in the possession of a single person.

Anyone, man, woman or child, felon or virtuous, could buy one of each component—whereupon he would be in possession of a “firearm.” Yet, that would be his own private affair of no impact on either manufacturers from whom he purchased the parts.

While the ATF, gun industry and gun owners would all regard the second manufacturer (the maker of the “lower receiver”) to be in the business of manufacturing firearms, the ATF could have grave difficulty persuading a judge that such a manufacturer was doing anything unlawful.

Some judges might give great weight to popular consensus (i.e., that the “lower receiver” is the firearm) while other judges could rule in favor of the defendant manufacturer, given the thinking behind the Roh case. Once any of the dozen Circuit Courts of Appeals rules in favor of such a manufacturer, then the jurisdiction of that court could become highly popular for lower receiver manufacturers to set up shop and operate with impunity.

There is no ready solution to the sort of problem raised by the AR-15 definition finding in the Roh case. The text of a law can’t hope to keep up with ingenuity. It’s not a reasonable solution to subject every part of a gun (every spring, every screw) to regulation as if it alone were a firearm. Given current understanding, one would not say that only the assembled collection of parts constitutes a firearm. Some sort of practical solution will be needed.

The legitimate firearms industry and user community has come to an understanding with the ATF that the lower receiver technically constitutes the firearm. Things run smoothly with this agreed-upon rule. Never-ending attempts to legislate the definition, like a cat chasing its tail, could end as a futile attempt to regulate artifacts while ignoring actors.

Yet the current definition is merely a gentlemen’s agreement rather than a conclusion well-fitted to the law. Regulation of firearms—to the extent permitted by the Constitution—depends on the consent of the governed, a goal now under enormous stress by the movement for ever-more onerous gun control. If, as and when that consent is withdrawn, the public will suffer the collateral effects.

 

‘MarkPA’  is trained in economics, a life-long gun owner, NRA Instructor and Massad Ayoob graduate. He is inspired by our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and holds that having the means to defend oneself and one’s community is vital to securing them.

This article originally appeared at drgo.us and is reprinted here with permission. 

comments

  1. avatar D says:

    Atf can declare lowers to be firearms in the same way the declared bump stocks to be machine guns

    1. avatar arc says:

      And yet, no one has to listen to them.

      1. avatar Hannibal and the Elephants says:

        Until you get arrested and are eventually condemned by an judge. By then, of course as you are getting intimately acquainted with your new roommate, you might be considering, in light of the fact that you will likely be facing the longest intimate relationship of your life so far, that maybe, just maybe you should have listened to them.

        1. avatar Arc says:

          Found the cop in the room.

  2. avatar MtnDewey says:

    infringement

    1. avatar Country Boy says:

      No………..

      It’s an INFRINGEMENT

      1. avatar Green Mtn. Boy says:

        By a un Constitutionally authorized agency that congress has ceded it’s role to write law to,what could go wrong.

        1. avatar Hannibal and the Elephants says:

          Read the history of United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939) and understand why it is all a violation of the Constitution and why the modern 3%ers don’t stand a chance as is. Miller was conveniently imprisoned and by the time of oral arguments dead. Only the US side was presented to SCOTUS.

  3. avatar Garrison Hall says:

    The ATF’s problem is that it is trying to say that a unassembled part or collection of unassembled parts is, in fact, a “gun” when it clearly isn’t a “gun” until you put everything together making it so. In this case the bureaucracy’s regulatory reach just exceeds it’s grasp. The obvious purpose of this this kind of ruling is to keep people from making their own guns from collections of parts—something that is clearly supported by the unambiguous wording of the 2nd Amendment. The wisdom of the 2nd Amendment is clear: you can’t stop (nor should you stop) the signal.

    1. avatar WARFAB says:

      I’ve heard how this case could apply to pistols as well as AR-15s, but I haven’t heard anyone comment about how it might apply to NFA items.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Shall not be infringed.

  4. avatar Jay in Florida says:

    Its all a crock of crap. Its a gun nothing more nothing less.
    Leave it alone.
    Leave me the heck alone with mine.
    Its had all of 5 rounds fired out of it in 4 years.
    It hasn’t even had a chance to hurt a piece of paper yet.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      Then you need to train and become familiar with it. You’ve had it for four years and haven’t zeroed it in or tested its ability to reliably accept, feed, shoot, and expel several mags’ worth of ammo?

      1. avatar ‘liljoe says:

        Dude, I’ve got probably ten guns in the safe over the past 4 years that have had less than ten rounds through them… too many guns, not enough time.

        1. avatar Jay in Florida says:

          My issue with firing rifles here in Palm Beach county is simple. Florida for the whole matter.
          No easy way or place to shoot outdoors in this [email protected]#$%^&ng state.
          I refuse to shoot a rifle indoors 25 yards.
          No public range and very few if any private clubs less then an hour plus drive.
          So for now my rifles collect dust.

        2. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          Well, then all the best of luck to you guys. Sure hope you and your guns function as intended when the moment comes. How can you know its condition?

          I just can’t wrap my mind around acquiring a gun and never having fired it. At least confirm its ability to function reliably before socking it away, never to see the light of day again. Testing, zeroing, and confirming before properly storing it, but never even firing it?

        3. avatar Klaus Von Schmitto says:

          Jay in Florida – You’ve got the largest public shooting range in the state in Palm Beach County.

          https://myfwc.com/hunting/safety-education/shooting-ranges/palm-beach/

          I’m on the left coast and the closest I’ve got is Teneroc.

      2. avatar Jay in Florida says:

        This is for Klaus Von Schmitto
        I guess you didn’t get any further then looking up the web page.
        Its never been built. They broke ground 4 years ago. Finished a range or 2. Then ran into budget issues over of all things Bathrooms. The County Dems killed it.
        It, what had been done is already back into the wild and overgrown.
        It wont ever be built.

  5. avatar Miner49er says:

    Interesting article, I did read through it but I didn’t see a critical element of jurisprudence that I believe bears directly upon this issue.

    As they say in the movies, I have two words for you:

    Legislative intent

    “Legislative intent is a construct that courts use to discern the meaning of legislative action, usually in the form of legislation. The concept is employed in many fields of law—including constitutional law—in the interpretation and application of statutes. In constitutional law, courts also use the concept in determining the purposes or goals of a legislature when they are relevant to deciding the constitutionality of the legislation.

    In searching for legislative intent, courts appear to assume that legislation is aimed, in an instrumentally rational fashion, at achieving certain objectives or goals. Sometimes these objectives or goals are stated in rather discrete terms.”

    If a court determined that the legislature’s intent was to regulate all firearms, then they will construe the language in such a manner to regulate all firearms in their decisions.

    The main purpose of the courts in determining an interpretation of legislation is to make clear vague or ambiguous legislation and then apply those interpretations to the cases at hand.

    Courts will have no difficulty in determining that A.R. 15’s are indeed firearms, and I can tell you, any felon who puts one together and suddenly becomes the possessor of a firearm is going to be in violation of the law and subject to prosecution

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      You should go back and reread the article. The article agrees that a completed AR-15 is a “firearm,” so that is not the point. The issue is that the particular statute, which regulates the “receiver” (and not the other parts of a firearms such as the barrel, the stock, etc. which are NOT regulated) was written before the AR-15 and its two-part receiver came into existence, and the statute is ambiguous when applied to that circumstance. The same problem arises with any modular firearm, which are becoming increasingly common, and which are built at home from various components. It is easy to regulate completed firearms, but when it is a pile of parts, which is the regulated receiver, the only part subject to federal law? Moreover, as demonstrated by the existence of “80%” lowers, when does a part became a firearm? If the statute is too broad, then anything that can be machined into a receiver, e.g. a block of aluminum, is subject to regulation, and that is unworkable. (Or, as was the case with the man who made an AK receiver out of a shovel. Is a shovel a “receiver” simply because someone is inventive enough to fashion it into one?)

      Moreover, since you also seem to have missed the boat on the other aspect of the law, it was written to regulate manufacturers (as defined), not persons who build their own firearms in their own homes that are not intended for resale.And that’s exactly the circumstance presented in Roh, where all he did was make available a pre-programmed CNC machine where a customer could buy time on the machine, pop in an 80% blank, and mill his or her own completed receiver. What the ATF decided to do, to cut down on (otherwise perfectly legal) home built firearms, was to make it essentially illegal (i.e., subject to being charged with a crime) to lend tools to other people to build “firearms.” In fact, one could argue that lending a drill press to one’s friend or neighbor to be used by that third person to mill a lower receiver was also “manufacturing” under the theory espoused by the ATF.

      Since Roh did not supply the parts, only a tool, it was a stretch from the get go to charge him with being an unlicensed “manufacturer” of “firearms.” Although the ATF’s intent was to keep “firearms” out of the hands of prohibited persons, maybe it should have sought to prosecute those found illegally possessing such firearms and not the owner of a set of tools out of which a critical part of one could be made. I

      1. avatar Bruce says:

        I think that it is a bit more complicated here. The problem is that a AR-15 has a two piece receiver. Official ATF regulations (that have gone through Administrative Procedures Act (APA) required Notice and Comment) requires a Receiver to have certain attributes. In the case of an AR-15, some of those attributes are located in the lower receiver, some in the upper receiver. Together they are legally a Receiver under ATF regulations. Under the wording of the Regulation, neither separately has all of the required attributes. So, the ATF, without bothering to go through formal APA rulemaking, declared in an internal policy, that an AR-15 lower receiver was the legal “receiver” that required serialization. Except that rules and policies that have not gone through the formal APA rulemaking are only enforceable against agency employees, and not the public. The ATF argued that their interpretation was entitled to “Chevron Deference”, which requires courts to defer to agency expertise. But that only works for filling in gaps in statutes and formal regulations, and cannot negate portions of either, as this internal rule so obviously does.

        There is a lot of this sort of thing in dealing with the federal government- we see it all the time in patent law. The answer, always, is for the agency to bite the bullet and go through the onerous (esp for something this contentious) and lengthily APA Notice and Comment process, or to only enforce the law and regulations in legal force.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          The fact that an AR receiver is in two parts is not any kind of problem whatsoever. It could be in 10 parts, and so long as we observe the letter and the intent of “shall not be infringed”, it would make no difference at all.

      2. avatar Miner49er says:

        “the owner of a set of tools out of which a critical part of one could be made“

        well he has no problem, until he issues an open invitation for anyone to use those tools to build a firearm.

        When a felon or other prohibitive person shows up and uses his tools to build a firearm, he becomes an accessory to the crime of possession of a firearm by felon.

        The evidence shows that at least a dozen prohibited persons were able to acquire a firearm with his assistance.

        Putting aside the idea of unlicensed manufacture, I can tell you that I don’t want random people out there providing assistance to firearms procurement by felons another prohibited persons.

        But maybe there are POTG who want to arm convicted gangbangers, muggers and domestic violence perpetrators.

        1. avatar jonhaul says:

          Lots of felonies are victimless crimes too it’s not always the “bad guys” so yes we do. I know armed felons why didn’t the law stop them?

        2. avatar Miner49er says:

          “Lots of felonies are victimless crimes”

          That maybe true, if you feel that way may I suggest you lobby your lawmakers in order to rectify the situation.

          But I am not prepared to accept responsibility for providing lethal weapons to a felon who has been adjudicated by the Court to be a prohibited person.

        3. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          Those involved in the infamous Shay’s Rebellion (1786-1787) allegedly had their firearms rights restored after only three years, even though they rebelled against government tax officers.

          I, as a POTG, do believe that someone who commits a capital crime can expect to have his freedoms suspended while serving time in prison after a conviction, but at some point his/her right to self defense should be restored. But wait(!!) you say…he could commit a future crime and endanger others. What about that?

          Simple. As I’ve said here on TTAG many times, let all be armed. Every person, everywhere. If a convicted felon serves his time and “repays his debt to society”, then reintegration into the community should be complete. Allow him to carry again. But if he gets out of hand and endangers others, then if everyone else is armed, they’ll take care of him pronto.

          Problem solved.

          ****
          VOTE HAZ FOR GOVERNOR

        4. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I want to observe “shall not be infringed” ABSOLUTELY! That includes convicted felons, if they cannot own a gun do not let them out of prison. Of free men, fighter jets to .22 single shots, the government should not have access to anything which a free citizen does not. It was a brilliant idea in 1791, and it is a brilliant idea today.

        5. avatar Miner49er says:

          “the government should not have access to anything which a free citizen does not”

          So nuclear weapons for private citizens, interesting position.

        6. avatar Guesty McGuesterson says:

          @Miner,

          As if you or any private citizen has the funds or capability to mine, process, and refine the necessary radioactive materials, and then the know-how to create a nuclear weapon. Nice try, but that doesn’t fly.

          Why don’t you use an example that’s more realistic so the class can consider it seriously?

        7. avatar Someone says:

          “I can tell you that I don’t want random people out there providing assistance to firearms procurement by felons another prohibited persons.”
          Who cares about what you want? If a person is so dangerous that he mustn’t get a firearm in his hands, he shouldn’t be allowed to walk free amongst us.

        8. avatar Miner49er says:

          OK gusty, how about ricin or Saran gas or any one of 100 other nerve agents?

          Are you OK with your neighbor growing cultures of bubonic plague?

          By your logic, it’s all in, chemical, biological, radiological, all delivered by ‘fighter jets‘, right?

          Fascinating.

        9. avatar Miner49er says:

          Gusty, I hope you’re having a good morning.

          I’ve been thinking about a line from your comment earlier, and I really think I should offer you something interesting.

          You posted:

          “As if you or any private citizen has the funds or capability to mine, process, and refine the necessary radioactive materials, and then the know-how to create a nuclear weapon.”

          If you’re familiar with the concept of a dirty bomb, may I suggest you Google ‘atomic Boy Scout’.

          Do you believe our government should regulate these activities, or is this perfectly acceptable under 2A?

      3. avatar MarkPA says:

        “The issue is that the particular statute, which regulates the “receiver” . . . was written before the AR-15 and its two-part receiver came into existence, and the statute is ambiguous when applied to that circumstance. ”

        Alas, it’s worse than that. Stoner invented the AR-15 and set its design of parts in blue-prints in the 1950s; well before the GCA’68 was drafted. Simply put, Congress had the opportunity to deal with the AR-15 design – and, it blew it.

        But, that really isn’t the point. Whether all the designs known to gunsmiths were handed to Congress before it drafted a bill, after the bill is signed by the President gunsmiths will develop new designs that don’t fit the definition. It’s hopeless . . .

        Except, and to the degree, that those governed by the law consent to abide by its spirit and work-out conventions that conform the law to the practice. By simply deciding – by consensus – that the lower of the AR-15 design is the “receiver” we have gotten along well-enough. As much as we might hope to expect in our system of government.

  6. avatar MMurcek says:

    The problem is summed up by the quip “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it,” comment Justice Potter Stewart used to describe his threshold test for obscenity in Jacobellis v. Ohio and the “emenations of the penumbra” of the Constitution hoodoo alluded to in the Roe v Wade decision. Each side in any legal dispute will seek out judges who se it their way.

  7. avatar Stateisevil says:

    Goal is to ban any NEW semi auto, then after a a generation ban all of them or make them NFA after a big mass shooting. The other side is quite open about what they want to do and how they’re going to do it, even if the fake news MSM tries to muddy the water.

  8. avatar Texican says:

    So, basically, a rifle is only a rifle when it is completely assembled as there is no other way to define a rifle. I guess AR mfrs. could just mail you a complete upper and lower that aren’t mated in a box and it only becomes a rifle when you push the take down pins together. Glorious! Every other kind of rifle would be obsolete as no mfr. would waste time trying to sell such a regulated product anymore. You’d have semi-auto, bolt action, pump and who knows how many other types of ARs. I’m sure some legislator will try to rewrite the law. It’d be too sensible to abolish it.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      California has. As of the first of the year, all of the critical components of “firearms” can only be sold through a licensed parts vendor, and subject to the same mini-background required to purchase ammunition.* Further, it is already the law that before y9ou turn an 80% receiver into a “firearm”, one must apply to the CADOJ for a serial number (with a complete background check) and engrave the receiver with that number before beginning the build.

      *The ammunition background check law is currently being challenged. From the DOJ’s evidence presented in that case, it appears that more than 30,000 transactions have been improperly denied to date–and continuing. From what I have read, even some persons who have recently purchased firearms and/or who have CCWs are being denied, for reasons that cannot be ascertained. Indications are that the judge in the case, who is being asked to enter an order staying the law, is really concerned about this problem. Which is a problem for the DOJ, since it can’t seem to fix it.

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        There are those who will see that as a feature, and not a problem.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Texican, trying to keep this shit straight in your mind is maddening. I have several ARs, including a suppressed .300 blk SBR. SO!! If I put the 20″ 5.56 upper from another rifle on the lower from my SBR, all is ducky and it works fine. If a friend wants to shoot at the same time and would like to try him some .300, I can put the 9″ upper on the lower from the 20″ 5.56, and he can go to prison for 20 years or whatever because he is using an unregistered SBR, which works fine. I could replace the collapsing stock with a “pistol brace” and call the .300 a pistol, or mount the 20″ 5.56 upper on the pistol brace, nobody cares, all is again legal. And the suppressor will mount on any of several different calibers/lengths, all OK since it is a separate “firearm”, don’t ask me who made that moronic decision. The way to make it all make sense is to repeal NFA 1934 and revert to “shall not be infringed.”

  9. avatar GS650G says:

    Is a piece of pipe, a nail, and a rubber band a firearm?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      They certainly were when I put them all together at the age of ten. Not very accurate, but it always went bang.

  10. avatar American Patriot says:

    The Sum parts of a Car does not constitute a vehicle that needs to be registered. Congress & for that matter states makes laws so vague that it takes a judge to determine the meaning, which is now referring the definition of a law to an un-elected judge & not the legislature. Face it, State & Federal laws are no longer written by the elected individual but by all the appointed judges. It’s a sorry state when even a lawyer can’t define what the law is without going to court!

    1. avatar Miner49er says:

      “appointed judges”

      Most state magistrate and Circuit Court judges are elected by a majority vote of the people.

      Federal judges are nominated by an elected president and then confirmed by a body of elected senators.

      We the people have quite a bit of say in just who ends up sitting on the bench.

      1. avatar Arc says:

        This!

        Most people don’t seem to understand civics of the process by which their representatives are elected and appointed to offices. Even fewer realize that they themselves can run for local office.

  11. avatar GunnyGene says:

    @ MarkPA:

    The Public would not be the only ones to “suffer the collateral effects”. A “gentleman’s agreement” is void if either party fails to act honorably. Need I go into details?

  12. avatar Dale Menard says:

    “Congressional intent” is not required by the Constitution. Judges, and parties to a case will use this argument if it suits them, but it is by no means a clearly defined legal principal. Congress is supposed to make it clear what they mean, but they don’t.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      The issue in this particular circumstance is a statute, not the Constitution, and legislative intent may be a factor if the statute is found to be ambiguous. Separately, the founders’ intent may be relevant in interpreting the Constitution as well.

      1. avatar Miner49er says:

        “legislative intent may be a factor if the statute is found to be ambiguous“

        Exactly, and the legislative intent of this law was to control the possession and manufacture of firearms. Courts routinely interpret ambiguous legislation, examining legislative intent in order to apply the law to an unforeseen or new circumstance.

  13. avatar Truckman says:

    As some said about the bump stock the ATF has backpedaled on it and said they did not have the authority according to there rules to classifies the weapon with a bump stock on it a machine gun because of the gun itself had not been changed but they did not say how they were going to undo it, That’s the same thing like the maddi AK I have it was imported in 95 to 96 and it is just like it came thumbhole stock end of barrel turned down and will not hold a bayonet so it is not a true AK47 it is one that was made to ATF specks

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      That isn’t exactly what the ATF said in its court filings. It said it did not have authority to do some things under some provisions, but argued that those provisions did not apply to the bump stock ban and the provisions it believes are applicable. The answer to this question is yet to be determined, and it is pretty obvious that the lower will appeal.

  14. avatar enuf says:

    Gun Control Act Definitions
    Firearm
    18 U.S.C., § 921(a)(3)
    https://www.atf.gov/firearms/firearms-guides-importation-verification-firearms-ammunition-gun-control-act-definitions

    Firearm Frame or Receiver
    That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel. 27 CFR § 478.11.
    ——————————–

    The issue is that no part of an AR-15 fits the specific language in the law. And Mr. Roh got off the hook because of this. In fear of setting a legal precedent that would harm ATF enforcement efforts, a deal was made to go easy on Mr. Roh.

    If Congress and the President wanted to fix this they could easily do so. There are many ways to redo the language of the law.

    Not to worry. For the foreseeable future relations between our legislative houses and the executive branch are much too screwed up for such legislation to become law. At least thru the end of 2020.

    Come 2021, it’s a crapshoot.

    1. avatar Bruce says:

      More detail here.

      The relevant statute is 18 § USC 921(a)(3) which states that:
      “(3) The term “firearm” means (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon; (C) any firearm muffler or firearm silencer; or (D) any destructive device. Such term does not include an antique firearm.”

      Augmenting this is 27 CFR § 478.11, which defines a “frame or receiver” as:
      “Firearm frame or receiver. That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.”

      Notice that in an AR-15, these features are split between the Upper Receiver and the Lower Receiver. The ATF, through an internal rule or procedure, elected to treat a Lower Receiver as the “frame or receiver” for their purposes, and thus requires serialization (unless you build it yourself, and don’t offer it for sale). But internal rules or procedures only bind ATF employees, and cannot be asserted against the public. What they should do legally is to publish their proposed language in the Congressional Register, then accept and consider comments, under the APA, in order to augment the definition in 27 CFR § 478.11.

  15. avatar Nanashi says:

    ” the federal legal definition of a “firearm” doesn’t readily apply to the type labeled “AR-15.” ”

    That’s no surprise since the federal legal definition of a “firearm” doesn’t readily apply to ANYTHING.

    “The term “firearm” means (A) any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive;”

    A gun doesn’t propel a projectile by explosive, it propels it by the action of expanding gas.

    1. avatar Miner49er says:

      Well, you know, gunpowder is an explosive that, when ignited, explodes.

      “An explosive (or explosive material) is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure.“

      If legislatures could write perfect laws, then the constitution would not have included a judicial branch to adjudicate and interpret the statutes passed by the legislative bodies.

      Unfortunately, no legislation can anticipate every situation so laws are intentionally written in a manner that requires courts to provide an interpretation of vague and ambiguous legislation and apply that interpretation to the cases at hand.

      1. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

        “Well, you know, gunpowder is an explosive that, when ignited, explodes.”

        No, it does no, but I’m not surprised that you don’t know that.

        Look up the word “deflagrate”.

        If gunpowder ‘exploded’, every time you fired a gun it would turn into shrapnel, possibly injuring or killing whoever fired it. Gunpowder burns at a rapid and controlled rate…

        1. avatar Green Mtn. Boy says:

          Thus the reason for the reloading powder manufactures of canister grade powders publish burn rate charts to guide a hand loader in choice of powder.

        2. avatar Miner49er says:

          You are jesting, of course.

          Explosives are chemical compounds that decompose rapidly, at varying rates.

          The idea that gun powder is not classed as an explosive is tragically comic. I’m not sure why you believe this but I can tell you that the rest of the world disagrees.

          Here’s the MSDS from GOEX powder, Inc. regarding their product. You will notice they discuss the nature of the explosive they produce, I’m interested in your opinion of the EPA and GOEX classification.

          https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-05/documents/9530608.pdf

          Perhaps you can provide an alternative citation, that shows gunpowder is not an explosive, I’d certainly be interested.

        3. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          @Miner,

          No, he is not jesting. An explosive “sublimates”, which is the process of converting directly from a solid to a gas and bypassing the liquid form because it’s expanding so quickly. Plastique explosive is a good example.

          If you pour a thin line of gunpowder on a board and light one end, it will not explode. It will quickly burn down the line. A modern cartridge allows for the controlled burn of a specific mixture in a specific direction (down a barrel).

        4. avatar Matt G says:

          So based on your definition Miner, anything organic could be considered an explosive then?

        5. avatar Miner49er says:

          No, but based on the strange definition you folks are advocating, C4 is not an explosive.

          I have often rolled up a thumb size bowl of C4, lick the corner of it and used it the heat my coffee. How is that different from gunpowder?

          Yes, the rapid expansion of the gas produced by the rapid decomposition does create overpressure, the only question is how fast.

          Again, consult the MSDS that I cited and noticed, the manufacture of the gunpowder and the EPA both consider gunpowder and explosive.

          You know, I think I may be getting to understand some of the POTG confusion over word definitions. The whole confusion over assault weapon versus assault style weapons versus assault rifle, are all a distinction without a difference.

          Apparently, there are a lot of concrete thinkers on this forum, who have difficulty understanding the broader context.

        6. avatar Miner49er says:

          That’s a ball of C4, lit on the corner.

          Apparently, speech recognition is an imperfect technology.

          Or my hillbilly accent is a little too confusing.

        7. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Miner, LMAO!!! I read “lick the corner” and was wondering what part that played in heating your coffee, I think if you hadn’t posted the correction I would never have gotten it!

        8. avatar Miner49er says:

          You’d be surprised how quickly a pea-sized piece of C4 will bring a canteen cup to a boil.

        9. avatar I Haz A Question says:

          @Minder,

          C4 requires a thermobaric detonator to “explode”. You can light it on fire and heat your coffee safely. I think every military soldier knows that.

          Thanks for playing, but you don’t win the prize.

        10. avatar Miner49er says:

          Let me get this straight, you’re saying C-4 is not an explosive? And gun powder is not an explosive?

          The people who make the stuff think it’s an explosive, refer to the GOEX, Inc. MSDS on their product.

          I’m still waiting for a citation or source stating gun powder is not an explosive.

        11. avatar Miner49er says:

          And I’m not sure what this Thermobaric detonator as you speak of. The C4 detonators I’ve seen will work underwater as long as they’re sealed, they don’t need to be in an atmosphere for ignition, they use an electrical current and have an oxidizer built-in.

          And some comments mention that in order for something to explode it has to be compressed, that’s really not how it works either. In fact, FAE bombs aren’t compressed with any casing or tamping, and they are classified as an explosive.
          Thus the name fuel air explosive, and that’s a thermobaric detonation.

          “A thermobaric weapon, aerosol bomb, or vacuum bomb[1], is a type of explosive that uses oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a high-temperature explosion, and in practice the blast wave typically produced by such a weapon is of a significantly longer duration than that produced by a conventional condensed explosive. The fuel-air explosive (FAE) is one of the best-known types of thermobaric weapons.”

        12. avatar Quagmire86 says:

          Miner,
          not to get too far off in the weeds here but since we are all citing technical definitions, I would like to point out that the abbreviation, “MSDS” is no longer used as it was replaced with, “SDS” (06/01/2015). As you were.

        13. avatar Miner49er says:

          Quaggy, thanks for the update. I use the material safety data sheet nomenclature because that’s what was on the form I cited.

          I enjoy these discussions, I always end up learning something.

  16. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    This just putting “Ebonics” in the firearms industry. You start changing the mean of words. Through which you can force a change in the firearm without having to go through the slip shot process of law making. Where You may or may not get the outcome you want.

    The Liberals can’t get the out come they want in the legislative branch at the federal level. So have to change the meaning of words. The industry established the meaning of the phrase “Machine Gun”. And the unelected government, ATF, simply changed this meaning to include the Bump Stock they didn’t like. And then ban it.

    Since it’s easier to control a state, the Liberals and the Left are working in California to eliminate your civil rights. They have been very successful at the legislative level. In other state their ideas are going nowhere.

    Changing the mean of words or outright banning them is how the Liberals and the Left operate to get what they want.

    First They changed the meaning of the word “family”. They attacked the meaning of the phrase “Traditional Family”. And many gun owners supported these changes. Now the government has legally changed the meaning of the phrase “Machine Gun”.

    Now the government will not only outlaw words but will also fine you if you “break the Law” and speak these now forbidden words.

    “NYC threatens up to $250G in fines for using terms like ‘illegal alien,’ threatening to call ICE”

    https://www.foxnews.com/us/new-york-city-250g-illegal-alien-immigration

    “Banned words: Berkeley drops gendered language from city codes”
    https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Banned-words-Berkeley-drops-he-she-14102930.php

  17. avatar Scott D. says:

    Can I bring my stripped AR lower to one of these gun “buybacks” and get the advertised $200 for my “assault rifle” then? If it’s the only regulated part, that is all they need. Then I can buy some more lowers and repeat ad nauseum.

    1. avatar Quagmire86 says:

      That is exactly what I was thinking.

  18. avatar Sam Hill says:

    People, people! They have done it again. Done what you may ask. Got you discussing the merits of which came first the chickens or the eggs. The question should be, who gave the mandate to the ATF to completely disregard the Constitution and by what authority they did so. From where I sit ATF is an illegal and unconstitutional entity. But then I am usually out in right field..

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      The ATF, formerly a department of the IRS, was given status as an independent executive branch bureau in 1972 under the auspices of the Department of the Treasury. The ATF gets its authority from laws passed by Congress and signed by the President. Those laws, in this day and age, usually come with an express authorization by the Congress for the agency to enact regulations to carry out the intent of the law, called the “rule making power.” There are rules as to how regulations are enacted, but the fact is that the various executive agencies and their offshoots enact literally hundreds of thousands of regulations every year. And they keep changing them.

      1. avatar Miner49er says:

        Thank you for a very good comment regarding the actual execution of statutes passed by Congress and signed by the president.

        I would add, often the rules changes must be approved by Congress, so elected officials do oversee every aspect of the implementation of the statute.

        “given status as an independent executive branch bureau in 1972”

        Another great administrative change brought to you by Republican Richard Nixon, star of the R-rated drama ‘The White House Tapes’.

  19. avatar "keep yur paws off my dead guy" possum says:

    AR stands for another rifle, throw this one down and get another rifle.

    1. avatar I Haz A Question says:

      You throw it down, I’ll pick it up. Gimme whichever ARs you don’t want, please.

  20. avatar John in Ohio says:

    “Some sort of practical solution will be needed.”

    Yeah, it’s called the Second Amendment. Ever heard of it?

  21. avatar Salty Bear says:

    My take: the POTG’s focus on legislation and legalese is counterproductive and misguided. It’s time to demand our rights, not beg for them in courts and elections. Pleading with big daddy government only legitimizes the so-called “authority” of the violent sociopaths who think they rule us. Why won’t NRA, GOA, FPC, etc. organize a civil disobedience campaign? That’s what it’s going to take: large groups of people peacefully exercising their rights, and being willing to defend each other against any thugs who threaten them for it.

    1. avatar jonhaul says:

      You this is what needs to happen with decentralization. It’s the path forward bowing down to these tyrants has never worked. Our ancestors look at us with such disappointment.

  22. avatar Eric O says:

    “Regulation of firearms—to the extent permitted by the Constitution”

    Which is to say, there is none.

    “… To prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added.”

    Exactly which power of the federal government escapes being a “misconstruction or abuse of its powers”, as we are informed by the preamble to the BoR?

    Compliance to such federal laws is a violation of anyone’s oath to defend the Constitution.

  23. avatar john clark says:

    “Regulation of firearms—to the extent permitted by the Constitution” = zero, 0, none, nada, not 1 IOTO

  24. avatar Chuck N. says:

    Good article. Add in 3D printers and the concept of “parts” becomes virtual.

  25. avatar Will Drider says:

    SIg 556s and P556 have Serial numbers on the UPPER RECEIVER not the Lower.

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